Monday, January 16, 2006


Posted December 29, 2005
Editorial: Public's perception matters, too

"Absolutely untrue." "Deeply offensive." "Baseless."
"A slap in the face."

The main characters in a recent campaign-finance transaction used all sorts of descriptive words to criticize a reformer for suggesting anything suspicious in their activities. But, in doing so, they overlooked the fact that appearances often are as problematic as the campaign contributions themselves.

In this case, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported earlier this month that employees of Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Madison-based Alliant Energy Corp. contributed $43,650 to Gov. Jim Doyle's re-election campaign — at the same time the state Public Service Commission was reviewing the sale of the two companies' Kewaunee Nuclear Plant to a Virginia utility. The three commission members, two of whom were Doyle appointees, had final authority to approve or reject the sale.

"Obviously, the utilities did not believe that they could win on the merits of the case," Executive Director Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonprofit watchdog group, told the Milwaukee newspaper. "They obviously felt that they could lubricate the political machinery, and they spent a lot of money on lubrication."

WPS, Alliant, Doyle and the commission all vehemently denied any connection between the campaign contributions and the commission's change of heart in first rejecting the sale, then approving it after the utilities met certain PSC conditions.

"The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign accusations are baseless and absurd," Commissioner Mark Meyer told the Journal Sentinel. Meyer, a Doyle appointee, first voted against the Kewaunee sale but later voted to approve it.

"In the sale of the Kewaunee nuclear power plant and in every decision that comes before the commission," he said, "we base our decisions solely on the information in the record that is developed during a contested case proceeding. It includes information from the utilities, advocacy groups and the public. No one else, not even the governor, can influence that process."

Maybe not. But try telling that to a public made cynical by blatant campaign-finance abuse at both the federal and state levels. And try telling that to a public that bought Doyle's promise in the last gubernatorial election that he would champion campaign-finance reform.

Until he and the Legislature do that, there's nothing baseless, ludicrous or absurd about the public perception, valid or not, that utility money greased the skids in the Kewaunee case.


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