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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Issue of the Week: Campaign Transparency

Plus Heroes and Jerks of the Week

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It’s highly ironic that Advocates for Student Achievement (ASA) is trying to position itself as a “good government group,” since its internal e-mails show that members have been engaging in highly questionable campaign tactics for months.

ASA formed in 2007, yet it hadn’t filed any campaign finance reports with the city until last week, after Citizen Action of Wisconsin sent a complaint to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office. The complaint also questioned ASA’s support for three candidates for the MPS board—Annie Woodward, ReDonna Rodgers and David Voeltner—actions that included asking for donations and supplying material support those campaigns. Campaign finance laws regulate contact between candidates and independent groups like ASA, and e-mails indicate that laws may have been broken.

The complaint led to further investigation a highly entrepreneurial anonymous blogger, who then discovered ASA’s e-mails—exchanged on a Yahoo! Groups account that was easily accessed by the public. The e-mails confirmed Citizen Action’s complaints and added more fuel to fire.

It’s funny, of course, that a group that is trying to take over the MPS board could be technologically inept. But it’s maddening, too, that these dubious campaign activities probably would not have been uncovered had Citizen Action not challenged them. And it’s outrageous that ASA’s supporters include some of the city’s leaders—MPS board member Bruce Thompson, who would love to become president of the board, even if it means recruiting candidates behind the scenes who would be sympathetic to him; former MPS candidate Kevin Ronnie; former Milwaukee Journal business editor turned PR person Anne Curley, who bills herself as a “brand management” expert; Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s Tim Sheehy, who’d love to see an appointed MPS board replace the democratically elected one; and various voucher and privatization supporters who seek influence over the board.

Last year, when wacky former state Sen. Tom Reynolds, a Republican, created a PAC to recruit deeply conservative candidates to run in the Democratic primaries, those activities were out in the open on the timely, detailed reports he filed with the state. Yet ASA—the supposedly “good government” group—doesn’t even meet Reynolds’ standards of campaign transparency. Voters should demand more transparency and accountability from the handful of folks who are trying to manipulate our elections.


Hero of the Week: Michael Cudahy

Last month Michael Cudahy celebrated his 85th birthday, but he hasn’t slowed down in his contributions to Milwaukee. Some people may not recognize the name Michael Cudahy, but we would guess that they have benefited from his work. For starters, Mr. Cudahy was the head of a company that employed thousands of people in Milwaukee. The difference between Cudahy and most of the corporate CEOs is that he actually started his business from scratch, versus working his way to the top of an already established enterprise. Cudahy’s business, Marquette Electronics, which was later bought by GE Medical, is also responsible for saving thousands upon thousands of lives with the medical devices that it invented, including the EKG.

After Cudahy sold his company and hundreds of millions of dollars, he didn’t go off to live on some island and spend his days golfing. Instead he became Milwaukee’s premier philanthropist, making the a much better place to live. In addition to contributing to established nonprofit institutions like the Boys & Girls Clubs, Cudahy, the consummate entrepreneur, started to create new entities. He renovated the Pabst Theater, the Riverside Theater and Turner Hall Ballroom to create three of Milwaukee’s finest venues. He also created Discovery World on the lakefront.

Milwaukee would be an even greater if we had a few more Michael Cudahys.


Jerk of the Week: Advocates for Student Achievement

This is the second time the controversial “reform” group Advocates for Student Achievement (ASA) has won the title “Jerk of the Week.” They first earned this dubious honor after they admitted that they were behind a $12,000 poll that contained highly misleading questions about MPS Board President Peter Blewett and the MPS board in general. Now, ASA is the subject of a complaint made by Citizen Action of Wisconsin to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office over its highly questionable tactics (see “Issue of the Week”). How rotten is ASA? Even its hand-picked candidate, Annie Woodward, is trying to distance herself from the group and its allies, although she has admitted the past to attending ASA’s weekly training sessions and ASA members even went so as to ask for donations for her campaign. ASA may have foreseen their PR problem. According to an e-mail sent by ASA’s Kevin Ronnie to fellow ASA-ers on Sept. 4, 2008, about candidate ReDonna Rodgers, “We also need to respect any direction she might need to set for us in terms of her degree of engagement with ASA. There may tactical reasons for her to distance herself.”

 

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