Former Rep. Scott Jensen, R-Waukesha, left the state Capitol building Tuesday in his last departure as a state official, after sending a formal letter of resignation to his legislative colleagues.
The resignation comes after Jensen's trial reached a conclusion March 12, when a jury found the former representative guilty of misusing state workers and public resources to run Assembly Republican campaigns.
"Through my actions, I may have forfeited the right to ever serve in elective office. But I have not given up on the dream of public service that has animated my life since grade school," Jensen said in his resignation letter. "For the rest of my days, I will remain committed to making Wisconsin a better place."
Jensen, convicted of three felony counts and one misdemeanor count, marks the last of five lawmakers connected with the 2002 Legislative Caucus Scandal to be found guilty.
A former Assembly speaker, Jensen resigned Tuesday before his sentencing — which will take place later this spring — would have forced him to leave office.
Critics hope the sentencing, set for May 16, will also lead to an order directing Jensen to repay his part of the nearly $750,000 in legal fees paid by taxpayer dollars during the investigations and trials of the lawmakers involved in the Legislative Caucus Scandal.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said an elected official should have to pay his own legal bills just like everyone else, adding a separate standard of justice for politicians would be "ridiculous."
"The problem with legislators authorizing the use of taxpayer dollars for their legal defense is that this is a service an ordinary citizen doesn't have at their disposal," Heck said.
State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager has also actively called for the repayment of the legal bills.
"It's always been our approach that public officials must repay the taxpayers for legal fees spent," Lautenschlager spokesperson Kelly Kennedy said.
Lautenschlager struck a deal with legislative leaders in January 2003 requiring convicted lawmakers to repay all taxpayer-funded legal bills. However, because Jensen was charged before that time, he did not sign the agreement.
And according to Heck, Jensen owes the public the largest amount by far.
"If they have been convicted they have to pay those dollars back, otherwise it's committing the crime without any penalty," he said.
While critics earnestly await Jensen's sentencing, some are considering the impact his and other recent legislative convictions may have on the upcoming November election, at which voters will fill Jensen's vacant seat.
Heck suggested Democrats will use Jensen's conviction as a political game piece, trying to use the negative publicity to their advantage during the campaign process.
"Obviously Democrats will try to connect Jensen with anyone running on the Republican side. I'm sure the Democrats will try to make that an issue just as the Republicans made Chuck Chvala an issue in 2002," he said, referring to the former Senate Majority Leader from Madison who is now serving a jail sentence after pleading guilty to misconduct.
Heck added Democrats will not be the only people to use the corruption issue, as Republicans are likely to bring up the recent scandal within Gov. Jim Doyle's administration. Earlier this year, former state Department of Administration employee Georgia Thompson was indicted for allegations that she swayed a contract award in favor of a travel group whose top executives made donations to Doyle's reelection campaign.
"Everybody will be using the corruption issue," Heck said. "This is an issue that's been prominent from the very beginning of this year and I don't see any end in sight."