Sheridan abides by spirit of ban
Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan said maintaining the public's faith in a fundraising ban is much more important than playing in a $1,000-a-head golf outing scheduled during state budget negotiations.
Sheridan, D-Janesville, and other Assembly Democratic leaders said Monday that they won't attend the campaign fundraiser in Wisconsin Dells next week.
The Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee had organized the outing, and Sheridan 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.
"The fundraising ban the Assembly approved earlier this year represents the most meaningful campaign finance reform enacted in Wisconsin in a generation," Sheridan said. "As anticipated, the ban has shut down 99 individual campaign accounts throughout this budget process, ensuring that members of the Assembly are focused on solving this crisis and getting our economy back on track."
Sheridan said that while Monday's event complied with the Assembly rule, public perception should not be allowed to taint the effectiveness of the ban.
The lawmakers asked that the event be rescheduled outside of the budget process. Sheridan said the committee erred in scheduling the outing too near the budget process.
"We just don't want there to be any doubt about whether we're doing the right thing here," he said.
"...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," Sheridan said.
Mike McCabe, executive director of government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and Assembly Republicans said Sheridan and Nelson's presence at the golf outing would have violated the spirit of the no-fundraising rule.
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."