Blown Save

Governor Misses Opportunity to Side With Public on Scandal-Plagued Caucuses

August 29, 2001

Madison - Governor Scott McCallum’s decision not to veto funding for the legislative caucuses was a missed opportunity for the state’s chief executive but will not set back the effort to rid state government of the corrupt practices the taxpayer-funded caucuses have come to symbolize, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said today.

"It’s a blown save. This was the easiest $8 million he’ll ever have a chance to save the taxpayers," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said of the decision. "Governor McCallum passed up a chance to side with the taxpayers whose money has been flagrantly misused. And he passed up a chance to stand with citizens whose democracy is being corrupted."

The governor told reporters he wanted to give the legislature the opportunity to clean up its own mess, but would introduce special legislation if the legislature fails to act. However, McCabe said by opting not to veto the caucuses, the governor passed on his best opportunity to influence the matter. 

"The governor had a chance to put them in a box, but decided to cut them some slack instead," he said. "Legislative leaders will hold on to the caucuses for dear life because they are incredibly powerful tools the leaders have skillfully used to consolidate power. If the heat grows too intense, they’ll try to perform cosmetic surgery by moving the operations to other offices or operating them under another name."

McCabe said he remained optimistic that the legislature’s hopes of keeping the caucuses in some form can be thwarted. He pointed to the ongoing investigations into illegal activity being conducted by the state Ethics Board, Elections Board, Department of Justice, and the district attorneys in Dane and Milwaukee counties.

"Serious investigations are underway. Subpoenas have been issued to staffers from both parties, who now face the prospect of having to testify under oath. I think the investigators are going to get to the bottom of this," he said.

McCabe said he'd met with officials involved in the investigations, and it was clear from the conversations that rumors of a settlement any time soon that would bring the investigations to a close are unfounded. 

"The investigators are still piecing together facts and building a case. They don’t strike me as being close to the end game," he said. "I get the distinct impression that decisions about charges being filed or settlements being reached are months away."

However the investigations play out, what matters is that they yield meaningful reforms to Wisconsin’s political system and accountability for those who have engaged in or overseen illegal activities, McCabe said, adding that his meetings with investigators left him optimistic the probes would do that.