Tuesday, August 27, 2019

GOPs try to slow down justice, both in Madison and in DC

This is not a way to run a functioning state government.
Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee today rejected Dem Josh Kaul’s request for explicit authority to move forward in settling an undisclosed lawsuit despite the AG’s warning that the state faces a Friday deadline to take action.

In the first example of Kaul seeking legislative approval to settle a suit under lame-duck session laws, a dispute erupted over proposed confidentiality agreements the AG wanted lawmakers to sign.

Dem members said they refused to sign them because they wanted to simply give Kaul the authority to settle the case without interference from lawmakers.
We elected this guy to do his job.

On the other side, Republicans said they wouldn't sign any non-disclosure agreements, even though the case was still pending. Which created a stalemate since Kaul indicated that they couldn't go public on a settlement that hadn't been formally signed.
[Joint Finance Co-Chair John] Nygren said during the hearing the committee received a request late Friday afternoon to convene on the settlement and indicated there had been discussions about a confidentiality agreement, but no agreement was reached.

Kaul said DOJ learned about the possible settlement Thursday and notified the chairs the next day. He said he couldn’t stress enough that a confidentiality agreement needed to be signed by lawmakers before he could brief them on the case.
The vote not to formally proceed happened after the GOPs on Joint Finance decided to close part of the meeting to the public to discuss the lawsuit and issues related to the proposed settlement. Closed sessions like this aren’t unusual in local government, often as a city-hired attorney advises part-time Common Council members about sensitive personnel matters.

But that’s quite a bit different from a taxpayer-funded lawsuit about public issues, and besides, Wisconsinites vote for an Attorney General to do this job on his/her own. And this type of delay and inefficient mess was entirely predictable when the GOP Legislature pulled its Power Grab last December, after Democrats swept all statewide offices. This required incoming AG Kaul to get the go-ahead from JFC before any agreements were finalized.

As Kaul told the JFC members today, it’s difficult to have the AG’s office operate in such a way, as these agreements often come together in short time periods, and not being able to take care of this business without JFC interference could cost taxpayers a lot of money if the settlement falls apart due to the delays.

It sure makes me wonder what the lawsuit is about. I don’t think it’s the rumored settlement of $10-$12 billion with Purdue Pharma on opiods because Kaul said the suit was filed by predecessor Brad Schimel. Crooked GOP Schimel infamously refused to be part of a multi-state suit against GOP donors Purdue Pharma, and Wisconsin only joined that suit this year, after Kaul took office.

Another example of the GOP blocking potential legal action happened yesterday, as the agency that is supposed to oversee elections now cannot take on new cases, due to inaction from Republicans in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
For years, the Federal Election Commission has been barely functional. But at the end of this month—as the 2020 campaign heats up and unprecedented amounts of money flow to candidates for national office—much of the agency’s work will shut down entirely. There will be no new fundraising rules, no punishments for rule-breakers, no decisions about the outcomes of investigations, no advisory opinions issued to candidates who want to know if a specific campaign finance practice is illegal.

That’s because in order to do any of that, the FEC needs a quorum of four of the six members that, by law, make up the commission. As of September, three of those positions will be vacant. Two seats have been unoccupied for months (since 2017 and 2018, respectively). On Monday morning, one of the remaining Republican commissioners announced his resignation as of the end of the month. There’s little indication that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will move the fill the empty seats anytime soon.

The lights at FEC headquarters won’t literally go out—campaigns and political committees will still have to file fundraising reports, and the commission’s staff will still post that information information online. But the commission’s leadership will be unable to take any formal actions. New rules will be frozen. Campaigns and political committees will be unable to get advice from commissioners on how to apply rules. And much of the FEC’s oversight activity will grind to a halt. When commission staff conduct investigations of possible violations, it requires votes from the commissioners for any action to be taken on the outcome of those investigations. Similarly, for fines to be imposed on rule breakers, it requires a vote.

Monday’s resignation of Republican commissioner Matthew Petersen leaves one Democrat, one Republican and one independent commissioner. And the timing couldn’t be worse: The 2020 election is predicted to be the most expensive election in history, and a raft of unresolved questions are facing the FEC when it comes to how to enforce rules to keep foreign influence out of American democracy. Rick Hasen, a prominent election law and campaign finance attorney and professor at the University of California-Irvine, said that without a quorum, any chance of the FEC being able to respond to the threat of outside interference is gone….

Any further discussion on how to increase the transparency of internet ads—on which campaigns are expected to spend as much as $1.2 billion this cycle—was tabled. Thanks to Petersen’s resignation, the tabling will continue for the foreseeable future. Commission members are appointed by the president, and although Trump has made one nomination to the commission since his inauguration, the Senate has not scheduled any confirmation hearings.

This is how Republicans operate, both in DC and in Madison. They want government to be dysfunctional and ineffective, because it advantages them and their oligarch donors if the rest of us are kept in the dark. The dysfunction results in facts being obscured and it protects these amoral crooks (both inside and outside of politics) from the accountability that they badly deserve.

This “dysfunction by design” only ends when we eradicate GOP control of any and all areas of governance. It’s the only way to truly “Drain the Swamp."

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