October 8, 2015

Gannett to buy Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

gannett_jpg_475x310_q85One of the nation’s largest newspaper chains is about to acquire Wisconsin’s largest daily. The Gannett Company announced plans to buy the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its parent Journal Media Group for $280-million.

Gannett owns ten dailies in Green Bay, Appleton, Wausau, Stevens Point and other communities in eastern and central Wisconsin. It also owns USA Today and major dailies in cities such as Phoenix, Indianapolis, and Nashville.

Gannett needs stockholder and regulatory approval to buy the Milwaukee operation. It expects to finalize the deal early next year, as a consolidation trend continues in the American newspaper industry.

Both Gannett and the Journal Sentinel have spun off broadcast operations to focus on their print and Internet news and advertising outlets. The Journal Sentinel says all news-related decisions will remain in Milwaukee.

Gannett’s Wisconsin outlets have a single unit for statewide investigative stories, in addition to newsrooms inn communities.

U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear appeal in Ho-Chunk video poker case

Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison

Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison

A court decision to let the Ho-Chunk Nation offer video poker at its Madison casino will stand after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the Supreme Court refused to take case on Monday with no comment. The case was among about 1,600 other cases the court declined to take up.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice had argued video poker at the casino is a Class 3 card game, and therefore was prohibited under the terms of the tribe’s gambling compact with the state.

The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in April that video poker at the casino was legal, saying the state must criminalize a gambling activity in order to prevent the tribe from engaging in it.

Assembly Republicans propose campaign finance changes

Legislation being proposed at the Capitol would make a series of change to state campaign finance laws, which include making it clear how candidates can work with outside groups during election season.

The bill unveiled Wednesday deals largely with issues raised in multiple court cases. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said at a Capitol press conference that it includes several rewrites that the courts have called for. Vos noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals found “Wisconsin’s foundational campaign finance law is in serious need of legislative attention” and that the specific provisions have not had a major revision since the law was created in 1973.

The changes proposed include doubling contribution limits to candidates, requiring more frequent filing of finance reports, and makes clarifications on corporate contributions to political parties and committees. Vos noted that most states already have limits higher than what’s being proposed in Wisconsin, while five states in the Midwest have none at all.

The bill also addresses issues raised by the state Supreme Court earlier this year, when justices halted a John Doe investigation into what prosecutors argued was illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker’s campaign and outside groups during the recall elections. Justices found that such “issue advocacy” campaigns, where a group does not expressly call for voting for or against a candidate, is not covered by rules against coordination. Vos said the GOP bill would clearly spell that out in state law, protecting “a free and vigorous debate of candidates and the issues.”

The proposed changes were met with skepticism from Jay Heck with Common Cause in Wisconsin, who said the plan is “effectively the complete deregulation of campaign finance law in Wisconsin, including any meaningful transparency or disclosure. Much more money in much larger amounts will flow.”

Republicans unveil plan to overhaul Wisconsin elections agency

(File photo: WRN)

(File photo: WRN)

Just eight years after its creation, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Wednesday that the time has come to end the “failed experiment known as the Government Accountability Board.”

Republicans unveiled a proposal that would make sweeping changes to the agency, which is charged with the oversight of state elections and ethics laws. The bill calls for splitting the GAB into two new commissions, which would have separate control over elections and ethics-related matters. Each of the panels would have six partisan members, appointed by the Legislature and governor.

State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson), a sponsor of the bill, said the changes would allow for more accountable and transparent oversight of elections in the state. However, critics contend the changes will only make it easier to have politics influence decisions on everything from ballot access to oversight of the very lawmakers who put them in charge.

During a press conference, Knudson offered a long list of examples of ways the agency and its staff have failed to follow policies and laws, including not enforcing fines against late campaign finance filings and failing to do regular checks on whether felons voted in elections. GAB director and chief legal counsel Kevin Kennedy fired back at those claims, saying that many of the examples offered by GOP leaders were “just wrong, incorrect, or incomplete.”

“The devil is not the GAB,” Kennedy said to reporters.

Criticism of the agency has grown in recent years after staff became involved in a John Doe investigation, which was focused on what prosecutors argued was illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker’s campaign and third party groups during the recall election. The state Supreme Court halted the probe earlier this year and Republicans have argued the GAB’s involvement was a sign that partisanship has become entrenched in agency operations.

Kennedy declined to comments on the specifics of the John Doe Wednesday, but noted that the Legislature already has oversight of the GAB’s administrative rules, and any decision they make are reviewed and can be challenged in court. Kennedy said any claim that he serves as “prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner” when it comes to state election laws is nothing more than hyperbole.

The bill is expected to move quickly though the Capitol, with Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) also voicing support for the measure. Fitzgerald said in a statement that he’s “proud to unveil legislation that will finally overhaul the obviously compromised GAB and put an end to the long series of abuses within the agency.”

Madison alders reject Soglin’s anti-loitering proposal

State Street bench

State Street bench

Madison alders have overwhelmingly rejected an ordinance to prohibit loitering downtown. Mayor Paul Soglin wanted a one hour time limit on benches, and to prohibit sleeping on sidewalks.

“It’s clear to me, what we should have done was made the proposed fines in these ordinances . . . a penny,” Soglin said. The mayor said the intent of his proposal was “not to impose financial burdens” on homeless individuals, but to give Madison police officers opportunities to protect people.

Soglin reiterated his safety concerns about the homeless, citing an incident witnessed by people who had left a meeting in the City County building last week. It was “a very hostile shouting match between two people who clearly wanted to injure one another,” Soglin said. “There are people in this building who suffer from post traumatic incidents. They’re employees of the city and county.”

Last month, a city-county liaison committee did approve a ban on the homeless sleeping outside of the City County building. That took effect on October 1st. One woman who spoke prior to the vote said the benches “were the last legal place” for the homeless to go. Another man noted that some benches are used by the homeless to store their belongings. “I don’t think packages and bags are why we put the benches out in the first place,” he said.

Tuesday’s city council vote was 15 to 1 against the measure, with Alder Paul Skidmore casting the lone vote in support.

Last month, Dane County accepted offer to purchase a property on the city’s Near East Side for a permanent homeless day resource center. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the center will “provide people a place not just to come in a and stay warm in the winter and cool off in the summer,” but an array of services as well. He expects the shelter will be open by the fall of 2016.