Last year a number of ethics complaints were filed with the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and I'm wondering which of them might result in ethics fines (or more) this year. I'm not talking about every complaint that was filed because we all know of some (most of which were filed days before the November election) that were surly frivolous. But there are a few that seem very legitimate to me and I am wondering exactly how they will be resolved and will those resolutions have a larger impact?
The most cut and dry example is that of the perpetually troubled state Senator Dan Kapanke. It seems that every year he is facing an ethics probe or costing Wisconsin taxpayers money because of violations of open records laws.
As you may recall the Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint regarding Kapanke using money from his foundation to pay his own personal business debts. This was troubling on a number of levels but especially because he used his foundation to collect payments from businesses that employ lobbyists in Madison. In fact he himself made that point in one of his previous ethics cases back in 2007. At that time he suggested that the foundation would be used as a sort of ethical firewall because the money from special interests would go through it and toward local charities. At the time he said "I don't see any problem as long as the money isn't going to benefit me." [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/27/2007]
As it turns out foundation money did in fact go to directly benefit Kapanke. As we discovered last year, he used some $32,000 of it to help retire his own personal business debt. In fact, if you look at the grants that the foundation gave over the last couple of years, the largest "charity" appeared to involve paying down Kapanke's personal business debt. None of the other charities that received funds even came remotely close to his $32,000.
Shortly after this complaint was filed against him Dan Kapanke essentially admitted to the primary facts of the matter. The only real questions left in this specific example is what exactly does GAB plan to do about it and what precedent will those actions set?