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Wisconsin Governor Signs Bill On Campaign Finance Laws

By Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)

MADISON, Wis. — Republican Gov. Scott Walker privately signed a measure Wednesday loosening the state’s campaign finance laws and eliminating the state elections and ethics agency that investigated his campaign for teaming up with conservative groups.

The state Supreme Court ended the probe into the GOP governor’s campaign this summer and found candidates and issue groups can work closely together. That ruling and others in federal court prompted Republicans who control the Legislature to overhaul campaign finance laws and how they are enforced.

One of the measures Walker signed will dissolve the Government Accountability Board and hand its duties over on July 1 to two new agencies — the Elections Commission and the Ethics Commission.

The accountability board, made up of six former judges, was formed in 2008 after lawmakers from both parties overwhelmingly voted to beef up enforcement of campaign finance and ethics laws by putting their oversight under the control of one agency. That move followed a scandal in which lawmakers were caught doing campaign work using state resources.

Walker, who did not hold a press event to sign the legislation, used his partial veto powers to tweak the measure. As written, the legislation would have required lawmakers from each party to provide him with a list of up to three former judges and up to three former clerks to appoint to the commissions.

The governor modified that to require them to provide him with three nominees for each category, rather than up to three, giving him more options.

In his veto message, Walker wrote that the new law as a whole will “ensure transparency and accountability of the oversight of elections, ethics, lobbying and campaign finance laws for the people of the state of Wisconsin.”

GAB director Kevin Kennedy, who opposed the legislation, said in a statement that his agency would work to ensure a smooth transition now that it has passed.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said that the legislation showed Republicans’ misplaced priorities.

“Republicans neglect our faltering economy in order to wage an all-out assault on Wisconsin’s proud heritage of clean, open and transparent government,” Barca said in a statement.

Under the GAB overhaul, the new Ethics Commission will consist of six members, including two former judges. Democrats and Republicans will each appoint three members to the commission, which will oversee ethics laws for public officials, lobbying regulations and campaign finance matters.

The Elections Commission will help local clerks run elections and will be split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans. It will include two former municipal or county clerks, one chosen by each side.

The campaign finance measure doubles the amount donors can give candidates; allows corporations and unions to give money to political parties and campaign committees controlled by legislative leaders; and ends the requirement that donors disclose their employers. That would make it harder for the public to find out which industries are funneling money to candidates.

Walker’s campaign had been investigated by the accountability board and prosecutors for working with the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups in recall elections. The state Supreme Court in a 4-2 ruling in July shut down the probe and said issue groups and candidates can work together.

The probe prompted GOP lawmakers to pass legislation in October ending the use of a John Doe to investigate misconduct in office and other political crimes.

The campaign finance measure Walker signed Wednesday would also:

—Double the amount donors can give candidates, raising it for the first time since the 1970s. That will allow donors to give $1,000 to candidates for Assembly, $2,000 to candidates for Senate and $20,000 to candidates for governor and other statewide offices.

—Allow corporations, tribes and unions to give up to $12,000 a year to political parties and campaign committees controlled by legislative leaders.

—Permit individual donors to give as much as they wanted to those entities, which could then pass them on to candidates. That will allow them to get around the contribution limits that apply to candidates.

—Put into state law the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that says candidates can work closely with groups that don’t expressly call for their election or defeat. Collaboration between candidates and express advocacy groups — that is, those that use phrases such as “vote for” and “vote against” — will still be banned in a limited set of cases.

Prohibited coordination will be limited to instances such as when candidates specifically request certain expenditures and the groups explicitly agree to make them. Critics say that provision limits the law even more than the court’s decision requires.

—End the requirement that donors disclose where they work.

©2015 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Scott Walker bows his head in prayer at a campaign stop in Haverhill, Iowa, July 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

 

Judges: Wisconsin Abortion Admitting Privileges Law Unconstitutional

By Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)

MADISON, Wis. — Federal appeals judges on Monday agreed with a lower court that a politically polarizing 2013 abortion law is unconstitutional, finding it endangered the health of women.

The provision of the law at issue — blocked by a court ruling immediately after Republican Gov. Scott Walker approved it 2 1/2 years ago — would have required doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform the procedure.

In its 2-1 ruling Monday, a panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago concluded the medical benefit to the requirement was “nonexistent” and “cannot be taken seriously as a measure to improve women’s health.”

“What makes no sense is to abridge the constitutional right to an abortion on the basis of spurious contentions regarding women’s health — and the abridgment challenged in this case would actually endanger women’s health,” Judge Richard Posner wrote for the majority.

A spokeswoman for Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel said he intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.

Less than two weeks ago, the nation’s high court agreed to take a case challenging a Texas law that includes a similar admitting privilege provision. That law, upheld in June by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, is more extensive than Wisconsin’s and includes regulations that would shut down three-fourths of the abortion clinics in the Lone Star State.

In the Wisconsin case, Posner was joined by Judge David Hamilton. Posner was appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan and Hamilton by Democratic President Barack Obama.

Dissenting was Judge Daniel Manion, a Reagan appointee. Manion determined the admitting privileges requirement helps ensure doctors are properly credentialed and promotes continuity of care and informed decision-making by patients.

“There is no question that Wisconsin’s admitting-privileges requirement furthers the legitimate, rational basis of protecting women’s health and welfare,” Manion wrote.

Posner’s fiery opinion picked up where he left off in October, when he presided over arguments in the case. The judge peppered an attorney for the state with skeptical questions, brought up comments Walker made on abortion during his brief run for the presidency, and stated he didn’t believe the abortion law provided any health benefits.

U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison blocked the law almost immediately after it was approved in 2013 and struck it down as unconstitutional this March. Monday’s ruling means the requirement will remain unenforceable unless the Supreme Court goes in another direction.

The state’s two abortion providers, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Affiliated Medical Services, had challenged the law, contending it would force Affiliated’s clinic in Milwaukee to close because doctors couldn’t get admitting privileges.

If that happened, the state’s three other abortion clinics wouldn’t be able to absorb Affiliated’s caseload, the clinics argued. Those clinics, all run by Planned Parenthood, are in Milwaukee, Madison and Appleton. The Appleton clinic stopped providing abortions last month because of staffing issues but is expected to resume providing them next year.

Doctors at Planned Parenthood’s clinics have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. They work at the clinics part time and were able to secure privileges because of the separate practices they have. Affiliated’s doctors work full time at their clinic and cannot get privileges because they don’t routinely practice hospital procedures.

Admitting privileges allow doctors to admit patients to a hospital and treat them there, but privileges are not needed to get a patient into a hospital in emergencies. The state does not require admitting privileges for doctors who perform other outpatient services, including those that have much higher complication rates than abortion, Posner wrote.

Posner noted abortion clinics already are required to have transfer agreements with hospitals in case of complications.

“The requirement of admitting privileges cannot be taken seriously as a measure to improve women’s health because the transfer agreements that abortion clinics make with hospitals, plus the ability to summon an ambulance by a phone call, assure the access of such women to a nearby hospital in the event of a medical emergency,” he wrote.

The clinics did not challenge a separate part of the law that requires women seeking abortions to get ultrasounds. That requirement remains in effect.

©2015 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Timothy Krause via Flickr

Scott Walker’s Foreign Trade Missions Cost Taxpayers $150,000

By Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)

MADISON, Wis. — A pair of international trade missions headed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker this year cost taxpayers nearly $150,000, and Walker’s political groups are reimbursing the state $125,000 for separate costs for his security team’s travel while he pursued the presidency.

Documents released Friday under the state’s open records law give the best accounting yet of travel expenses for the Republican governor as he jetted around the country in preparation for his now-abandoned White House bid.

The state is being reimbursed by Walker’s political operations for the costs of the security team’s hotel, airfare, meals and use of state vehicles while Walker was campaigning. But taxpayers are bearing the cost of the trade missions to Canada and Western Europe.

Taxpayers are also paying for the salaries and benefits for the state troopers who protect the governor, first lady Tonette Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and visiting officials.

Those costs have exploded since Walker became governor, rising from about $561,000 in the year before Walker became governor to more than $2 million last year. The hike in cost is due in part because of enhanced security since huge labor protests in 2011 that included expanding full-time protection to the lieutenant governor.

Kleefisch’s predecessor, Democrat Barbara Lawton, didn’t get the kind of round-the-clock protection that she received for years.

For the first three months of 2015, taxpayers spent nearly $500,000 on wages and benefits for the security team — nearly as much as they paid in all of 2010 for then-Gov. Jim Doyle. More recent figures were not available.

The salary costs do not appear to include back pay for overtime that the U.S. Department of Labor recently determined must be paid to the troopers who work long hours guarding public officials. That could tack on as much as $1 million to the total.

A spokeswoman for the State Patrol could not be reached late Friday to say whether the overtime figures were included. But as of earlier this week the State Patrol had not calculated those costs, making it appear they were not included in figures released Friday.

Walker began exploring a presidential run soon after he was re-elected in November and formally announced his candidacy in July. The campaign lasted just 71 days before he abandoned it last month after his polling numbers cratered.

Historically, taxpayers have picked up all the costs for security for Wisconsin governors and some other officials, even when they are engaged in purely political work or on vacation. Walker’s team announced in April his political operations would pick up the costs for airfare, hotel and meals for his security team for campaign travel — but not for salaries and fringe benefits.

In all, the political operations are committed to paying back about $125,000 for travel costs for the first half of the year. Of that, they have paid about $58,000 and are expected to pay the remaining amount of just over $67,000.

The reimbursements are being made by Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, his presidential campaign and Our American Revival, a political group he set up as he mulled running for president.

(c)2015 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker speaks at the the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

Walker Visits South Carolina, Addresses Firing Of Campaign Aide

By Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Governor Scott Walker brought his Wisconsin story to South Carolina Thursday, telling voters how he overcame protests and a recall effort, and suggesting the departure of a campaign aide this week was rooted in the need to respect voters.

In a speech to about 200 people at the TD Convention Center in Greenville, Walker indirectly addressed the departure of social media aide Liz Mair after news spread about tweets she posted before she was hired that disparaged Iowa and its caucuses, the first in the nation.

“One of my clear rules is, if you’re going to be on our team, whether on the paid staff or a volunteer, what I always say is you need to respect the voters,” he said. “Because really if you think about campaigns, it’s not about the candidate or the staff. It’s about the voter. It’s about how to help people’s lives be better.

“One of the things I’ve stressed … in the last few days as I’ve looked at the possibility of running is you have my firm commitment that I’m going to focus on making sure that the people on my team, should we go forward, are people who respect voters.”

Mair stepped down Tuesday just hours after her hiring had been announced — and shortly after the head of the Iowa Republican Party said Walker should fire her.

The incident was a distraction for the Republican governor as he made his first foray into South Carolina since he began seriously considering a run for the presidency. The state holds the third nominating contest in the country, after Iowa and New Hampshire — two other states Walker has recently visited.

How Walker fares is considered especially critical because the Republican Party is so strong in the South, and most of the likely candidates for the nomination come from Southern states. The votes of the religious and the deeply conservative hold great sway here. The son of a Baptist preacher who has built his reputation as someone who has stood up for conservative causes in a purple state, Walker hopes to appeal to those sets of overlapping voters.

In speeches Thursday in Greenville and Columbia, Walker spoke of his efforts to curtail collective bargaining for public workers and the response those efforts elicited. Walker in 2012 became the first governor in the country’s history to survive a recall effort.

“Throughout all of that, instead of intimidating us, what it reminded me was that I was elected for a purpose,” Walker said to a crowd of about 150 in a Marriott meeting room in Columbia.

“It was worth it because if I had just run for the title or position, a hundred thousand protesters might have scared me off. But because I was running for (sons) Matt and for Alex and for all the other sons and daughters like them, or all the other grandsons and granddaughters like them, I knew I could not back down. I knew it was worth it for them.”

In both speeches, Walker ran through what has developed into his standard stump speech and cataloged his achievements — lower taxes, a concealed weapons law, cuts to funding for Planned Parenthood — and said he saw a need to revive America.

“In America you can be and do anything you want,” he said in Columbia. “The opportunity is equal for all, but the outcome is still up to each and every one of us.”

As he has in other recent speeches, he stressed the need for an aggressive stance in the Middle East and signaled the possibility of needing to send troops there.

“In America, we need a commander in chief who understands that it’s not a matter of if but when, and I’m going to take — and we need a leader who will take — the fight to them and not wait until it comes to us on American soil, to do whatever it takes to protect your children and your grandchildren from another attack on American soil,” he said in Greenville.

He also revived a story he’s told for years in Wisconsin about raking leaves in his front yard with a friend of his son’s when someone pulled up in front of his house and raised a middle finger. Walker said he reacted calmly and minutes later, another car pulled up and gave him a thumbs up.

“It was a great reminder that if you do good, good will come back to you,” he told the crowd.

He told the group he got support from people in all 50 states during his recall campaign, saying he received contributions from nearly 300,000 donors.

“Only Mitt Romney has more donors on the Republican side,” he said.

Between the fundraisers for the South Carolina Republican Party that Walker hosted, he met with GOP South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and other lawmakers, and stopped by a Harley-Davidson dealership to buy T-shirts. On Friday, he will host events for the party in Rock Hill and Charleston, and one for the National Rifle Association in Charleston.

Thursday’s crowds received Walker warmly.

“He wouldn’t be afraid to step on toes, especially with unions,” said Marty Jewell of Prosperity, S.C.

Jewell contributed to Walker’s cause during his recall race.

“I thought he was doing a great job and when they started to persecute him, I knew he was doing a good job,” he said.

Walker has been positioning himself as someone who can appeal to his party’s conservative and moderate wings. He pointed to his success in Wisconsin, where he has won election three times in four years even though the state — as he noted in both speeches — hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since 1984.

Photo: Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Court Calls Wisconsin, Indiana Gay Marriage Bans Into Question

By Patrick Marley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

CHICAGO — A three-judge federal appeals panel on Tuesday closely questioned bans on same-sex marriage in Wisconsin and Indiana, with one judge calling parts of the states’ arguments “absurd” and “ridiculous.”

“These people and their adopted children are harmed by your law,” Judge Richard Posner said of gay and lesbian couples who are barred from getting married. “The question is what is the offsetting benefit of your law? Who is being helped?”

Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Timothy Samuelson responded that society as a whole benefited by preserving marriage as it has long been defined. Posner pressed on, asking if anyone would be harmed if same-sex couples were allowed to be married.

“Frankly, we don’t know if there is a harm,” Samuelson said. Later, he said, the concept of marriage could be devalued by allowing same-sex marriage and lead to heterosexual couples deciding not to get married.

During an hour and 40 minutes of arguments, Posner and the other judges on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel repeatedly asked pointed questions of both sides but gave particular scrutiny to the officials defending the two states’ policies.

Also hearing the case were Judges David Hamilton and Ann Claire Williams. Posner was appointed to the appeals court by President Ronald Reagan, Williams by President Bill Clinton and Hamilton by President Barack Obama.

The couples who brought the cases faced skeptical questions, as well. The judges seemed suspicious of whether there is a fundamental right to marry and asked whether allowing same-sex marriage would open the door to the government sanctioning polygamy or incest — a possibility the couples’ attorneys downplayed.

Amid a wave of litigation nationally, eight same-sex couples in February sued to overturn Wisconsin’s 2006 amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage and civil unions. U.S. Circuit Judge Barbara Crabb in Madison, Wisconsin, agreed with them in June and struck down the ban but stayed her decision to prevent couples from marrying while state officials pursued their appeal.

Several hundred same-sex couples in Wisconsin married before Crabb issued her stay.

The Chicago-based appeals court consolidated the case with one from Indiana, where a district court judge in June had ruled against that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Tuesday’s arguments drew so many people — many of them same-sex couples who were bused in from Wisconsin and Indiana — that the judges moved the arguments to a larger courtroom. Among those attending were a retired Indiana Air National Guard staff sergeant in fatigues and a retired battalion chief for the Indianapolis Fire Department in uniform.

The retired battalion chief, Ruth Morrison, said she wore her uniform Tuesday to show she had served the public. She is among those who brought suit in Indiana in hopes of getting spousal benefits for the woman she married last year in Maryland.

“We’re just asking for them to fulfill their obligations to us, like they would any other first responder,” Morrison said as she waited in line to get in the courtroom.

After the arguments, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued a statement, arguing states should be the ones to decide policies on marriage, divorce and child custody.

“I am increasingly concerned about the federal government’s reach into, if not domination of, powers guaranteed to the states and the people in the 10th Amendment,” his statement said.

During oral arguments, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher contended there is a fundamental difference between same-sex and heterosexual couples that allows the government to treat them differently.

“Opposite-sex couples make babies,” he said. “Same-sex couples do not.”

But Posner expressed skepticism of the idea that the states were trying to promote procreation.

“You allow all these sterile couples to get married,” he said. “Why are you doing that if you’re so interested in procreation?”

Hamilton struck a similar tone, expressing doubt that Wisconsin defined marriage as between opposite-sex people to encourage them to stay together if they have children.

“I presume you’re familiar with how that’s been working out over the last 25 to 30 years,” Hamilton said to Samuelson, the assistant attorney general.

He went on to cite statistics about out-of-wedlock births, saying Wisconsin’s attempts to keep families together seem “pretty unsuccessful.”

As Samuelson pondered a question about the rationale behind banning same-sex marriage, he noted he might not be able to answer because a yellow light had come on telling him his time was nearly up. But the judges made clear they expected a response.

“It won’t save you,” Williams told him, drawing laughs from observers.

Posner, who at times appeared to lecture the attorneys defending the bans, focused on the ability of same-sex couples to adopt children. He noted adopted children would benefit if their parents could claim the tax breaks and other perks of being married.

“These children would be better off if their parents could marry, no? It’s obvious,” Posner said.

After the arguments, Julaine Appling of Wisconsin Family Action noted the issue of same-sex marriage was likely to be ultimately determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. She said she heard tough questions for both sides Tuesday and wasn’t reading too much into what the judges asked.

“I can’t read the mind and heart of a Supreme Court justice or any other judge,” she said.

Appling said men and women parent differently and children need both a father and mother.

“What you’re seeing is fatherlessness. What has fatherlessness done in Milwaukee?” she asked, saying single-parent families had contributed to crime and a lack of direction among young people.

Litigation over same-sex marriage accelerated after the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has declared bans in Oklahoma and Utah unconstitutional. Last month, the 4th Circuit Court in Richmond struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban.

Earlier this month, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati heard arguments in cases consolidated from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. A three-judge panel that heard the case has not yet ruled.

Voters in Wisconsin added the ban to the state constitution in 2006 by a vote of 59 percent to 41 percent. Since then, public sentiment has shifted in Wisconsin and nationally. For instance, last month a Marquette University Law School poll showed 56 percent of Wisconsinites surveyed would vote to repeal the ban.

AFP Photo/Joel Saget