WDC Calls on Doyle to Challenge Caucus Legal Fees

November 1, 2001

Madison - State Attorney General James Doyle should challenge in court the use of public funds for the legal defense of state employees who are under investigation for illegal campaigning with state resources, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign urged today in a letter to Doyle.

"The attorney general’s office already has issued an opinion that state payment of the legal fees is illegal. Attorney General Doyle ought to fight for his position in court," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. "Taxpayers deserve to have at least one elected official standing up for them on this issue. Their elected representatives in the legislature clearly are not looking out for their interests on the legal fee question."

In the letter, McCabe wrote that the "legislature has placed itself above the law by providing legal representation for legislative employees that other state employees would not be provided under Wisconsin law."

The letter notes the attorney general’s opinion declaring the use of taxpayer money for the legal fees to be "contrary to state law." The legislature, however, is approving payment of submitted legal bills in defiance of the opinion.

McCabe said it is an "immense conflict of interest for legislative leaders to authorize the use of public funds for legal representation for subordinates who may have information that could incriminate the leaders themselves."

He called it "particularly obnoxious" that legislative leaders were forcing taxpayers to "pay some of the state’s most elite law firms to fight the investigations.." He added the legislature is "placing itself above the citizenry it is supposed to represent by approving the use of taxpayer money for payments to lawyers the vast majority of the state’s citizens could never afford to hire if they ran into legal trouble themselves."

The letter argues the issue needs to be decided in court because of unanswered questions about the legality of the legislature’s payment.

Letter

November 1, 2001

Attorney General James E. Doyle
State of Wisconsin Department of Justice
123 West Washington Avenue
P.O. Box 7857
Madison, WI 53707-7857

Dear Attorney General Doyle:

I am writing to urge you to use the full powers of your office to challenge in court the use of public funds for the legal defense of state employees who are under investigation for the illegal use of state offices and state resources for campaign purposes.

Your office already has issued an opinion declaring that state payment of these legal fees is contrary to state law. In his October 24 memo to Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank argued that the legislature’s authorization of these payments fails three tests of legal propriety.

The Legislative Council’s reply to your office’s legal opinion is being used by the legislature as justification for payment of submitted legal bills. But even this reply acknowledges that "(r)eimbursement of legislative employees for legal expense incurred in connection with civil or criminal proceedings related to their legislative employment may, however, raise legal issues under some circumstances."

In his October 26 memo, the Legislative Council’s Chief of Legal Services Donald Dyke went on to say that "(p)ublic purpose doctrine issues in connection with reimbursement of legal fees might be raised, for example, if, in a civil proceeding, an employee were found to have acted outside the scope of employment or if, in a criminal proceeding, an employee were convicted."

Mr. Dyke foreshadowed what needs to happen next when he wrote, "(i)f any reimbursement is challenged, the public purpose issue would be decided by the courts."

Clearly, this issue needs to be decided in court. The public deserves to know definitively whether or not this use of taxpayer money is legal. We urge you to take prompt action to initiate the legal process that will provide the people of Wisconsin the answers they deserve.

While there are unanswered questions about the legality of the legislature’s payments, as a matter of principle they are dead wrong. It is wrong for taxpayers to be forced to pay the legal bills of individuals under investigation for flagrantly misusing public funds for secret, illegal campaign activity.

It also is an immense conflict of interest for legislative leaders to authorize the use of public funds for legal representation for subordinates who may have information that could incriminate the leaders themselves. And it is particularly obnoxious for the legislative leadership to expect taxpayers to pay some of the state’s most elite law firms to fight the investigations into the legislative caucus scandal.

The legislature has placed itself above the law by providing legal representation for legislative employees that other state employees would not be provided under Wisconsin law. And the legislature is placing itself above the citizenry it is supposed to represent by approving the use of taxpayer money for payments to lawyers the vast majority of the state’s citizens could never afford to hire if they ran into legal trouble themselves.

Citizens can now only look to the "people’s attorney" to use the full authority and resources of your office to challenge this outrageous abuse of the public treasury and the public trust.

Sincerely,

Mike McCabe

Executive Director
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign