Huebsch “apology” to WEDC Board means little, raises more unanswered questions

Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) Secretary Mike Huebsch issued an apology by phone to Wisconsin Economic Development (WEDC) board members late Thursday.

Following the exposure of a Federal Agency letter (HUD) suspending WEDC from awarding or administering a federal block grant program; and Scott Walker’s disastrous press conference on Wednesday, Huebsch could be taking the fall for this fiasco. His apology reveals there is real cause for concern about WEDC and the block grant program administration.

Both DOA and WEDC were aware of the issues HUD has raised with the current administration of the program – the WEDC Board was just not informed. Huebsch actually lies about this in his “apology,” stating that HUD communications were with DOA. There is record of WEDC being informed of the Feds’ concern.

There are numerous critical, unanswered questions. There are units of local government that are working on, and negotiating contracts for CDBG funds through the state. Badger Democracy has learned they are negotiating with WEDC. Is DOA acting as the administrator of the program, with WEDC making the awards? That would seem to be in violation of federal statute, according to the HUD letter.

Is it legal for DOA to be acting as a “rubber stamp” for WEDC in this program?

If that is the case, DOA would be funneling the money to WEDC. Where is the money going? There is virtually no oversight or accountability of WEDC – as recently expressed by the Legislative Audit Bureau. Does WEDC use the CDBG funds for purposes OTHER then the public program? Venture capital? Quasi-private development?

Take away the role of governmental oversight and regulation; combined with ideology over responsibility,  and this is the result. State government administration is currently a shambles. Huebsch may end up the fall guy, but there are scores more who are avoiding accountability.

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Walker denies severity of Feds’ rebuke of DOA/WEDC…with spin and lies

Unedited audio of Scott Walker answering reporters’ questions after the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) press conference Wednesday afternoon has been obtained by Badger Democracy. The press conference was supposed to be an unveiling of the new “In Wisconsin” campaign and re-branding of WEDC.

Instead, Walker was barraged with questions about the Federal Housing and Urban Development review of the DOA/WEDC administration of the Federal Community Development Block Grant program (CDBG). The story was first reported yesterday morning by the Wisconsin State Journal, albeit incompletely. Badger Democracy reported on the story shortly after, posting the full letter and a thorough investigation.

In his comments to reporters, Walker stated the HUD criticism surrounded issues that “…go back a decade,”  and the DOA “…is waiting to hear back from HUD…DOA is working with HUD, and we are waiting for more correspondence from HUD as to whether the DOA plan is acceptable.”

When pressed by a reporter on whether to WEDC Board should have been notified, Walker stated, “…it (the letter) didn’t require specific action by the board…there were no policy changes required by the board.”

Another reporter pressed Walker on the issue of HUD not recognizing WEDC as a state agency with authority to administer or make awards under the CDBG program. Walker replied, “…HUD is looking at a variety of things prior to our Administration…that is just one component. The focal point of the letter wasn’t that.”

The Walker portion of the press conference then came to an abrupt end.

The May 17, 2012 letter in question from HUD to the DOA puts Walker’s comments in a very bad light. While DOA may be “corresponding” with HUD, it is clear the letter in question is proof that Walker’s comments are at best, spin; at worst, an outright lie.

Regarding each of Walker’s points – First, the May 17 letter made clear the DOA “Administrative Agreement” was unacceptable and lacking. As of today, HUD maintains that WEDC is not an “instrumentality of the state.”

Second, the letter specifically references WEDC as a “subrecipient” under the CDBG program and cites sixteen specific reforms required to fulfill statutory requirements under the CDBG program. Eleven of the sixteen requirements specifically reference necessary WEDC reforms under state and federal statutes, and administrative rule.

Third, the focal point of the letter is most definitely the “instrumentality” of WEDC as a state agency. There is absolutely no reference in the May 17 letter to the old Department of Commerce; the previous state agency administering the Block Grant program.

Each of Walker’s points are addressed and proven false in the  paragraphs of the May 17, 2012 (full) letter.

First point (DOA awaiting acceptance of its “Agreement”):

In response, on March 14, 2012 DOA provided HUD an executed Administrative Agreement (the Agreement) for review. On April 12, 2012 HUD advised DOA that WEDC must immediately cease the award and administration of all CDBG funds until an appropriate…written agreement between the Wisconsin DOA and the WEDC is received and approved by HUD.

HUD had not, and has still not approved of the DOA plan. This has been ongoing since 2011.

Second point (the letter did not require action by WEDC Board):

Prior to the execution of the agreement, on February 21, 2012, Governor Scott Walker announced that the WEDC had awarded CDBG funds to the Wisconsin cities of Arcadia, Chippewa Falls…At the time of this award, WEDC had no legal authority under the CDBG program to award or administer CDBG funds 

An agency of the Federal Government has just informed a state agency that one of its “subrecipients” is in violation of federal law. And Walker denies it was necessary to inform the WEDC Board.

Third, that “the focal point” of the letter was not the “instrumentality” of WEDC as a state agency:

This correspondence is being provided to transmit the results of HUD’s review of the Administrative Agreement executed between the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) and its subrecipient, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

The function of WEDC was the very purpose of the letter.

Thus far, the fallout has been far-reaching. Rep. Peter Barca and State Senator Julie Lassa, legislative board members to WEDC issued a scathing statement late Wednesday.

“It’s inexcusable that this letter was not shared with the WEDC Board at its meeting last week,
even though the administration received it in August”

President of FluGen Paul Radspinner and WEDC Board Member has sent a letter threatening resignation from the board:

“If the WEDC leadership is not held accountable to proactively keep the board informed in a timely manner on issues affecting the future of this corporation and its reputation then I cannot fulfill my fiduciary responsibilities nor can I continue to serve as a member of the board”

Further confusing the issue is a Wisconsin community leader who spoke with Badger Democracy on Wednesday morning. This community is in the process of completing a CDBG contract for downtown revitalization. The grantor on the contract is WEDC.

A HUD spokesperson told Badger Democracy yesterday that at this time, the Federal Agency does not recognize WEDC as an authorized state agency.

Badger Democracy has arranged a press call with HUD officials on Monday morning, at which time the agency will update and answer questions regarding the CDBG program in Wisconsin.

All WEDC Board members and officers have been contacted for comment and have not replied.

Stay tuned…

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Feds’ letter to DOA suspends block grant program, says WEDC not state agency

UPDATED 2:45pm – see end of blog.

Badger Democracy has obtained a letter from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development Milwaukee Office (HUD) dated May 17, 2012 to Department of Administration (DOA) Secretary Mike Huebsch. HUD was not just critical of DOA/State oversight of the new Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC); the federal agency suspended the critical Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.

The agency went so far as to state that WEDC is not an “…instrumentality of the state.” The full letter can be found at this link: HUD Letter to WEDC

While local press have given the letter some attention, the broader implications of this communication have been largely ignored. The HUD review of the WEDC  “Administrative Agreement” executed by DOA exposes a negligence in the statutory authorization of WEDC  to act as a state agency. It also underscores growing concern over lack of accountability and oversight of WEDC.

DOA has been aware for this issue for over one year.

On August 25, 2011, HUD informed DOA that the “…administrative role of WEDC (was) limited because the state was unable to provide an Attorney General (AG) opinion certifying the WEDC as a ‘instrumentality of the state.'”

September 20, 2011 HUD held a conference call with DOA staff and “…reiterated (that) absent an AG opinion HUD does not recognize WEDC as an instrumentality of the state…(WEDC) is not authorized to administer the CDGB program.”

On March 14, 2012, DOA sent an “Executed Administrative Agreement” (Agreement) regarding WEDC and its authority to administer the CDBG program. The May letter was a review of this “Agreement” – which HUD found seriously deficient.

In February, the Walker Administration knowingly disregarded the HUD letter and conference call  advising them of HUD’s position on WEDC.

Prior to the “Agreement” execution, WEDC announced awards to Arcadia, Chippewa Falls, Birchwood, Soldier’s Grove, and Mercer on February 20, 2012. From the HUD program director:

WEDC had no legal authority to award or administer CDBG funds.

As of April 12, 2012 WEDC must immediately cease the award and administration of all CDBG funds. Access to the IDIS system is suspended as of April 20, 2012.

In order to reinstate WEDC, HUD set forth a set of sixteen “critical provisions…not included” in the DOA Administrative Agreement. Here are six of the most critical (numbers in parentheses correspond with the document):

1 (1). Since the DOA had already violated CDBG statutes in the February 2012 awards, HUD is rejecting the DOA request to make its Agreement retroactive to 7/1/11. Any agreement would have to be effective the date the order is signed – 3/7/12 in this case.

2 (3). The CDBG program is defined incorrectly under the “Agreement.” Local Governmental Units are not required to pay back grant funds to the state. They are grants. (BD Note – has this been used as a budgeting gimmick by DOA? Accounting for grant “repayments” as revenue?)

3 (5). There is no provision in the “Agreement” requiring DOA (or any other state agency) oversight of WEDC.

4 (9). Article 21 must comply with Federal Statutes prohibiting use of funds for inherently religious purposes. No such clause exists.

5 (11). Provisions must address the issues of “Job Pirating,” Underwriting,” and “Public Benefit.”

6 (16). No “certifying officer” is named in the DOA “Agreement.” One is required under statute.

Badger Democracy has attempted to determine the status of the CDBG program and state access to the IDIS program, beyond DOA comment to media. No reply from DOA has been received.

DOJ has not responded as to whether the AG has submitted a formal opinion on WEDC as an “instrumentality of the state.”

Sernorma Mitchell, program director from HUD – Milwaukee is at a conference today. The Public Affairs officer from HUD has been attempting to reach her this morning for an update on HUD’s position on the CDBG program.

A public official who wished to remain anonymous spoke with Badger Democracy this morning. This official’s community is currently in the process of completing a CDBG award contract, and the named agency on the contract is WEDC. It was this person’s understanding that DOA is now acting as the oversight agency for the program, and the money is coming from WEDC. That could not be confirmed.

The actual program status is unknown at this time. Are we witnessing the unraveling of a “shell game” to operate WEDC as a quasi-governmental agency with no oversight or accountability; investing state funds and resources for private profit at public expense?

Has DOA bypassed the HUD concerns and oversight of WEDC by acting as the “state authority” and virtual rubber stamp for any program administered by WEDC through DOA?

Badger Democracy will update as more information becomes available.

It is apparent that WEDC is a hastily contrived, singular vision agency put together with no consideration for statewide public impact. While it may serve the corporate development elite in the state, it is keeping the general public (which fund its existence) in the dark as to its activities and investments.

The HUD letter raises serious concern as to whether WEDC should continue to be funded by Wisconsin taxpayers.

UPDATE 2:45pm – A HUD official confirmed to Badger Democracy that DOA has not taken the necessary steps to have WEDC recognized as a state agency authorized to administer any federal program. The question of legality of DOA acting as the “front” agency for WEDC in the Block Grant Program was raised, and HUD will be scheduling a press call when the program director is available.

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Tommy and Medicare…2008 – 2012 – From “Death Panels” to “Death to the system”

Two videos, four years apart illustrate a dramatic departure from political and economic reality for Tommy Thompson. In a recent speech in front of the “Lake Country Defenders of Liberty”  at Olympia Resort and Conference Center (Oconomowoc), Thompson laid out the plan to end Medicare. Four years earlier, in an October 2008 online interview, Thompson supported a commission to reform end-of-life treatment limitations as a way to help save Medicare. This extreme ideological shift begs the question – is Thompson even capable of independent thought and responsible governance anymore?

In the recent speech, Thompson outlines the textbook neo-conservative methodology for killing a government program . In the words of Grover Norquist:

I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.

Thompson asks “…who better than me, I already finished one program, Welfare, to do away with Medicaid and Medicare?” His answer follows the Norquist blueprint. “Give people a choice,” says Thompson, between taking the current government-run Medicare or purchasing their own insurance with a subsidized voucher.

Thompson continued the attack, “…no one will accept it (the current plan), because Medicare will be broke by 2022.” The same strategy is being used to weaken public pension plans. As more people “opt out” the participant pool diminishes. Revenue going into the program decreases to the point that it becomes incapable of paying out current benefits. It can then be “drowned in the bathtub.”

Aside from the ideology over economics, Thompson’s claim requires a fact and reality check. The Thompson claim that “Medicare will be broke by 2022″ is inaccurate. Further, the voucher policy he supports, coupled with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Thompson has stated his support for repeal) would make Medicare even less stable.

According to the Medicare Trustees’ report from this year:

“The Medicare Trustees Report shows that the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund is expected to remain solvent until 2024, the same as last year’s estimate…The ACA is giving the CMS the ability to do this work, with tools to lower costs, fight fraud and change incentives so that Medicare pays for coordinated, quality care, not the number of services…without the Affordable Care Act, the HI Trust Fund would expire 8 years earlier, in 2016.

Much of the neo-conservative propaganda about Medicare and the ACA being touted by Thompson et al, comes from an independent paper published by a Public Medicare Trustee  Charles Blahous.

To ensure the ACA does not worsen the federal fiscal outlook, fully two-thirds of the ACA’s new health-exchange subsidies must be repealed, or financing offsets must be found before 2014…the ACA will add some $530 billion to federal deficits by 2021 and that the Obama administration employs “double counting” in its savings estimates.

Blahous is a “Senior Research Fellow” at the Mercatus Institute – funded by Charles and David Koch. The Blahous paper has been skewered by more rational minds, namely Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman. From Chait:

You may wonder what methods Blahous used to obtain a more accurate measure of the bill’s cost. The answer is that he relies on a simple conceptual trick. Medicare Part A has a trust fund. By law, the trust fund can’t spend more than it takes in. So Blahous assumes that, when the trust fund reaches its expiration, it would automatically cut benefits.

The assumption is important because it forms the baseline against which he measures Obama’s health-care law. He’s assuming that Medicare’s deficits will automatically go away. Therefore, the roughly $500 billion in Medicare savings that Obama used to help cover the uninsured is money that Blahous assumes the government wouldn’t have spent anyway. Without the health-care law, in other words, we would have had Medicare cuts but no new spending on the uninsured. Now we have the Medicare cuts and new spending on the uninsured. Therefore, the new spending in the law counts toward increasing the deficit, but the spending cuts don’t count toward reducing it.

Krugman illustrates this accounting absurdity using a budgetary example relative to the Bush Tax Cuts:

“…the whole of the Bush tax cuts will expire at the end of this year. If that’s your baseline, then plans like the Ryan budget, which not only maintains those tax cuts but adds another $4.6 trillion to the pot, are wildly deficit-increasing — in fact, the Ryan plan would be a huge budget-buster even if hell freezes over and his secret loophole-closers turn out to be real.”

The absurdity of this accounting of Medicare persists with far right-wing GOP candidates – including Thompson. The reason is obvious – it creates panic and confusion about fiscal reality. In fact, it is now replacing fiscal reality with ideology. The proof is Tommy Thompson in 2008 talking about how to save Medicare.  

Thompson’s ideas to reform (not kill) Medicare:

1.  “I would put a Medicare base closing commission together which is going to make the tough decisions such as age, such as taxes, such as when you’re on your death-bed, what sort of treatments do you get, and when you get in the last 12 months of your life where 30% of the cost of Medicare dollars are expended.”

2.”The second thing you have to do is you have to fix SCHIP. This is the program for poor children and you got to be able to put together a bipartisan support on SCHIP and I think that’s imminently doable.”

3. “…the third thing you have to do is you have to fix what we call the reimbursement formula for doctors. It has been postponed now for five years, and every year that it’s postponed, it’s causing more money and that’s got to be fixed.”

4. “…we got to do something about Information Technology and have national standards for an electronic medical record and put the cost to credits in there that’s going to be the inducement for doctors to use electronic medical records and actually prescribe using a computer instead of handwriting.”

5. “…we really educate America to eat properly, exercise and take care of themselves and that’s where chronic illnesses come in, because most of chronic illnesses are either self-inflicted or exaggerated and exacerbated by what we do, what we put into our bodies and our failure to exercise”

 Who was that Tommy Thompson? Such is the influence of corporate money and influence on politics. Merely four years ago, Thompson was talking of bi-partisan reform, and was even in support of what has now been demonized as “death panels” to reform end-of-life care treatments.

Today, Thompson has become an ideologue, putting the corporate takeover of democracy over responsible governance.

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While Rome burns…Walker sells Wisconsin to the lowest bidder – China

Scott Walker is in Texas today with Governors Rick Perry (R-Texas) and Rick Scott (R-Florida), courting Chinese investors in the hopes of attracting “investment” in their respective states.  Walker and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation are attempting to attract millions of dollars in Chinese capital investment into Wisconsin, from the PiYi Investment Management Co. 

Meanwhile, back in Wisconsin, the monthly ritual of analyzing jobs data continues, with the same result. No matter how the far right attempts to spin the numbers, Wisconsin is still far behind the rest of the nation in job growth. The weekly unemployment claims report showed Wisconsin at the top of the list  of first-time unemployment filings.

The largest increases in initial claims for the week ending September 8 were in Louisiana (+6,678), Puerto Rico (+1,679), Mississippi (+1,067), Wisconsin (+988), and Washington (+833).

Right behind Louisiana, Puerto Rico, and Mississippi. Nearly 1,000 first time unemployed. Yes, it’s working – so much that Walker and WEDC will be happy to sell Wisconsin workers and resources to the Chinese, and their followers will be  lemmings diving in. Since Walker took office, job growth has come to a grinding halt.

Here’s a look at the numbers Walker actually accepts – the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS).

Labor Force is at its lowest point in 6 months, and down 10,000 from August in 2010. The population in Wisconsin is growing at about 1% per year – we are not creating enough jobs to even keep up with population growth.

Statewide employment is stagnant since Walker took office in January 2011 (2.833 million 2011 – 2.832 million in August 2012). That increase is consistent with August 2010 – August 2012 – 10,000. With 10,000 fewer people in the workforce, the net is a zero gain.

The number of unemployed is down 8,000 since Walker took office (237,000 January 2011 – 229,000 August 2012), but is at its highest level in nearly a year – September 2011. Again – 10,000 fewer people in the work force.

The unemployment rate is at its highest level since September 2011 as well. Since the passage of the Walker budget in July 2011, any decrease in the rate is virtually gone – again, with 10,000 people less in the labor force.

Scott Walker has chosen ideology over governance. The opportunity has existed to create actual job legislation, and it was squandered. Acts 10 (collective bargaining) and 32 (budget) have done more to dampen the employment hiring climate in Wisconsin than any protest could ever have.

The Bain Capital of China, PiYi, will be enthusiastic to “invest” in Wisconsin. What will that mean?

Public Education defunding to support more state “partnering” with these venture capitalists – socialized risk, privatized profit. Simply stated, the selling out of Wisconsin’s workers, resources, and ideas to Chinese investors.

Rest assured, Scott Walker will make sure our kids have enough education to stack the boxes and work the cheap production jobs for their “venture capital” bosses. Take a hard look at Freeport, Illinois and Sensata for the future of manufacturing in the Midwest. This story has been much ignored in the media.

Welcome to the new economy in Fitzwalkerstan, and the United States.

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New Marquette-Franklin Poll Vilified by Thompson, GOP

The new Marquette Law School Poll run by Charles Franklin was released yesterday (Wednesday, September 19). It didn’t take Thompson and the GOP long to attempt to discredit the poll – one they have always held in high esteem. The reason – the new poll told them something they didn’t want to hear.

On August 12, 2012 in an interview on Capitol City Sunday (Madison WKOW-TV), Thompson had this to say about the Marquette Poll:

“I think the Marquette poll which is considered pretty much the golden rule or the gold standard, came out and says I was 8 points up. So, I feel very good about going in, and I sincerely believe the momentum is with me and I feel very comfortable about the election.”

On Tuesday, the day before the poll was released, Thompson expressed confidence:

“Let’s see what the Marquette poll says tomorrow,” he said. “I feel very good about where I am at – feel very comfortable about the future of this race.” (MJS article)

After the poll was released, Thompson spokeswoman Lisa Boothe accused the poll of “oversampling for Democrats,” giving an edge to Baldwin. From the Thompson statement:

“We do not believe that today’s Marquette poll reflects the opinions of Wisconsin voters,”

An analysis of the poll shows in this most recent sample, there was a slightly higher number of respondents who identified as Democratic. While Franklin adjusts slightly for that in post-stratification, there is still a slightly higher number identifying as Democrats. The Thompson/GOP vilification is unwarranted. The Marquette poll over the past four months has been very consistent, showing an emerging pattern in the electorate conservatives will be desperate to stop. To the tables…

Marquette Law Poll Demographics (link to graph)

The demographics of the poll remain extremely consistent from July-September. The 45+ age group is slightly over-represented, as is respondents with a post-secondary degree. In political party identification, it is the norm in the poll for Republicans to be slightly over-represented; while Independents are under-represented. The September poll is an exception – showing Dems slightly over-represented. While this is leading to Thompson dismissing the poll – he should not. Even as the party ID appears to lean more Democratic, the big picture of the poll shows there is more at work in the results.

Marquette Law Poll Political trend (link to graph)

The poll shows consistently that about 66% of respondents (low 63-high 69%) follow politics “most of the time,” and 83% are “absolutely certain” to vote in the November election (low 81-high 85%). The next set of numbers disputes the Thompson/GOP bias claim in the poll – political leaning.

The fluctuation of respondents identifying as Conservative, Moderate, or Liberal is relatively consistent in a poll with a +/-3.8% margin of error (MoE). From the August 16-19 poll to the September poll, the values of respondents identifying is within the MoE for each category respectively – Conservative (41-39%), Moderate (30-32%), and Liberal (23-26%). The shift from Thompson to Baldwin has been with moderates, and also with those who previously “did not know enough” about Baldwin, now changing to voting for her – and against Thompson. The slight increase in “Liberal” or “Democratic” respondents does not account for the huge swing to Baldwin.

Marquette Law Poll Favorable rating (link to graph)

The favorability rating of the candidates and Scott Walker show part of the story. Barack Obama’s favorable rating has increased from 51-55%, Baldwin’s from 26-36%. Mitt Romney’s favorable rating is flat at 36%; while at the same time Scott Walker’s has fallen from 50-46%, Tommy Thompson’s from 44-39%.

Marquette Law Poll Unfavorable rating (link to graph)

The unfavorable rating is telling as well – showing a consistent shift apart from any alleged Democratic bias in the sample from a single poll, at a relatively insignificant level. Barack Obama’s unfavorable rating has gone from 42% down to 39%, Baldwin’s has stayed steady at 31%. Romney’s has increased from 42% to 51%, Walker from 45-49%, and Thompson from 36-44%. All increases in Republican unfavorable ratings are outside the MoE – and shifts in “conservative” or “liberal” political ID.

Marquette Law Poll Pres/Senate likely voters (link to graph)

Amongst likely voters, there has been a dramatic shift in the Presidential and Senate campaigns. Much of that shift can be attributed to the GOP Convention disaster, Romney’s campaign failures, and the Dems convention and messaging success. Romney/Ryan received a slight bump, closing them to within 49-46% mid-August. The recent poll has Obama/Biden up 54-40% . The same bump had Thompson up 50-41% on Baldwin; the recent poll has a huge swing, putting Baldwin up 50-41% on Thompson. This eighteen-point swing simply is not explained away by the nominal oversampling of Democratic voters. There is not enough shift in “liberal” vs. “conservative” to account for such a change.

Marquette Law Poll Issues (link to graph)

The August 2-5 poll showed 43% of respondents would agree to “higher taxes for more services.” This recent September poll shows 47% agreeing to “higher taxes for more services.”

In the same August poll, 44% approved of “Obamacare,” in September the number had risen to 49%.

The Bush tax cuts popularity continued decline, from 35% in August to 30% in September.

The above surveyed issues in the poll demonstrate a further shift consistent with the data – the electorate in Wisconsin is trending away from the right-wing GOP issues and candidates. That is why they attempt to discredit the Marquette Poll. The pattern playing out with conservatives is becoming clear.

When facts, data, and science don’t support your ideology-driven agenda, there are three courses of action as a right-wing conservative corporatist. First, ignore. Second, pay someone to write a study that supports your agenda. Third, pay to have your lies repeated to nationwide media.

The full polls cited above can be found here:

MLSP July Methdology          MLSP July Toplines

MLSP August 2-5 Methodology           MLSP August 2-5 Toplines

MLSP10 August 16-19 Methodology         MLSP August 16-19 Toplines

MLSP11 September Methodology              MLSP11 September Toplines

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Prosser, VanHollen, Schimming…and Voter ID

Badger Democracy has obtained  information through open records requests and personal interviews that point to a close circle of friends working together to push the State Supreme Court into taking on the Voter ID question – just in time for the November election.

Conspiracy may be too strong a word, but the trio of David Prosser (Supreme Court Justice), JB VanHollen (Wisconsin Attorney General), and Brian Schimming (lobbyist, state GOP vice chair, former Prosser staffer) have motive, opportunity, and are in position to make it happen. The three have a definitive history; appearing together at Americans For Prosperity conferences (as speakers/presenters) in 2009, 2010, and frequent state GOP events as recently as 2012.

Wisconsin’s voter ID law is on hold after two Dane County judges declared the law unconstitutional in March and July. Wisconsin Attorney General JB VanHollen has previously asked the State Supreme Court to use original jurisdiction, and take the case before the Circuit Courts ruled – the high court declined.

AG VanHollen made a second request of the Court to take the case in late August; in spite of the law being declared unconstitutional by two lower courts. There are also two Federal cases pending against the Voter ID law in Judge Lynn Adelman’s  Eastern District Court. The most compelling of which is “Frank v. Walker” (Case 2:11-cv-01128); challenging whether the law violates the  fundamental right to vote under the Equal Protection Clause, violates the Twenty-Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments as an unconstitutional poll tax, and violates the Equal Protection Clause in arbitrarily refusing to accept certain identification documents.

Based on all these current and compelling Constitutional challenges, and the Court’s previous refusal to intervene; VanHollen’s request of the Court is a significant hill to climb. Unless he knew he had some inside help. Like David Prosser – conservative leader of the Court. Any direct contact with Van Hollen or his office would be too obvious; he needed a middle man…former Prosser clerk, Walker ally, and VanHollen associate Brian Schimming.

In late August, immediately after VanHollen’s second filing, requesting the Court to take the Voter ID case; Badger Democracy followed up on a tip that Schimming was acting as a middle man with Prosser and Van Hollen to lobby the Court to take up Voter ID.  After several phone calls to Supreme Court Justice offices in the Capitol, an anonymous (for obvious reasons) and extremely reliable and non-partisan source stated that while Mr. Schimming was a frequent visitor to Justice Prosser; in July and early August there was a marked increase in these “visits” to Prosser’s office witnessed firsthand by this source.

Badger Democracy immediately filed open records requests with Justice Prosser for the following:

1. Schedule for Justice Prosser to include meetings and conferences from 7/1/12 – 8/21/12

2. Any communication or correspondence with or from Brian Schimming from 7/1/12 – 8/21/12

In addition, the following inquiry to DOJ spokesperson Dana Brueck:

Hi Dana,

I probably know the response to this, but am obligated to ask: Has AG Van Hollen had any meetings recently with Brian Schimming?

Brueck’s response was prompt : “Not to my knowledge…” 
The Prosser Response  came back on August 27. Prosser refused to comply with the schedule request, as it contained “personal” matters which were not subject to open records. In addition, Justice Prosser had no “personal contact” with Mr. Schimming during the time period of concern.
As the response was not pertinent to the request – having to do with “personal matters” a clarification was issued:
1. The schedule request is for his public schedule, in his function as a Supreme Court Justice. Allow me to clarify – the request is for Justice Prosser’s office schedule  for the period 7/1/12 – 8/21/12 regarding Court business and/or conferences regarding matters before Justice Prosser as a Justice of the State Supreme Court.
2. The communication request regarding Mr. Brian Schimming and Justice Prosser is not, as your letter states, regarding “meetings or conferences.” This would be covered by the first request. Nor does it imply “personal correspondence.” Again, this is regarding official Court communication – including emails. I would clarify this request is for Justice Prosser emails and communications referencing Mr. Schimming, or emails to/from Mr. Schimming for the same time period.
A response was received on September 6, 2012 from Prosser’s office. The schedule again was not submitted. A statement was offered explaining that no entries specifically referencing “Court business and/or conferences regarding matters before Justice Prosser as a Justice of the State Supreme Court” were found on the schedule. Although my request was clear in its meaning – scheduled court business and meetings for Justice Prosser; this is clearly an attempt to sidestep the schedule request.
As for the second portion of the request, Prosser’s office reiterated that  “there were no meetings between Mr. Schimming and Justice Prosser during that time period.”  That response presents a problem. By this time, another source within the Court offices in the Capitol had independently verified frequent meetings between Schimming and Prosser during that time period. The two sources have zero motive or partisanship in this matter. They are merely conveying observations.
Badger Democracy has called Justice Prosser’s office twice since September 6, and asked for verification of the information in the open records request. Prosser’s office was also informed that conflicting information existed regarding their response; and asked if they wished to respond to clarify events. As of this writing, no response has been received.
Clearly, Prosser is not being forthright in his responses. In addition, Brueck’s response from DOJ was qualified with “to my knowledge.” Any coordination between VanHollen and Schimming on Prosser’s behalf could easily be done without her knowledge.
Brian Schimming has failed to respond to frequent phone calls regarding this matter.
The fact that there are two sources within the Court itself, independent of each other, corroborating the same information in regard to Schimming’s frequency of “visits” to Prosser’s office – and Prosser’s subsequent omission and denial, make the circumstances more compelling and likely.
The Court could announce the taking up of Voter ID as early as this afternoon; in spite of the GAB being on record that to implement the law now would create “chaos.” Brian Schimming, acting as a go-between for David Prosser and JB VanHollen; to use Prosser’s conservative influence with the conservative majority, to take up and reinstate Voter ID in Wisconsin. Just in time to create chaos.
Sound familiar?
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