Reserve Judge Kinney Resigns from the Wisconsin Ethics Commission


Reserve Judge Robert Kinney has resigned from the newly created Wisconsin Ethics Commission, the partisan body created to enforce elections, lobbying and ethics laws when the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board was destroyed by our Republican legislature last spring. Here is letter of resignation:

December 12, 2016
For Immediate Release

At last week’s meeting of the Wisconsin Ethics Commission I announced my resignation. At the time I accepted the appointment to the Commission I was fully aware of the recent, unfortunate history of the failed attempts to enforce Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws, and the abolition of the former, but non-partisan, Government Accountability Board.

I was also fully aware of the deep skepticism among many seasoned observers, media representatives, and government watchdog groups regarding the creation of the new, partisan Ethics Commission.

Nevertheless, in accepting appointment to the Commission I was among those who wished the agency would succeed, and, as a 31-year etera of Wis o si ’s non-partisan, independent judiciary, I was committed to the goal of enforcing the law regardless of political party or partisan agenda.

By law, the Commission is made up of six members, three selected by Republicans and three selected by Democrats. Any action taken by the Commission requires the vote of four members. Many had observed that this structure seemed to be a built-in prescription for intransigence.

To be sure, the fledgling Commission did make several administrative and operational decisions on a bipartisan basis.

The essential work of the agency, however, relates to enforcing campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying laws. In these areas Wisconsin at one time, and for many years, enjoyed a stellar reputation among the states.

During the October 10, 2016 public meeting of the Commission a telling vote was taken which, in retrospect, foreshadowed what was to come. As a new agency, we were required to articulate a mission statement. The staff of the Commission hearkened back to Wisconsin's reputation when it proposed the following as our mission statement:

"The mission of the Ethics Commission is to enhance representative democracy by furthering Wisconisn’s tradition of clean and open government through the administration of Wisconsin's campaign finance, lobbying, and ethics laws, and through dissemination of information to the public."

At the October 10, 2016 public meeting of the Commission, incredibly, three members – one-half of the Commission's membership – voted to strike from the mission statement the aspirational language, "furthering Wisconsin’s tradition of clean and open government." The handwriting was on the wall.

The rules under which the Commission operates are less than helpful. They require too much secrecy and too little transparency. The public is almost completely shut out of the process.

The non-partisan staff of the Ethics Commission consists of some of the most competent and dedicated civil servants I have had the pleasure of working with. If the people of the State of Wisconsin could see these people in action they would be so proud of our State. In addition, Chairwoman Peg Lautenschlager deserves considerable credit for trying to steer the Commission in the direction of even-handed enforcement of the law. But the staff has had to deal with many obstacles – erected by Commission members. To begin with, there exists among several of the commissioners an observable lack of commitment to the underlying purposes of the agency. On top of this, staff are confronted with overbearing nit-picking at virtually every meeting. Over time (if it hasn’t already happened) this disrespectful treatment will erode staff morale and we will lose these talented people. Perhaps that is the goal.

At a time when public confidence in elected officials has been deeply eroded, we should be doubling down on our efforts to enforce campaign finance, ethics, and lobbying laws. When charges of financial or ethical improprieties are leveled, or allegations of quid pro quo corruption are made, they must be thoroughly and timely investigated, and, if warranted, aggressively prosecuted. Sadly, it appears we have created a system which almost guarantees that this will not occur. It would be an enormous injustice to the People of Wisconsin and to the success of our government in serving them if this agency is relegated to shuffling papers.

Robert E. Kinney Reserve Judge Former Member,
WI Ethics Commission
[email protected]

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Let's Talk About: Medicare


medicare.jpgRepublicans have realized their most fervent wish:  control over all three branches of government.  And, in their rush to obliterate the progressive gains of the last eighty plus years, they are as busy as a hive of little worker bees.  Do not be surprised to see more activity by the Right in one day than they have produced cumulatively in the last eight years.

Paul Ryan has gleefully resurrected his plan to transform Medicare:  first turn it into a voucher program and then do away with it completely by the year 2022.   Most of us are probably pretty familiar with this government program. It’s certainly one that enjoys widespread popularity.  But it is also frightening to realize how many recipients of its benefits don’t really understand much about Medicare. Apparently many Americans don’t even understand that it’s a government program!  The goal of this article is to touch on some of the serious impacts the changes Mr. Ryan is suggesting will have.

First, there’s Medicare’s impact on longevity.  Just based on observation, doesn’t it seem that people today are living longer than in the past?  When you were a child, how many of the elderly were living well into their eighties, even into their nineties?  Every day we hear of more and more people who have attained the age of 100!  Is the implementation of Medicare alone responsible for this trend?  Probably not:  advances in technology and changes to life style in general have had an impact.  “Data on age-specific death probabilities every 10 years since 1900, that is, before as well as after Medicare was enacted, provide an alternative way to test for the effect of Medicare on longevity. They also provide strong support for the hypothesis that Medicare increased the survival rate of the elderly, by about 13 percent”  (Effects of Medicare on Health Care Utilization and Outcomes).  Since that article was published in 1998, there have been even more advances.  But the bottom line is that new, lifespan-increasing technologies will do no good if people cannot access them!

But longevity is only a piece of the picture. Here are some of the most harmful changes the Republican proposal may entail. 

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We MUST Turn the WI Senate Blue!


We all know what's at stake here. Can you pitch in?

Many people really HATE to phone others to get the job done. If that describes you, I just have one question: which is worse:

Phoning someone you don't know (and who does not know you) to ask them to vote for a Democratic candidate for the Wisconsin State Senate


Living under Scott Walker's unimpeded reign of error (or should I say TERROR)?

That's where we are, people. Either we elect three additional senators this November, or we continue to enable Scott Walker and his henchmen to ride rough-shod over the state without let or hindrance. It's your choice!

Grassroots North Shore is teaming up with the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee to assist the campaigns of strong candidates who have a real shot at winning. Please join us. Go to our CALENDAR and volunteer for one or more dates. Help Wisconsin rise up again.

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Make a Date with Us

picnicPotluck.jpgMark your calendars: We're holding our Annual Picnic this year on Sunday, September 18, from 4pm until it's time to get home to watch the Packers!

Grassroots North Shore chefs will be supplying the pulled pork and chicken, the sodas and water, and the plates and cutlery. You bring sides or desserts to share.

It's always a great occasion to renew fellowship with our North Shore progressives, especially in a campaign season. A number of local candidates will be on hand. Don't miss this opportunity to talk to them personally.

Do us a favor, though, and RSVP so we know how much food to make.


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Now Is the Time


Here we are again.  How unfortunate it is that we can now probably recite gun violence statistics from memory. Some of the all too familiar numbers, thanks to NBC News:

  • Every year in the U.S., an average of more than 100,000 people are shot, according to The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence.
  • Every day in the U.S., an average of 289 people are shot. Eighty-six of them die: 30 are murdered, 53 kill themselves, two die accidentally, and one is shot in a police intervention, the Brady Campaign reports.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 335,609 people died from guns -- more than the population of St. Louis, Mo. (318,069), Pittsburgh (307,484), Cincinnati, Ohio (296,223), Newark, N.J. (277,540), and Orlando, Fla. (243,195) (sources:  CDFU.S. Census; CDC)
  • One person is killed by a firearm every 17 minutes, 87 people are killed during an average day, and 609 are killed every week. (source: CDC)

The NRA Arguments Debunked

That bastion of liberty and freedom, the NRA, wraps itself in the American flag and, wielding the Constitution as if it were a sword, fools the public into believing that the organization is really only interested in a person’s rights, but we all know their real agenda is to maximize the profits for gun manufacturers.  Be reminded that the right of the individual to ‘bear arms’ does not go back to the Founding Fathers:  it is the result of the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

One of the NRA’s primary tactics is to instill fear, and convince people that the only way they can protect themselves and their families is to possess one or more guns, the more powerful the better.   There is, however, evidence that just the opposite is true.  From Statistics on the Dangers of Gun Use for Self-Defense:

  • A gun is more likely to be used to kill or injure an innocent person in the home than a threatening intruder.
  • Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that living in a home where guns are kept increased an individual’s risk of death by homicide by between 40% and 170%.
  • A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology determined that the presence of guns in the home increased an individual’s risk of death by homicide by 90%.3
  • Research published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that, even after adjusting for confounding factors, individuals who were in possession of a gun were about 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession.
  • The gun lobby has often cited the thoroughly debunked statistic that guns are used defensively 2.5 million times per year in the United States.  That discredited estimate came from a 1995 study that suffered from several fatal methodological flaws, including its reliance on only 66 responses in a telephone survey of 5,000 people, multiplied out to purportedly represent over 200 million American adults.6  The authors of that discredited study themselves stated that in up to 64% of their reported defensive gun use cases, the guns were carried or used illegally, including cases where the victim was actually the aggressor.
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John Nichols Is Coming!

Want to know what a Nichols event is like? Just watch five or ten minutes of this video and then hasten to RSVP for the event:

Nichols is headlining our annual fundraiser with a talk titled "Is Democracy Dead in Wisconsin?" RSVP for this special occasion.

Part of the answer to sustaining a vibrant democracy is sustaining the civic organizations, of which Grassroots North Shore is one. This all-volunteer organization doesn't need tens of thousands of dollars a year to stay in business, but we do need a modest level of support to keep our office running, to provide informative and educational programming four to six times each year, and to participate in electing progressive candidates.

Even if you have to miss seeing John, your donation would be deeply appreciated.


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Gerrymander on Trial

On May 24, 2016, a three-judge panel in Federal Court will address the question of whether the Wisconsin legislatureʼs 2011 redistricting plan is unconstitutionally partisan. Twelve Wisconsin democrats have sued the Wisconsin Department of Justice alleging that Republican state redistricting was unconstitutionally partisan and “one of the worst gerrymanders ever.”

Gerrymandering is the manipulation of district boundaries for the political advantage of a particular party. The word was coined in 1812 when Massachusetts Governor Eldridge Gerry redrew district lines in Boston to favor his party. The district created had a bizarre shape that resembled a salamander. Gerry and salamander combine to form Gerrymander.

Over the last 200 years gerrymandering has been a tried and true political method. Many strangely shaped districts, not only salamanders, have served the interest of partisan politics. Until recently North Carolina Congressional District 14 was over 80 miles long and in places only as wide as the interstate it followed. The saying was that “If you drove down the Interstate with both car doors open youʼd kill most of the people in the district.”

How district lines are drawn can influence election results in many ways. Common methods are packing and cracking. In “packing” similar voters are packed together in a single district, removing their influence from other districts. In the illustration above, the fourth map shows how packing can work. Notice that most of the blue squares are bundled into two districts, each of which has only one red square in it.

In “cracking” blocks of voters are broken apart and distributed in other districts to dilute their voting strength as much as possible. You can see the effects of cracking most clearly in the third map above. Red squares are broken up into blocks of four, diluting their voting strength in every district.

Political boundaries are usually redrawn every ten years in response to census data. In most states the state legislature controls the redistricting process. Manipulating district boundaries for partisan purposes, or gerrymandering, is not illegal unless the plan violates the Voting Rights Act.

In 2011 Wisconsin Republicans controlled all branches of state government — the assembly, the senate and the governorship. They thus had complete control of the redistricting process, which was carried out in strict secrecy using private lawyers. Only one public hearing was held before the map was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Walker.

The redistricting map was greeted by a torrent of objections and spawned myriad lawsuits. A large number of documents were lost and a hard drive with redistricting data was destroyed. A judge who had unsuccessfully tried to access documents chastised “the all but shameful attempt to hide the redistricting process from public scrutiny.”

A Latino district that had been split (as a result of cracking) was restored by court order, but otherwise the district lines drawn by the legislature in 2011 formed the basis of the electoral districts for the 2012 and 2014 elections. The map was attacked by Democrats as an example of extreme gerrymandering. Although the districts it created lacked bizarre shapes, the districts were drawn so as to strengthen the Republican hold on government. For instance, the liberal suburb of Shorewood was removed from the state senate district of conservative Alberta Darling — in a clear example of cracking — to strengthen her against a possible recall election. Kenosha and Racine, both Democratic, were packed together, enabling a strong Republican district to be formed to the west.


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