Wait until later to vacuum cash

Appearances matter, and fundraising at budget time just looks bad.

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COMMON CAUSE, a national nonpartisan good-government organization with Wisconsin operations based in Madison, has called out powerful legislators for bad timing in joining a fundraiser with special interests while key budget decisions are still being made.

Specifically, Common Cause is criticizing Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairs Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, for being part of a high-cost event for lobbyists and special interests. The event, planned for Thursday at a swank private club near the Capitol, will cost lobbyists $1,000 to be a “host” or $500 just for admission.

A number of states make it illegal for legislators and lobbyists to get together to vacuum up money during budget sessions. Wisconsin should do the same, applying such a prohibition to all state elected officials.

APPARENTLY, THERE was a time when Nygren agreed. He co-sponsored a Republican bill to that effect in 2009.

Look, if a legislator wants to be corrupted by money that can be accomplished any day of any year. It’s impossible to pass a law to make a crooked person straight. And the honest ones are not in need of legislation to make them do right. So we are not saying that just because money is on the table it is clear evidence of pay-to-play corruption.

We are saying it can leave that impression with the people. It looks bad when politicians who are in the process of making crucial decisions get together in the midst of it all to collect checks from people hoping to influence policy.

The old principle still applies: It is not enough to avoid impropriety. One also must avoid the appearance of impropriety. Campaign fund-raising should be banned during the budget process.

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