Did senators’ sendoff violate Wisconsin lobbying law?

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — The farewell reception Tuesday night for soon-to-be retiring state Sens. Tim Cullen, Bob Jauch, and Dale Schultz was attended by a veritable who’s who of old Wisconsin pols.

Former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle was there. So was Mary Panzer, the former Republican state senator who long ago was primaried out of the legislative and leadership seat she held. And state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser stopped by, presumably in deference to the old days when Prosser served with the outgoing senators in the Legislature, eventually as Assembly minority leader and then speaker.

Also there to “pay tribute” were several Capitol lobbyists. The fact that they paid the $10 entry fee appears to be a violation of state lobbying law.

It may seem trivial, this $10 fee coughed up by the lobbying class to say farewell to three long-serving state lawmakers. It seems the entry fee from the 75-plus guests at Madison’s Avenue Bar was more of a way to cover the cost of the hors d’oeuvres — more like a college rent party, with a cash bar and sans the kegger.

SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES: Outgoing state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, one of three retiring state senators who old pols and lobbyists paid tribute to Tuesday night in Madison.

But state statute is pretty clear on politicans and their staffs not feeding the lobbyists. And these outgoing senators are the same legislators who for years have decried special interest influence in politics, the same people who have written or voted for the very same so-called transparency laws under the “prohibited practices” section.

“No candidate for an elective state office, elective state official, agency official or legislative employee of the state may solicit or accept anything of pecuniary value from a lobbyist or principal,” the law states. There are exceptions to the rules, but they don’t appear to apply in this case.

The lobbying law clearly spells out that there can be no exchange of pecuniary — that’s money — value between lobbyist and lawmaker, and the lawmaker’s staff. That includes food, drink, transportation, lodging, employment, or any other thing of “pecuniary value from a lobbyist, either directly or through an agent.”

The law addresses “Rewards For Official Action,” noting “Anything of value that could reasonably be considered as a reward for the official’s action or inaction.”

During his lengthy swan song speech, Jauch, D-Poplar, joked, “I can’t but help look around this room but think maybe we’re attending a fundraiser from the past.”

Among the lobbyists in attendance were Alliant Energy point man Bob Bartlett and longtime lobbyist Ron Kuehn, who, according to his website, “believes that working with government is like playing golf: you play the game the way the course is laid out and don’t call the greens keeper to complain about the location of the sand traps.”

Schultz, R-Richland Center, sounded nonplussed when Wisconsin Reporter asked him about the campaign finance law following Tuesday’s event.

“Well you have me at a disadvantage. I was invited to come to a party,” Schultz said. “It was put on by people who I think were doing their level best to comply with the law, and I have no reason to believe they didn’t clear it with all the powers that be, and, yes, I think it’s appropriate for fees to be charged for people who work with the public.”

Schultz’s staff members helped to organize the event. The invitations were sent, and forwarded, on state accounts, according to some emails obtained by Wisconsin Reporter. They do not appear to have been sent from any of the lawmakers’ campaigns.

“Description: Pay tribute to retiring State Senators Tim Cullen (D-Janesville), and Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar), and Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) and honor their service by attending this event,” one email states.

“Cost: $10 cost of entry per person for hors d’oeuvres; cash bar.”

What’s the harm, Schultz and others say. It’s $10 after all, the three outgoing senators with more than 80 years of legislative experience between them will probably have little involvement in a Legislature that won’t return to session until after the first of the year — without them.

Schultz joked, asking whether this reporter paid the entry fee. This reporter did not. He was allowed in gratis as a journalist covering the event.

“I’M BUYING MY OWN DRINKS: State Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center (hand on chin) getting some good laughs from old friends and colleagues at Tuesday’s farewell “salute.”

“I’m buying my own drinks, I don’t know about you,” the senator said, chuckling, a mixed drink before him. He did pay for the drink. “Are you telling me that you came to cover this thing for the free lunch? Were you under the mistaken impression someone was going to buy you a drink?” No.This reporter had neither food nor drink at the 2 and ½-hour ceremony.

Schultz went on to defend Wisconsin’s Reporter’s right to ask him questions.

“Look, as a guy who proudly stood up and reminded his colleagues of the grand profession journalism is … I respect what you do. I respect the questions that you ask,” he said. “I think they are appropriate. When mistakes are made they should be acknowledged and the answers should be direct.”

He did not state that any mistakes were made. Schultz said he thought the event was a nice way for people to get together and that he leaves with “joy in my heart and the deepest admiration for the people of the state of Wisconsin …”

Reid Magney, spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board, said the agency did “not know all of the facts” so he could not comment on the matter. He said the same after Wisconsin Reporter had confirmed that there were several active lobbyists in attendance.

“Any public official or lobbyist who has questions about compliance with lobbying law may confidentially request advice from the Board,” Magney stated in an email to Wisconsin Reporter.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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