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Gray Tackles Campaign Reform

Barrington M. Salmon | , WI Staff Writer | 9/19/2012, 3:30 p.m.

Some of their colleagues are under investigation and public confidence has petered away as each new scandal or instance of questionable behavior, poor judgment or shaky ethics rocks the council.

Gray instructed the city's attorney general and his staff to develop the nuts and bolts of the proposed legislation. Attorney General Irvin Nathan said that since this past spring, he and his staff had been working on developing what Gray (D), requested: A bold, comprehensive and systematic proposal that would help to restore the public's confidence in our electoral system and take out the impression, the appearance of corruption between campaign financing and candidates, elected officials and government actions."

Nathan said his staff consulted with former council members, campaign managers, citizens groups, academics and professors and he added that he instructed his career prosecutors and lawyers, to look at what has happened in different jurisdictions.

"To his credit, the mayor has agreed with us and accepted our proposals and has made them his own," Nathan said. "The key proposal is the pay-for-play. The desire, I think, is to eliminate the appearance of pay-to-play, to have complete prohibitions on pay-to-play."

"No one who holds and seeks a government contract in excess of $250,000 - or the larger contracts - can contribute to a candidate or official who may have any role in the governmental contract process from the time the contract is initiated until one year after work on the contract is performed. Directors, officers and contributing shareholders would be banned."

Other provisions include requiring organizations supporting or opposing any candidate, initiative, referendum or recall to identify the sources and amounts of any contributions they receive and any expenditures they make. Any contributions by a corporate entity would be attributed to the controlling shareholder and any affiliates of the entity so that maximum contribution limits cannot be evaded. The bill would also prohibit lobbyists from bundling contributions; make money orders subject to the same limitations as cash contributions; and candidates would be more accountable for what their political committees do.

Gray spokesperson Doxie McCoy said Gray had full confidence in Nathan and what he would produce and as the legislative proposal is considered by the council, he hopes for a positive response.

"The mayor hopes to work together with the council to get the best legislation for the good of the city," she said.

There was a two-week period set aside for public comment following the press conference where Gray and Nathan announced development of the campaign reform legislation after which it was sent to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson who will introduce it to the council on the mayor's behalf. Staffers from the Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs will have conversations with council members to find common ground and work on passage of the legislation.

Gray, McCoy, said, is hopeful of passage.

Wells is not so sure but points out that the public needs to be assured that the council is serious about putting solid ethical and related standards in place. If that happens, he said, the political landscape in the city would look markedly different.

"I think this would go a long way to leveling the playing field and promote equality, but I don't see the votes on the council to support real campaign reform."