Democrats to skip fundraiser 
after complaints

June 6, 2009

SUN PRAIRIE - The state Assembly's Democratic leaders decided Monday they won't attend a campaign fundraiser next week after all.

The Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee had organized a $1,000-a-head golf outing for June 15 in Wisconsin Dells. Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, D-Janesville, and Majority Leader Tom Nelson, D-Kaukauna, both said last week they planned to attend.

Sheridan and Nelson helped pass an Assembly rule in February that prohibits members from raising cash for their personal campaigns while the state budget is in play. The rule was meant to keep special interests from persuading lawmakers to insert perks in the spending plan in exchange for donations.

Legislators are still locked in debate over the 2009-11 budget. Both the Assembly and the state Senate must pass an identical version before Gov. Jim Doyle can sign it into law. The process could take days yet, if not weeks, making it likely the outing would fall while negotiations continue.

The Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee isn't a personal campaign committee, but it does raise cash to divide among Democratic candidates. Mike McCabe, executive director of government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and Assembly Republicans said Sheridan and Nelson's presence at the golf outing at least violates the spirit of the no-fundraising rule.

Sheridan and Nelson defended their plans last week, saying they were well within the boundaries of the rule.

Still, the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper ran an editorial on its web site Sunday evening criticizing them. Late Monday evening Sheridan and Nelson issued a statement saying they stood by their interpretation of the rule but wouldn't attend the outing. They asked the committee to reschedule the event.

"While we know that this event is in full compliance with the rule, we also understand it is important that we do nothing to call into question the effectiveness of the ban," Sheridan and Nelson said.

"Because of our deep commitment to campaign finance reform, we have decided not to attend the June 15th event, and have asked that the event be rescheduled to a later date. Just as it is critical that we have a strong ban in place, it is also critical that people have full faith and confidence in the ban."

The statement doesn't say when the committee should reschedule the outing.

McCabe said Monday that Sheridan and Nelson did the right thing.

"Going ahead with the fundraiser would've been a mistake," McCabe said. "They would have opened themselves to charges of hypocrisy if they'd gone forward."

A message left at the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee after business hours on Monday wasn't immediately returned, nor were messages left for state Republican Party spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.

State Rep. Mark Gottlieb, R-Port Washington, introduced a bill this spring that would insert a fundraising ban during budget work into state law. He said last week Sheridan and Nelson were trying to exploit a loophole in the fundraising rule. Gottlieb also did not immediately return messages left at his Capitol office or district listing.


Associated Press