Monday, January 30, 2006


THURSDAY, Jan. 12, 2006, 3:49 p.m.
Note: This column appears in CNI Newspapers.)
By Charles Sykes

Imagine these best-sellers:

“My Dieting Secrets,” by Michael Moore

“12 Steps to Humility,” by Bill O’Reilly

“Restoring Political Ethics,” by Jim Doyle

But the last one isn’t a punchline. Last week, amid what one pundit called “a perfect storm” for the governor, Doyle hastily trotted out an “ethics plan,” that promptly – and predictably – turned into a political pratfall.

First was the Ellis problem.

Doyle’s press release touted the governor’s new-found virginity by claiming that he was joined in making his proposals by Republican State Senator Mike Ellis, the longtime champion of campaign finance reform proposals in the legislature. Ellis’s support for Doyle thus gave the announcement a veneer of credibility as well as bipartisanship.

The only problem?

While some of the information was cleared with a staffer, nobody cleared it with Ellis himself, who promptly called the governor “a liar,” and the “most ethically challenged governor” in the state’s history.

“The only reason Governor Doyle is now coming out in support of even this tepid reform package is so that he can cover his butt now that he’s under the microscope for alleged ethical lapses,” Ellis said.

“Suddenly, in an election year, when he is being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the state Justice Department, the governor gets religion and starts to pose for holy pictures. Give me a break.”

Noting that Doyle had also flown flew in a private airplane owned by a campaign donor to a basketball game in New Orleans, Ellis quipped: “Governor Doyle ought to get his state airplane out of the Bermuda Triangle, because clearly, his ethical compass is spinning like a top.”

One after another, Ellis ticked off the various probes: The investigation into the awarding of a state travel contract to campaign contributors, the approval of the sale of the Kewaunee nuclear power plant after utility executives pumped cash into Doyle’s coffers, and questions about the award of road building contracts after a fund raising event held by honchos in Doyle’s Department of Transportation.

All of this on top of Doyle’s by-now notorious ties to tribal casino interests, the teachers unions, and the trial lawyers. For three years it has been pay to play writ large: Doyle gave the casinos “perpetual” compacts casinos, the teachers union got hundreds of millions of tax dollars; and the trial lawyers got vetoes of liability reform. Not surprisingly, Doyle’s “ethics” plan won’t do anything to staunch the flow of cash from any of those groups into the governor’s campaign warchest.

The day before his ethics-plan fiasco, Doyle reportedly had gotten testy with reporters who wanted to ask him about reports that the FBI probe into his pay to play had apparently expanded.

He had reason to be upset. While the Abramoff scandal has congressional Republicans skittish, it also guarantees that the role of tribal casino cash in politics will be the headlines for months.

In Wisconsin, say tribal casino cash and people think: “Diamond” Jim Doyle. That can’t be good.


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