Monday, October 4, 2010

Unelected Boards Create Campaign Cash

"Barrett" Example Yields Over $150,000 in Board Contributions

Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG) has long analyzed and reported on the drawbacks of unelected boards, particularly those with the power to unilaterally impose taxes. The CRG audit and online database of Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) Board spending and the well-publicized shortcomings of the Metro-Milwaukee Sewage District (MMSD) Board highlight a lengthy list of perceived problems with unelected boards given broad regulatory power as well as taxing power without direct voter representation.

CRG began an investigation and analysis of MMSD due to citizen outrage over recent flooding and basement sewage back-ups. Initial findings suggested that these failures are largely due to governance issues at the City of Milwaukee and on the MMSD Board level rather than operational issues at MMSD. Further investigation of political actions and involvement within MMSD revealed significant contributions from MMSD Board members to the politicians that appoint them.

For example, MMSD Board members contributed almost $10,000 to Tom Barrett campaigns with $4,000 being contributed in 2009-2010 election cycle alone. Every MMSD Board member who contributed gave at least $100, six gave at least $250, five gave at least $500, and three gave over $1000 with one donor exceeding $2000 and another exceeding $3000.

As a result, a pilot project was undertaken to analyze and understand the relationship between political contributions and appointments to boards such as MMSD. The City of Milwaukee and Mayor Barrett were chosen as the initial study example based on the large number of appointed boards the City has jurisdiction over as well as the large number of mayoral appointees to those boards.

The study methodology required compiling a partial list of mayoral board appointees by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to 92 boards during his tenure as mayor (list is partial as a complete list of past appointees do not exist – spouses were included on list). This list was cross-indexed against contributions to Barrett campaigns from 7/1/2000 to 6/30/2010 obtained from databases maintained by the City of Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The entire tabulated data set may be downloaded at

The following are selected statistics from the analysis

Total Campaign Contribution Dollars $151,307.79

Average Contribution Per Donation $330.37

Average Total Contributions Per Donor $1,220.22

Barrett also made dubious appointments of local real estate developers to Business Improvement District boards after receiving substantial campaign cash.

Convicted felon Boris Gohkman received one such appointment after $1200 in campaign donations.  Even more suspicious was the appointment of Ronald San Felippo after making a series $1500 donations to Barrett on the 22nd of six consecutive months (January to June).  San Felippo was subsequently appointed 6 days later on June 28th!

Project leader Chris Kliesmet commented, “The numbers yielded by our analysis were quite surprising and perhaps more than a little disturbing. Given that the total contributions are well into six figures and the average total contributions per donor crosses the one-thousand dollar mark, it does suggest at least a perception of impropriety that should be addressed, particularly when reviewing compensated boards. Additionally, one must not discount the imputed value of the regulatory power wielded even by uncompensated boards. For those seeking appointments, and there are many who covet such appointments, the regulatory power may be more highly valued than any monetary reward. Whether by design or sheer happenstance, it is safe to say that the power to make unelected board appointments can be used as a tool to raise campaign cash and creates yet another strong argument against unelected boards. CRG will issue updates to our investigations should our analyses continue to yield noteworthy results.”

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