Tag Archives: corruption

Trump’s charity admits to flouting IRS rules for self-benefit

President-elect Donald Trump’s charity has admitted that it violated IRS regulations barring it from using its money or assets to benefit Trump, his family, his companies or substantial contributors to the foundation.

The admissions by the Donald J. Trump Foundation were made in a 2015 tax filing made public after a presidential election in which it was revealed that Trump has used the charity to settle lawsuits, make a $25,000 political contribution and purchase items such as a painting of himself that was displayed at one of his properties.

The filing’s release, first reported by The Washington Post, comes as the New York attorney general’s office investigates whether Trump personally benefited from the foundation’s spending.

The filing also shows Trump’s foundation accepted money from a Ukrainian businessman who also gave money to one of Trump’s favored targets on the campaign trail: The Clinton Foundation. The charity also donated to a conservative group that backed Trump during his candidacy.

The 2015 tax filing was posted on the nonprofit monitoring website GuideStar on Nov. 18 by someone using an email address from the foundation’s law firm, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, said GuideStar spokeswoman Jackie Enterline Fekeci.

In the tax filing, the foundation acknowledged that it used money or assets in violation of the regulations not only during 2015, but in prior years. But the tax filing doesn’t provide details on the violations.

Questions about the violations sent via email to Trump’s transition team weren’t immediately answered.

Marcus S. Owens, a partner at the Washington law firm Loeb & Loeb and a former director of the IRS exempt organizations division, said the lack of detail in the tax filing makes it difficult to determine the extent of the charity’s violations.

“There’s no way to tell for sure whether the self-dealing is small and trivial or large and a pattern of ongoing deliberate misuse of the charity’s assets,” Owens said.

Generally, he said, self-dealing violations require the violator to pay an excise tax equal to 10 percent of the amount involved in the transactions. The violator also would have to repay the foundation for the full amount involved. Owens also noted that self-dealing is a violation of New York state law, where the charity is registered.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, launched an investigation into the charity after reporting by the Post drew attention to some of the foundation’s purchases, three of which are listed in the latest filing: two portraits of Trump and a football helmet autographed by former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.

As the Post reported previously, Trump bid $12,000 for the football helmet, and his wife, Melania, bid $20,000 for one of the portraits. The other portrait, which Trump bid $10,000 for, has been hanging on a wall at his golf course in Doral, Florida, according to the Post.

Despite the high-dollar price tags, the foundation’s latest tax filing now values them at a combined $1,675. The tax filing does not specify if any of the items are related to the self-dealing violations.

The foundation has previously said it amended its tax filings after it gave an improper $25,000 check to a political committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013.

Charities are barred from engaging in political activities, and the president-elect’s staff says the check he signed was mistakenly issued following a series of clerical errors. Earlier this year, the Trump Foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS over the check.

The latest tax filing shows two Trump entities gave to his foundation, a break from recent years when the foundation’s donations came mostly from other donors.

The Trump Corporation gave about $566,000 to the foundation, and Trump Productions LLC, the company which produced The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, gave $50,000 in 2015.

Another large contributor was the foundation of Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian billionaire who has advocated for closer relations between the European Union and Ukraine. The Victor Pinchuk Foundation gave $150,000 to the Trump Foundation in 2015. Pinchuk’s foundation has also given between $10 million and $25 million to the Clinton Foundation.

The Trump Foundation’s tax filing shows that it also gave at least $10,000 to Project Veritas, a Trump-backing nonprofit group led by conservative activist James O’Keefe.

During the presidential campaign, O’Keefe’s employees posed as would-be Democratic donors and volunteers during a months-long ruse that captured one Democratic operative seeming to boast about his connections to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and claiming he hired people to provoke Trump rally-goers.

The undercover sting prompted the Democratic Party and liberal groups to cut ties with at least two operatives.

Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz and Jeff Horwitz contributed to this report.

 

State’s civil service system ends, let the cronyism begin

An overhaul of the state’s 111-year-old civil service system leaves 30,000 state workers and an untold number of job applicants to face a return to the political patronage approach that the system was designed to eliminate.

Perhaps most significantly, the new system eliminates the use of objective testing to guide hiring decisions. That means state jobs can be handed out as political favors — no proof of knowledge required.

It’s not as if such patronage is unthinkable. Gov. Scott Walker’s administration repeatedly has gotten into trouble for just that. For example, the governor gave a high-level, $81,500-per-year job as a bureau director to the son of a donor who’d given Walker more than $120,000 in campaign contributions. Walker didn’t seem to mind that the young man had two drunk-driving convictions and neither management experience nor a college degree.

Faced with outrage, Walker changed his mind on that particular decision. Under the new law, we fear there will be too many patronage hires for the media to keep up.

Without using exams to ensure some level of competence, state agencies can hire applicants with partisan connections and oust anyone they believe disagrees with the governor’s policies.

“Showing up at work with the wrong bumper sticker on your car could endanger your career,” Rick Badger, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 32, which represents state and local public workers in Wisconsin, wrote in a recent opinion piece. “That’s the problem with a one-party control by shortsighted ideologues obsessed with stacking the deck and preserving their monopoly.”

In unveiling the plan last fall, Walker offered up an example of why “reform” was needed. Unfortunately for Wisconsinites, it was a patently false and inflammatory anecdote about the state’s railroad commissioner being prevented by civil service law from firing two railroad workers who had sex on state time and property. Trying again to justify civil service “reform,” the bill’s Republican authors said the measure would help agencies fill vacancies more speedily as Baby Boomers retire and ensure workers who behave badly are dealt with. We’ll see.

As The Associated Press has noted, the changes to the civil service system mark a trifecta for Walker when it comes to labor law.

He did away with almost all public workers’ collective bargaining rights in 2011 and last year signed a measure that made Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state. Under that law, employees can benefit from union-negotiated contracts without having to pay union fees. The ultimate goal of both laws is to starve unions, making labor cheaper for wealthy campaign donors.

And now, under the new approach to state employment, job seekers need no longer take competency exams but need only an application and a resume — and presumably, connections. Hiring decisions will be centralized within Walker’s Department of Administration and state employees will no longer be given preference when filling other state positions.

The law also allows agencies to fire, suspend or demote workers without imposing progressive discipline.

One portion of the law — creating a performance management system to measure performance — has yet to be developed. Walker’s administration told state lawmakers they’re giving agencies until Sept. 1 to develop the system, which will determine the order of layoffs.

Trifecta indeed.

In what has become a familiar pattern of deception, Walker said a year before gutting the civil service system that he wouldn’t touch it. He pulled the same stunt with making Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state, saying he had no interest in doing it about a year before he did it.

And, of course, Walker also said his euphemistically named “budget-repair bill” would leave collective bargaining “fully intact” before he gutted state unions.

Now Walker’s demolition of the civil service system leaves us wondering what’s next. With this governor, there’s always a big surprise around the corner, and it’s never one that moves Wisconsin forward.

Merit selection: The best way to end judicial corruption

In the almost 4,000 years since Hammurabi codified Babylonian law, Western cultures have held judicial fairness and impartiality as an ideal. To be sure, it’s an ideal sometimes honored more in the breach than in the keeping, but it’s an unchanging ideal nonetheless.

Today, in Wisconsin, that ideal is under attack, from enemies both old and new.

Wisconsin elects its judges and elections mean donations and donations mean influence. The more money that flows into a judge’s coffers, the greater the chances that fairness and impartiality are at risk.

It’s critical for Wisconsin to reconsider the way judges are selected. The American Bar Association has advocated for merit selection since 1937. Merit selection, which is used in two-thirds of the states, relies on neutral experts and nonpartisan boards to select a qualified pool of candidates from which the governor can choose. In some states, approval of the senate also is required.

Under the system, judges must stand for retention after a determined number of years. The public is asked to vote only on whether to keep them. There are no competitive elections.

Alternately, the Wisconsin Bar Association has proposed a constitutional amendment that would limit justices to a single, 16-year term. According to WAB, the term limits would “engender greater public confidence in the court’s ability to pursue justice independently of political influence.”

We don’t think term limits are strong enough to solve the problem. Only merit selection upholds the ideal of blind justice.

Wisconsin’s already corrupt system has been further damaged by two high court rulings, one from Washington and the other from Madison.

In its Citizens United ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ratcheted up brazen judicial bribery by removing limits on how much donors can contribute secretly to PACs to influence elections.

In Wisconsin, the problem is compounded by a state Supreme Court decision that campaigns can coordinate election strategies directly with dark money groups. The story of how such coordination became legal demonstrates how this kind of corruption works.

Several dark money groups were charged in a state “John Doe” case with illegal coordination during Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign. The same groups had given $8 million to four of the conservative justices on the bench.

So, when the case arrived at the high court, its outcome was a foregone conclusion. But the paid-for justices went further than anyone imagined they would. They not only dismissed the case against their donor, but ignored all legal precedent and tossed out the law banning such coordination. Then they ordered the evidence to be destroyed.

Why weren’t those justices recused from a case in which there was such a blatant conflict of interest? Just because, they said.

On April 5, with nearly four times the anonymous cash spent for her as for her opponent, Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley won a 10-year term on the high court. Now the dark money groups have five-two control over justice in the state.

Money over merit: A majority of area lawyers said Bradley was unqualified. She’d never served on a judicial bench until 2012, when Scott Walker appointed her to a Milwaukee Circuit Court position. Last fall, following the death of Justice Patrick Crooks, Walker elevated her to the high court to finish out Crooks’ term, making her the incumbent in the election.

WiG is not alone in calling for reform. On April 5, 11 diverse towns in Wisconsin held referenda asking whether to amend the Constitution to undo Citizens United by declaring that money is not speech. Between 74 and 88 percent of voters said yes. That brought the total number of Wisconsin communities who’ve voted to nix Citizens United to 72. Forty-four percent of the state’s citizens live in those jurisdictions.

We need Citizens United to be thrown on the trash heap of history, and we must stop electing justices and appoint them on merit. Fair and impartial justice must not be negotiable.

Nixon used war on drugs to arrest war protesters, black people

A decades old quote about the war on drugs during President Richard Nixon’s administration is making front page news and being shared widely on the Web. The quote from Nixon’s domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman gained new notoriety after appearing in a cover story in Harper’s Magazine by author Dan Baum.

“You want to know what this was really all about,” Ehrlichman, who died in 1999, said, referring to Nixon’s declaration of war on drugs. “The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

On March 23, the Drug Policy Alliance responded to the renewed interest in Ehrlichman’s disclosure.

This explosive admission, while provocative, is sadly nothing new.

The Drug Policy Alliance and our allies in the movement to end the drug war have long known that U.S. drug policies and have been inherently racist and discriminatory. Despite comparable rates of drug use and sales, communities of color and other marginalized groups have been the principle targets of drug law enforcement and make up the vast majority of people who have been incarcerated or otherwise had their lives torn apart by the drug war. That said, it is enormously important that this quote has captured so much attention and shed light on the blatantly racist origins of this horrible policy approach.

DPA’s work is centered on speaking truth to power and demanding accountability for the gross harms caused by the drug war. We challenge draconian sentencing laws, arrest tactics, negligence of life-saving health interventions in favor of prohibitionist policies, stigmatization and bigoted targeting of black and Latino communities here in the United States, as well as minority and vulnerable populations internationally.

As world leaders gather next month for the United National General Assembly Special Session on drug policy, DPA urges participants to publicly abandon the drug war, initiated by U.S. politicians like Nixon, which has resulted in overwhelming damage here and across the globe. In preparation for this gathering, we invite the public to join us for a one-day strategy session with some of the nation’s top thinkers who will address the drug war as a racial justice issue and offer visions for reform.”

On April 17, the Drug Policy Alliance will convene a gathering to explore racial justice and ending the so-called war on drugs.

DPA Fact Sheet.

DPA Network is the  nation’s leading organization working to end the war on drugs. We envision new drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights and a just society in which the fears, prejudices and punitive prohibitions of today are no more.

 

Open records law showcased in “Sunshine Week” tour

Monday begins Sunshine Week, which emphasizes the critical importance of the state’s open records law.

The law, which is in peril in Wisconsin, gives the media and the public access to public records. Democracy depends on government transparency, because without it taxpayers and voters can’t know how elected officials are conducting the people’s business.

Advocates of open government in Wisconsin are planning an eight-city tour to highlight the importance of the state’s open records law in the wake of unprecedented attacks from state lawmakers. Last summer, Gov. Scott Walker and the state’s Republican leadership tried to sneak a measure into the budget that would have blocked public access to everything created by state and local government officials, including drafts of legislation and communications with staff.

The Sunshine Week tour will include representatives of the Center for Media and Democracy, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, the Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, the MacIver Institute for Public Policy, and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The traveling show will take place in the following locations:

La Crosse: March 15, 2 p.m. La Crosse Public Library. Local sponsor: La Crosse Tribune.

Eau Claire: March 15, 7 p.m. Centennial Hall, Room 1614, UW-Eau Claire. Local sponsor: Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, UW-Eau Claire chapter, Society of Professional Journalists

Wausau: March 16, 10 a.m. Marathon County Public Library. Local sponsor: Wausau Daily Herald-USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Green Bay: March 16, 2 p.m. Green Bay Public Library. Local Sponsor: Green Bay Press-Gazette-USA TODAY NETWORK-WISCONSIN

Appleton: March 16, 7:30 p.m. Appleton Public Library. Local sponsor: Appleton Post-Crescent-USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Sheboygan: March 17, 10 a.m. Sheboygan Public Library. Local sponsor: Sheboygan Press-USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

Waukesha: March 17, 2 p.m, Waukesha Public Library. Local sponsor: Schott, Bublitz and Engel S.C.

Janesville: March 17, 7 p.m. Blackhawk Technical College. Local sponsor: Janesville Gazette

Wisconsin corrections chief resigns amid youth prison investigation

Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Wall has resigned amid an investigation into allegations of abuse at the state’s youth prison, the governor’s office said as news emerged that the FBI had taken over the inquiry there.

Gov. Scott Walker’s staff says Wall submitted his letter of resignation Feb. 5.

He will be replaced by Jon Litscher, who served as the corrections secretary more than a decade ago.

The announcement follows the revelation that a judge sent a letter four years ago warning the governor of possible criminal conduct at the Lincoln Hills School in Irma. Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick has said the governor never saw the note and that it had been referred to the Corrections Department.

The state Department of Justice opened an investigation last year into allegations ranging from sexual assault to misconduct in public office.

“The FBI has transitioned from assisting in the investigation to leading the investigation,” FBI spokesman Leonard Peace said Friday. He said he couldn’t comment on the reason for the switch, since it was an ongoing federal matter.

Litscher has most recently worked as a school superintended in Cambria. He ran the Corrections Department from 1999-2003.

Wall said in his letter of resignation that “the time has come to turn the page for the Department of Corrections and step aside to allow a new person with fresh perspectives to lead the agency forward.” The letter makes no mention of the Lincoln Hills probe.

Chicago teen’s death shines light on police code of silence

For more than a year after an officer shot and killed a black teen named Laquan McDonald, the Chicago Police Department had video footage that raised serious doubts about whether other officers at the scene tried in their reports to cover up what prosecutors now contend was murder.

Not until 15 months later was one of those officers and a detective who concluded the shooting was justified put on desk duty. At least eight other officers failed to recount the same scene that unfolded on the video. All of them remain on the street, according to the department.

The lack of swift action illustrates the difficulty of confronting the “code of silence” that has long been associated with police in Chicago and elsewhere. The obstacles include disciplinary practices that prevent the police chief himself from firing problem officers and a labor contract that prevents officers from being held accountable if a video surfaces that contradicts their testimony.

“If they are not going to analyze officers’ reports and compare them to objective evidence like the video, why would the officers ever stop lying?” asked Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who helped force the city to release the video.

Of the eight officers, six said they did not see who fired and three depicted McDonald as more threatening than he appeared. One claimed the teen tried to get up with a knife still in his hand. The footage clearly showed him falling down and lying motionless on the pavement.

Officer Jason Van Dyke, who emptied his entire 16-round magazine into McDonald, is now awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges. He has been suspended without pay while the department tries to fire him.

City officials say they are cracking down on traditions associated with the code and even questioning applicants for police superintendent about how they would stop officers from lying to protect colleagues.

Chicago isn’t the only major city where officers sworn to tell the truth are suspected of covering for each other. In Los Angeles, three sheriff’s deputies were convicted last year of beating a handcuffed jail visitor and then trying to cover it up. In that case, a plea bargain with two former deputies helped prosecutors expose what they said was a code of silence.

The head of Chicago’s police union dismisses talk of a code.

“It’s not 1954 anymore,” Dean Angelo said. “With cameras everywhere, in squad cars, on everyone’s cellphone … officers aren’t going to make a conscious effort to engage in conduct that puts their own livelihoods at risk.”

But the scrutiny that followed McDonald’s death reveals a system that makes it difficult to fire problem officers and reduces their punishment or delays it for months or years after their reports are exposed as lies.

The code of silence also figured into another video: footage of off-duty officer Anthony Abbate pummeling a bartender. Officers who responded to the 911 call did not include in their reports the bartender’s contention that she was attacked by an officer named Tony, according to testimony in federal court. A jury in 2012 awarded her $850,000 and concluded there was a code of silence.

Like other police departments, Chicago’s police force has long insisted that it doesn’t tolerate dishonesty. When allegations surface about officers lying in a report, they are stripped of their police powers and assigned to desk duty pending the outcome of an internal probe, department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

If the investigation determines the officer was, in fact, dishonest, the department says it moves, without exception, to have that person fired.

However, unlike New York, Baltimore and other cities, Chicago’s police superintendent cannot independently dismiss an officer. That decision belongs to the Chicago Police Board, whose nine civilian members are appointed by the mayor.

It is not unusual for the board to reject recommendations of the superintendent and the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police shootings.

That happened when former Superintendent Garry McCarthy recommended sergeant and a lieutenant be fired for lying in their reports about the accidental discharge of pepper spray in a restaurant. The board agreed that the two had lied but decided to suspend them each for 30 days.

Critics say officers are emboldened to cover up their own misdeeds and those of others because the code extends to City Hall. In the case of the beaten bartender, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s administration responded to the verdict by asking a judge to throw out the jury’s finding because it would set a precedent for potentially costly future lawsuits.

The police union contract also plays a role. It includes a provision that officers who are not shown video of alleged misconduct before being interviewed cannot be disciplined for lying about the recorded events.

“All of this sends a message to police who abuse their police powers that they can operate with impunity,” said the Rev. Marshall Hatch, a prominent local minister.

The issue came to a head in the McDonald case. Weeks after the shooting, Futterman, the law professor, and a journalist publicly urged the city to release the video. A few months later, a detective concluded that the shooting was justifiable homicide by an officer trying to protect his own life, and that the dashboard camera video was consistent with witness accounts.

Emails between City Hall and the police department and others make it clear that the mayor’s office was aware of concerns about the officers’ truthfulness. But there is no indication in the emails that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office demanded or even suggested that someone compare the video with the police reports. Instead, Emanuel’s office chose to wait for the results of federal and local probes, mayoral spokesman Adam Collins.

Guglielmi said that the McDonald case highlights the need for the department to pay closer attention to any discrepancies between videos and written police reports.

Hatch is skeptical, pointing out that not only are all the officers still getting paid, but Van Dyke himself drew a paycheck while working for 13 months until he was charged.

“Nobody ever said, ‘Wait a minute, these officers who filed reports inconsistent with the facts are all still working, including the officer who shot the kid 16 times,”” he said. “Accountability in cases of police misconduct, it just doesn’t exist.” 

Scott Walker setting himself up for a third term as governor

Gov. Scott Walker is setting up himself up to run for a third term as governor.

Walker says he will wait until late 2016 or after the end of the year to make a formal decision, but he says he feels good about the progress he’s made and thinks he can build off it.

Walker, who’s never held a job outside of politics, made the comments to reporters Jan. 26 after he signed a bill at the Rock County Courthouse expanding the state’s Family Care program to the county.

Although Walker and the right-wing spin machine have been cherry-picking economic data in the state to make it appear as if Walker’s economic programs have been a success, they’ve actually failed miserably.

Wisconsin’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, released at the end of last year by the Dept. of Administration showed that the state’s General Fund deficit, as measured by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, increased in fiscal year 2015 by $414 million — from about $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion.

At the same time, his scandal-plagued “job creation” agency has lost track of millions of taxpayer dollars. Sixty percent of taxpayer funds provided by the Wisconsin Economic Development Council went to Walker donors, some of whom had terrible financial records. The money was given to companies that didn’t promise to create jobs in the state. Some of them took the money and built up their operations in other states.

Wisconsin lost 10,000 jobs last year, when most states posted job gains.

Wisconsin has the nation’s fastest-shrinking middle class. Household income shrank in two-thirds of Wisconsin counties from 2009 to 2014.

The state ranks third in the nation for student loan debt.

Walker has worked with the state’s Republican leaders to restrict public access to government records and to eliminate laws and agencies designed to ferret out corruption.

Against this backdrop, Walker will have to regain the public’s confidence to run again. Walker’s approval rating dropped to 37 percent during his failed and heavily mocked presidential campaign last year. Wisconsinites were turned off by not only by the many gaffes he made on the campaign trail, but also the many months he spent outside the state campaigning for president.

Walker also racked up huge costs to Wisconsin taxpayers to provide him with transportation and around-the-clock security.

Shortly before his tight 2014 reelection, Walker said he had no interest in a White House run.

In a public-relations effort to assure Wisconsinites that he’s still interested in the state, he is currently touring the state conducting invitation-only listening sessions. He says that he’s spending time thinking about the next 20 years for the state.

Walker and his wife Tonette are selling their house in a Milwaukee suburb. His personal financial problems, including a high level of consumer credit card debt were well documented by the press during his presidential campaign.

The two-story, three-bedroom colonial in Wauwatosa is on the market for $338,000. Walker tweeted Sunday night that with his sons in college, the couple is looking at downsizing.

See also: Scott Walker’s latest approval rating

State GOP ending legislative session on self-serving political issues

Despite the recent revelation that Wisconsin lost 10,000 jobs in 2015 — the biggest loss since the recession — Republican lawmakers returned to Madison after their holiday recess with everything but jobs on their minds.

Instead of employment, they continued focusing on anti-environmental laws and wrapping up their 2015 agenda, which included rolling back the reforms of the last century and returning to the days when government was shrouded in secrecy and conducted in backroom deals that made elected officials wealthy. The GOP apparently has nothing against big government when its members can pocket a slice of the proceeds. In fact, last year Republicans took multiple powers away from local governments and consolidated them at the state level, where they can pull all the strings and benefit from all the lobbyists’ largesse.

Republicans, who have complete control over every facet of a state government that’s consequently bereft of checks and balances, voted last year to ban prosecutors from using secretive John Doe investigative tactics to ferret out corruption. They reworked campaign finance laws to allow yet more dark money into the political process.

The GOP also has drawn up bills that would make it easier for big polluters and environmentally destructive developers to operate in the state. The law would ease the regulatory path for development on water bodies. It also would take away power from local governments by barring counties from enacting county-wide development bans. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he likes the property rights bill, which would force developers to grease state lawmakers’ palms for project approval — and prevent local residents and officials from opposing projects they don’t want.

In addition, the Senate seems set to pass  on Jan. 20 a bill that overhauls the state’s 110-year-old civil service system. The bill eliminates exams for applicants and allows hiring officials to oust workers so that each new governor could reward campaign supporters with state jobs. The civil service system was adopted to safeguard against such Chicago-style cronyism in state hiring practices. But Republican voters seem indifferent about the issue, which is being spun spuriously by right-wing leaders as “reform” that will improve state hiring practices.

With most of the self-serving portion of their agenda accomplished, GOP lawmakers will spend the next few months passing bills that appease the state’s far right. The goal: to shore up their conservative credentials and ward off potential tea party challengers in the August primaries.

They’ll have to move fast. The last floor debate days are scheduled for late April, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he wants his chamber to wrap up by the end of February. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald hopes to finish in March.

Awaiting action is a proposal that would ban research using tissue from fetuses aborted after Jan. 1, 2015, and prohibit the commercial sale of fetal tissue. Scientists have said the measure could chill work on potentially life-saving cures and treatments. The law would also damage the burgeoning biomedical research economy in Madison, which is one of the state’s only economic success stories.

Republicans already have shored up their support among anti-choice voters by passing bills banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and stripping Planned Parenthood of $3.5 million in federal funding. The fetal tissue ban, although it would destroy jobs, could energize religious right voters even more.

Also on the agenda is an Assembly bill limiting the ability of transgender citizens to use public restrooms. It would force transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender at birth rather than their chosen gender expression. Opponents insist the bill violates federal civil rights law, but it’s a red-meat issue for Christian fundamentalists.

Despite the fact that the United States recorded more than one mass shooting for every day in 2015, the GOP also wants to allow guns in more public places. Rep. Jesse Kremer and Sen. Devin LeMahieu introduced a measure that would allow people to carry concealed weapons into college buildings. They say the legislation would make campuses safer.

University of Wisconsin leaders oppose the bill. Vos said the measure probably isn’t going anywhere in his house. Fitzgerald hinted the bill was all but dead in the Senate as well, saying it would be tough to take it up without Assembly support.

Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate said they’re bracing for a frustrating four months. 

“(The Republicans are) just so brazen in terms of their willingness to feather their own nest without doing anything significant for the people of this state,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said.

Vos countered that he has created three task forces addressing how to bolster resources for dementia, urban education and preparing young people for the workforce. He also pointed out the state budget gives schools $69 million more in 2016–17.

Meanwhile, more and more businesses are leaving the state, along with talented young people who see no future in a state that’s racing backward on a path greased with corruption.

This analysis relies in large part on AP reporting. 


Analysis: Despite job losses, Republicans focus on right-wing and anti-environmental agenda ahead of elections

Despite the recent revelation that Wisconsin lost 10,000 jobs in 2015 — the biggest loss since the recession — Republican lawmakers returned to Madison after their holiday recess with everything but jobs on their minds.

They continued last week focusing their efforts on the agenda they followed last year, when they: rolled back the political reforms of the last century to shroud government operations in secrecy; barred prosecutors from using secretive John Doe investigative tactics against politicians; and reworked campaign finance laws to allow yet more dark money into the political process. With that partisan main agenda accomplished, the next few months will be about passing bills that appease the state’s far right. They want to shore up their conservative credentials and ward off potential challengers in the August primary.

They’ll have to move fast. The last floor debate days are scheduled for late April, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he wants his chamber to wrap up by the end of February. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald hopes to finish in March.

One of the first orders of business for the Senate will be passing a bill that overhauls the state’s 110-year-old civil service system on Jan. 20. The bill eliminates exams for applicants and would end bumping rights that have protected more experienced workers from losing their jobs. The system was adopted to safeguard against cronyism and corruption in state hiring practices, and Democrats maintain that the measure would usher in a new era of turning state jobs into rewards for political supporters.

Also awaiting action is a proposal that would ban research using tissue from fetuses aborted after Jan. 1, 2015, and prohibit the commercial sale of fetal tissue. Researchers have complained the measure could chill work on potentially life-saving cures and treatments. The law would also damage the burgeoning biomedical research economy in Madison, which is one of the state’s only economic success stories.

Republicans have already shored up their support among anti-choice voters by passing bills banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and stripping Planned Parenthood of $3.5 million in federal funding. The fetal tissue ban, although it would destroy jobs, would energize religious right voters even more.

Also on the agenda is an Assembly bill limiting the ability of transgender citizens to use public restrooms. It would force transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender at birth rather than their chosen gender expression. Opponents insist the bill violates federal civil rights law, but it’s a red-meat issue for Christian fundamentalists.

Despite the fact that the United States recorded more than one mass shooting for every day in 2015, the GOP also wants to allow guns in more public places. Rep. Jesse Kremer and Sen. Devin LeMahieu have introduced a bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons into college buildings. They say the measure would make campuses safer.

University of Wisconsin leaders oppose the bill. Vos said the measure probably isn’t going anywhere in his house. Fitzgerald hinted the bill was all but dead in the Senate as well, saying it would be tough to take it up without Assembly support.

Republicans also are working on a measure that would allow lawmakers to impose special requirements such as withdrawal limits in areas where high-capacity wells are depleting groundwater. Farmers say the bill would make the well permitting process more uncertain.

The GOP also has drawn up bills that would make it easier for big polluters and environmentally destructive developers to operate in the state. The law would ease the regulatory path for development on water bodies. It would also take away power from local governments by barring counties from enacting county-wide development bans. Vos has said he likes the property rights bill.

Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate said they’re bracing for a frustrating four months. Republicans need to focus on real issues and help the middle class by boosting wages and creating more jobs, they said.

“(The Republicans are) just so brazen in terms of their willingness to feather their own nest without doing anything significant for the people of this state,” Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said.

Vos countered that he has created three task forces addressing how to bolster resources for dementia, urban education and preparing young people for the workforce. He also pointed out the state budget gives schools $69 million more in 2016-17.