Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Don't Venture into Oklahoma Territory

There is no doubt that Wisconsin must increase its share of venture capital dollars. The big question is exactly how we will accomplish that goal. Recently the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put its unquestioning seal of approval on what is known as a "Fund of Funds" approach. Curiously missing from their endorsement was any mention of how to best safeguard public investment if that is the approach that we in fact use.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsement simply says that the "fund of funds" approach has "...worked well elsewhere". It would have been nice if they at least offered one quick case study. Given their lack of detail, I looked for other states that have used similar approaches. One state that I found clearly stood out to me and unfortunately it was not in a good way.

The State of Oklahoma established the Oklahoma Capital Investment Board (OCIB) in the late 1980's. It borrows money that it then invests in private venture capital funds. Here are some of the reported problems that I've found with their system and I certainly hope Wisconsin is not planning on repeating any of them:

  • In 2006 a state audit was done of the Oklahoma Capital Investment Board and it "found $31 million in debt and more questions than there are answers". It also found that the OCIB had $26 million in other unfunded commitments. In fact the agency has a long record of carrying debt during most of its existence. A state auditor also identified other areas of concern including a lack of transparency and no real way to track performance.
  • Just last week a bipartisan group of lawmakers criticized the OCIB on several levels. Including the fact that too many dollars were being invested in companies and corporations outside of state's borders. Legislators also accused the OCIB of not even being fully transparent with them much less with the public.
  • During the same hearing one Republican legislator actually questioned whether OCIB was even operating legally because although it was originally created as a public entity and received public funding, it was later made private and still received public funding. This privatization reportedly added to the many transparency problems that were already present.
While I was researching this Oklahoma example, I also discovered another curious pattern. There seems to be a lot of free movement between the OCIB itself and private venture capital firms that deal directly with the board, contract with it, and profit from it. In my view it seems that such an arrangement could cause conflict questions. In fact it appears that some have already suggested as much.

If Wisconsin continues to pursue the "Fund of Funds" route, I certainly hope that we don't fall into the same kind of dysfunctional pattern that exists in Oklahoma. And I certainly hope that no one involved in that state's venture capital strategy is trying to influence our debate here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

This should be fun...

During the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, please let me know if you see any photos like this: Or...If you happen across any videos like this:

UPDATE from One Wisconsin Now


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Keep Your Eye on Kanavas

This fighting between the Tommy Thompson camp and Club for Growth/Mark Neumann is certainly entertaining from my perspective. So I would certainly like it to keep going for as long as possible. At the same time I suggest that we keep an eye on other legitimate candidates like former state Senator Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield). I have to imagine that he benefits from an escalating war between the two (perceived) frontrunners.

Here are my reasons for wanting to keep an eye on Kanavas:

  • The top two guys are apparently going to do his dirty work for him, blasting each other for months.
  • He is from the heart of the deepest red county in the state and that has to count for something in a Republican primary.
  • He's got to have some cred with the Republican Party and the establishment after being a state senator for about a decade.
  • We know that the Walker cult hates Mark Nuemann and they don't have much love for Tommy either. So where else are they going to go?
  • The sugar daddy arm of the Republican Party, WMC has rated him as being 100% in their pocket.
  • While the other two have been preparing to fight each other, Kanavas has been busy doing things like guest hosting Mark Belling's radio show (free air time).
  • During the straw poll at the Republican Party convention, they voted for Herman Cain for President and they voted for Kanavas for U.S. Senate. So he might have some of the nut crowd secured.

  • Now don't mistake this for being a prediction of who is going to actually win the Republican primary next year. Sorry, I don't make those kinds of predictions. But it is a simple reminder that Tommy and Mark Neumann are not the only credible candidates to watch.

    So go ahead and fully enjoy the Tommy/Neumann/CFG cage match but just don't forget to keep an extra eye on Kanavas and any other credible candidates that emerge.

    Sunday, August 21, 2011

    Don't go for the Walker head fake

    Scott Walker is one of the least popular governors in the nation and he recently lost two of his rubber stamps in the state senate. In fact he could lose even more in the coming year. But most importantly, Scott Walker will face a recall next year and he knows it. So it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the words "bipartisan" and "cooperation" are being overused by him so much lately. His use of words like this are completely hollow and as always it is more about his own political future.

    State Representative Mark Pocan took some of the words right out of my mouth in his recent column for The Progressive. In it he advises us, "Don't Buy Walker's 'Bipartisanship' ". Representative Pocan accurately describes Walker's new rhetoric as doublespeak. He reminds us of just a few things that Walker has actually done that totally betrays the new vocabulary.
    Back in February, he divulged a ploy to try to trick Democrats into returning to Wisconsin to vote on his bill. In March he described Democratic calls to negotiate as “ridiculous.” When he testified under oath before Congress, he even said bipartisanship at times was “not so good.”
    There is a painfully long list of ways that Scott Walker has acted like a dictator since his regime took over the state. But we can and should look even further back at his long pattern of nasty, destructive and self serving actions often accompanied by happy sounding words.
    • Remember the time when he vetoed the entire Milwaukee County Budget? He certainly wasn't concerned about "cooperation" when he took that drastic action. It was all a gimmick to boost his right wing cred. It was not about the betterment of Milwaukee County, it was not about the budget, it certainly was not an example of cooperation or bipartisanship. As usual it was all about Scott.
    • For his entire time as Milwaukee County Executive he refused to "cooperate" on $91.5 million in long idle federal transit funds. He may have repeatedly talked about reaching an agreement for the use of the funds but his actual unwillingness allowed no real movement. In fact the money sat unused even as the Milwaukee County Transit system fell apart on his watch. His politically motivated stalling also blocked the City of Milwaukee from being able to move forward on its own transit agenda. Eventually Mayor Barrett and others (not including Walker) helped broker a deal. After the deal was made the Milwaukee County Board Chairman said that he was disappointed that Walker's "...inability to negotiate a compromise reduced the county's share by more than $9 million..."
    I'm convinced that it is simply in Scott Walker's political DNA to wear a happy face just long enough to stab you in the back. He has consistently shown that it is all about him and he will do anything to achieve his own political ambition. In fact you can even trace this kind of dirty dealing back as far as his college days.
    • As he was running for student government president at Marquette University he declared that he would "rather take the high road and see where that leads me" while at the very same time he was found to have violated campaign rules. [Marquette Tribune, "Walker admits violating campaign rules at YMCA", 2/24/88]
    • During the same campaign the campus paper described Scott Walker as being "unfit" for office. During his interview with the paper he refused to smear his opponent but behind the scenes his campaign was busy circulating materials filled with what the paper described as "character assassination". While Walker smiled in the paper's face his campaign was busy throwing away armfuls of their publication. [Marquette Tribune, "Revision - Walker unfit", 2/24/88]
    The bottom line here is that Scott Walker is still the same deceptive self interested person that he was back then. He may smile in your face and use happy words but you can never trust him. Hopefully legislators and others will not be taken in by Walker's new vocabulary. He certainly hasn't earned the bipartisan "merit badge" so why in the world would you loan him yours?

    Don't go for the Walker head fake.

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Keep Your Perspective, Keep Your Focus

    Last week I read Wispolitics' Friday Report including its list of whose stock is allegedly rising and falling. Reading it you would have never known that Democrats had just taken two Republican seats in historic recall elections. Dems almost took others seats, even though they were in mostly Republican districts. Although those races were not won, there was a significant surge of votes for Democrats. (see HERE and HERE)

    Admittedly I wanted to see Democrats take back the state Senate as much as anyone. So they came up one win short of that goal, but that does not eliminate everything that has been accomplished. Since when is Scott Walker's loss of two seats in the state Senate a win for him? Since when is a surge in votes for Democrats in traditionally conservative districts a win for Republicans? Since when is a massive statewide movement of fully engaged Democrats, progressives and workers a win for the right wing? Republicans losing 100% of their recall efforts is a victory? Give me a break.

    There is still much more work to do as we move into next year and we can't allow ourselves to get distracted by pundits or by Monday morning quarterbacks. We need to keep our perspective as we reflect on what has happened thus far and we need to keep our focus on the work that still remains.

    Thursday, August 04, 2011

    Open Record Obstruction: What is Alberta Hiding?

    One Wisconsin Now was recently forced to file an open records lawsuit against state Senator Alberta Darling because she was stonewalling them on a request that they made to her office. They requested communications between her office and various elements of the private school industry. Only after they actually filed their lawsuit did Darling finally acknowledge their request and produce the records. In fact she produced the records so quickly that you have to wonder what the real hold up was in the first place.

    The records that Darling finally produced gave us a strong idea as to why she was apparently trying to delay the release. The emails that OWN obtained clearly show that she was coordinating with private school industry lobbyists. In fact it appears that Darling was preparing to deliver several items on their legislative agenda.

    Specifically Darling was communicating with the lobbyist for the school privatization industry organization, the American Federation for Children. This is the same organization that is currently spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Darling in her recall election.

    Today the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) filed a complaint against Darling. One key part of the multifaceted complaint includes even more open record obstruction by Darling. They filed an open records request seeking communications between Alberta Darling and several right wing special interest groups. In fact some of those same groups are currently under investigation by the Milwaukee County DA's office for questionable activities involving the recall elections. Is this why Alberta is obstructing the DPW open records request?

    I can can certainly empathize with both OWN and with DPW because Alberta Darling's office has also obstructed an open records request that I filed back in April. At that time I requested emails that she received from local officials regarding the budget repair bill. I further narrowed my request by including a limited time frame.

    Darling's office first responded to my request nearly a full month after I first made it. They suggested that I narrow my request even further. Because I wanted to make the process as easy as possible I agreed to the suggested changes within 2 days. That was in mid-May and I didn't receive the requested records or even a status of my request until Tuesday, August 5th (one week before her recall election). As if this obstruction wasn't bad enough, now Darling wants me to pay hundreds of dollars for the honor of obtaining those public records that may be useless at this point.

    In my view there is a clear pattern of open record obstruction by Alberta Darling. Three examples including mine have surfaced in only the past few days. I can only wonder how many other cases will surface before next Tuesday? But perhaps the most important question is, what exactly is Alberta Darling trying to hide in the first place?

    UPDATE: I literally just asked "how many other cases will surface" and then I noticed this from the Shepherd Express.

    Monday, August 01, 2011

    Out of touch Alberta Strikes Again

    Here she goes again. Alberta Darling once again showing that she is completely out of touch with most Wisconsinites. Last week she declared that a person making $250,000 a year is not rich. She is trying to perform some damage control now but the fact is that she said exactly what she meant. Darling has been unbelievably wealthy for a very long time and she has become completely detached from the real lives of most Wisconsinites.

    Darling's latest Statement of Economic Interest form shows that she owns stock in nearly 200 different companies. The value of most of those individual holdings are between $5,000 and $50,000. There are also a handful of companies in which she owns more than a $50,000 interest. Her SEI also lists the longtime beach front condo in Florida that she has owned for some time. In fact, the Capital Times once ran a story about out-of-touch very wealthy legislators and in it they listed Darling and her beach front property (pictured above). [Capital Times, 6/14/94] In addition her River Hills home is assessed at approximately $800,000.

    But we don't have to only rely on Alberta Darling's personal wealth and recent comment to prove that she is out of touch. We can also look at other telling comments and actions over the years. Here are only a handful in no particular order:

    • When Texas Governor George W. Bush was beginning his run for president he came to a Wisconsin fundraiser. Alberta Darling was quoted at the fundraiser saying, "Hallelujah...I'm so excited" about the prospect of a Bush presidency. We all know how that turned out for most of us. [Capital Times, 7/22/99]
    • Then there was the time that she failed to come back from her London vacation to vote on important legislation during a special session of the legislature. People were not amused nor were they very happy with her. [Capital Times, 6/16/94]
    • In 1995 Alberta Darling declared, "I consider Phillip Morris a good corporate citizen." Need I say more? [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/15/95]
    • Darling's love for powerful special interests was just as strong a number of years later when she said, "In many cases, lobbyists perform a valid role, which is to educate on issues. Many of the lobbyists are very professional about it. They give information..." [AP, "Lobbying groups spend record for six months of the year", 8/8/99]
    • Then of course there is her comment earlier this year that this train wreck of a state budget was "the best budget ever!" Obviously she has no regard whatsoever for the extreme damage that it does to education, health care and the average Wisconsinite.
    So there have been many Alberta Darling "out-of-touch moments" over the years. The most recent one is only the latest and hopefully the events of the next week will mercifully make it the last.

    What is your favorite Alberta out-of-touch moment?