Influence Peddler of the Month
Posted: April 30, 2015
Updated: June 22, 2015
For the past 30 years, Scott Jensen has worked in or near the State Capitol and influenced nearly every aspect of state policy and spending as a lobbyist, legislative leader, GOP strategist and gubernatorial adviser.
Jensen, age 54, is currently a lobbyist and senior adviser for the Washington, D.C.-based American Federation for Children, a pro-school voucher group that has spent an estimated $5.4 million since the beginning of 2010 on outside electioneering activities to support mostly Republican legislative candidates. Ironically, the message in most of the group’s electioneering activities rarely mentions school vouchers or education. For the most part, it smears Democratic candidates on tax, government spending, job creation, and economic development issues.
The group has racked up an impressive list of legislative victories to sharply expand Wisconsin’s school voucher program.
The state’s school voucher program has moved beyond Milwaukee, first to Racine, and then statewide, and state spending on the voucher program has ballooned from less than $1 million a year when it started in 1990 to about $212 million in 2014-15.
Before getting involved with the American Federation for Children, Jensen served in the Assembly from 1992 until 2006. He quickly moved up the legislative ladder, to majority leader in 1995 and then Assembly Speaker, which is often called the second most influential post in Wisconsin government after the governor, in 1997.
During Jensen’s tenure as Assembly leader, majority Republicans tried to neuter public financing of campaigns, rejected efforts (here and here) to reform ineffective and antiquated campaign finance laws, provided large tax breaks and other perks ( here and here) to wealthy special interests and substantially increased campaign fundraising, especially while the legislature considered state budget bills (here, here, here, here, here, here).
Jensen served as Assembly Speaker until 2002, when he was charged with three felonies and a misdemeanor after an investigation into illegal campaign activity using state workers and resources – a probe frequently referred to as the Caucus Scandal.
Jensen resigned his Assembly seat in 2006 after he was convicted of three felonies and a misdemeanor for misconduct in public office, and sentenced to 15 months in prison. Jensen’s felony convictions were later overturned on appeal and in 2010 Jensen agreed to a plea bargain offered by then- Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, who was elected attorney general last November. The plea deal dismissed the felonies; required Jensen to plead no contest to an ethics code violation for violating standards of conduct for public officials; and required Jensen to pay a $5,000 forfeiture and to reimburse the state for about $67,000 in legal fees.
Before his election to the Assembly, Jensen, a Wisconsin native, served as chief of staff and top adviser to former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, the state’s longest-serving governor, from 1990 until 1992, and before that, he was director of the Assembly Republican Caucus.