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WI: Foul smell of campaign cash

By saveaccess
Created 04/25/2007 - 1:18pm

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Editorial: Foul smell of campaign cash

State Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, will not have to face the voters again until 2010.

Just re-elected with ease for another four-year term representing a safe Democratic district in one of the state's most Democratic counties, Plale has no need to be raising money for another campaign.

But he recently accepted a $1,000 contribution from communications giant AT&T's political action committee.

Why is one of the biggest corporations in America contributing so generously to a Wisconsin state senator who does not need the money?

Might it have something to do with the fact that Plale is the chief Democratic sponsor of an atrocious proposal by AT&T and other communications industry behemoths to take away the ability of communities to regulate cable television franchises?

The legislation is an indefensible mess. It was written to serve the interests of the industries that are supposed to be regulated rather than Wisconsin consumers and communities. While there is no question that arguments can be made for changes in the way cable operations are regulated, this is the wrong plan at the wrong time.

Indeed, it is so wrong that supporters have been forced to pour a fortune into an advertising campaign designed to make Wisconsinites think they are getting a better deal -- when in fact Plale's plan makes it harder for citizens and municipalities to hold communications firms to account.

No legislator who is serious about protecting consumers and communities will vote for the measure Plale has proposed.

But Plale's acceptance of the $1,000 campaign gift from AT&T puts him in a particularly difficult position. Plale says he does not know why AT&T's political committee gave his campaign fund $1,000 -- the maximum amount allowed from a PAC during the current four-year term -- in March.

If that's true, he is just about the only person in Wisconsin who is not troubled by the appearance that his acceptance of the AT&T money has created.

But Plale's ignorance is no excuse.

Though he has sponsored this measure, he cannot now vote for it. To do so would raise legitimate concerns about something far worse than the senator's lack of concern for consumers and communities.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's Mike McCabe is absolutely right when he says that "it's impossible to not see the connection" between the AT&T money that has been directed into the campaign accounts of Plale and other legislators and the company's work to advance this assault on the regulatory process.

Plale must recuse himself from the debate about this measure, and from the vote on it.

So too must other state senators who have recently accepted $1,000 checks from AT&T's political action fund, including Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton; Roger Breske, D-Eland; and Alberta Darling, R-River Hills.

Everything about this proposed legislation smells rotten.

But the stench that would rise from the Capitol if members who were recently lavished with AT&T money voted in favor of the company's top legislative priority would be even more foul.

Published: April 24, 2007

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