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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Doyle fails to live up to ethics vow

During his State of the campaign address before the Legislature last week, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle reported on the status of a litany of goals he laid out three years ago at the dawn of his governorship.

Back then, Mr. Doyle promised to reduce the state deficit without raising taxes. Mission accomplished, he proudly exclaimed last week.

Back then, Mr. Doyle vowed to cut positions from the bloated state payroll while creating jobs in the private sector. Done and done, he boasted last week.


Better health care coverage, better school funding, better environmental protection … all were accomplished under his watch, Mr. Doyle told the Legislature in his address.

Yet Mr. Doyle devoted nary a word — at least until he paid lip service to it at the very end of his speech — to an issue that was one of his strongest pledges back when his governorship was in its infancy: to fight for broad ranging campaign finance and ethics reform laws while bringing "integrity" back to state government.

Two days ago, we were reminded why.

In what is thus far the pinnacle of hypocrisy for an administration woefully short on integrity, one of Mr. Doyle's officials in the Department of Administration was indicted by a federal grand jury for fraudulently trying to steer a state contract to Adelman Travel Group — a company whose chief executive had donated the maximum amount of money to Mr. Doyle's campaign account under state law.

The indicted DOA official, Georgia Thompson, is alleged to have prevented the committee on which she sat — a committee responsible for awarding the state's "Partner" travel contract — from opting for the company the other members unanimously supported. Instead of accepting the judgment of her colleagues, Ms. Thompson is accused of manipulating the evaluation process in such a way that ultimately led to the awarding of the contract to Adelman, her favored company.

In doing so, Ms. Thompson "knowingly and intentionally cause[d] the misapplication of funds under the care, custody and control of the State of Wisconsin" and "knowingly devise[d] and participate[d] in a scheme to defraud the State of Wisconsin of the right of honest service," the indictment alleges. Both counts are violations of federal law.

Ms. Thompson will have her day in court, and, if convicted, she will face up to 20 years in prison.

But in this election year, there will be an even more important court — that of public opinion — and there the indictment delivers a stern uppercut to Mr. Doyle and his reelection campaign.

To be sure, Mr. Doyle himself was not the one who was indicted Tuesday. And we can't pretend to know the level of dialogue, if any, that occurred among Mr. Doyle and his underlings in the DOA in regards to the Adelman contract. The governor denied ever having met Ms. Thompson in a release Wednesday.

Yet Ms. Thompson's indictment contained two lines that paint a sorry picture of the modus operandi of the Doyle Administration. In manipulating the committee, Ms. Thompson "intended her actions to cause political advantage for her superiors" and "helped and intended to help her job security," according to the accusations.

On the first charge, it is worth noting that Mr. Doyle is the only superior of Ms. Thompson whose job rests on "political advantage." Mr. Doyle is an elected official; all other supervisors hold appointed positions.

The second charge, meanwhile, suggests little else than coercion from above when Ms. Thompson had to make decisions on the committee.

So, while it is true the indictment did not suggest evidence for any quid pro quo between Adelman's campaign contributions and Ms. Thompson's actions, a troubling picture of corruption emerges.

Voters must keep this in mind in November.

And even if Mr. Doyle emerges from Travelgate with his personal reputation still intact, voters should pay close attention to his repeated unwillingness to address the need for ethics reform in the state.

Mr. Doyle has talked the talk on the issue since his election, but he has consistently failed to support campaign-finance reform bills proposed in the Legislature. Such efforts have sought, among other things, to increase the disclosure of campaign contributions by special interest groups — a reform attained at the federal level a few years ago.

The proposals have garnered support from both sides of the aisle in the Legislature, but they've received tepid backing from the governor.

In a largely political move, Mr. Doyle did propose a package of ethical reforms earlier this month, and his suggestions — such as a ban on fundraising by elected state officials during the budget process — hold merit. But the view here is that the current governor of Wisconsin offering ethics reforms is akin to the current governor of California offering a class on the finer points of the English language.

U.S. Rep. Mark Green's series of reforms, on the other hand, can be enjoyed without a strong dose of anti-hypocrisy spray. He wants to ban contributions from companies that are in the process of bidding for state money and prohibit tribes from donating money while compacts are under consideration.

Travelgate more than proves the need for such measures.

In the meantime, the Doyle Administration will continue to deny wrongdoing, maintaining that the indictment amounts to little more than an election-year conspiracy by Republicans to discredit the governor. Indicative of that belief is this statement the governor released yesterday: "I've made it very clear that I have zero tolerance for any ethical lapses in my Administration. But I also have a lot of confidence in the procedures that the Department of Administration has in place, including making sure that career civil servants and not political appointees make decisions about contracts, and that contracts should go to the lowest bidder."

This is no conspiracy. It is just a sad reflection on the corrosive influence special interest dollars have had on government at both the state and federal level.

But I am glad Doyle continues to hold Adelman in such high regard in his statements. After all, when it comes time for him to coordinate his one-way trip from the governor's mansion in January, he might want a little expertise to help with the move.

Ryan Masse ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science and economics.

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