Years ago, in what seems another life, I worked for the Milwaukee Journal and wrote a series about special interest lobbying in the Wisconsin State Capitol.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
At the center were big bucks. Super-lobbyists for the tobacco interests, and others. It's a story that writes itself and we see again that it's playing out to the detriment of the general public.
Last year we witnessed the power pf alcohol lobbies to water down the push for genuine drunk driving reforms - - despite drunk driving being shamefully documented in blood on the state's roads.
When all was said and done, legislators congratulated themselves on a weak package that kept virtually all first-time offenses as civil tickets - - A Wisconsin statutory anomaly.
And repeat offenders still get three strikes before a 4th conviction is treated as a felony. Wisconsin's paltry alcohol taxes were not raised even a penny to pay for more enforcement, education and treatment.
Now unfolding is a similar tale: a weak bill to begin to regulate so-called "payday" lenders is in the hands of legislators.
But this Assembly bill does cap payday loan interest.
Pushing the bill is Speaker Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville). He had been a proponent of stronger regulation,changed his position, and admitted a dating relationship with one of the payday industry's paid lobbyists.
The State Senate may approve a tougher measure, including limits on the industry's signature and usurious interest rates, but who knows?
Sheridan says he did nothing wrong, and he has a right to a social life.
But nothing the legislature is doing with payday lending or OWI reform inspires confidence, as lobbyists - - many of whom are former legislators - - have a clubby relationship with incumbent lawmakers.
It's an open secret. Nothing changes.
And with the Supreme Court approving direct corporate funding of political campaign advertising, there's no reason to think that the private sector's management of the legislative process will be restrained, or refocused with the public interest in mind.
For the legislative special interests, everyday becomes payday.