A political watchdog says we may need a better explanation from the Speaker of the state Assembly, despite his admission that he’s dated a lobbyist for the payday loan industry. “It appears at least on the surface that the ethics laws were not violated, but there is some problem about public perception,” says Jay Heck with Common Cause in Wisconsin. State law prohibits lobbyists from providing anything of value to legislators.

Heck notes that those in leadership positions such as Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan, a Janesville Democrat, have a lot of sway over the fate of proposed legislation. Heck says there ought to be a very detailed explanation of the leader’s position on the issue and how it’s evolved over time. “The leader has to make it very clear that there’s no connection between his or her position on the issue, and whatever connection he or she may have with a lobbyist.”

“There’s no law that says you can’t date a lobbyist,” Heck says. “I just think that in a situation like this, more information is better than less.” Payday loan legislation received a public hearing in October, but since that time the bill has not advanced out of committee. Sheridan has denied that his involvement with the lobbyist for the payday loan industry has had any connection with the fate of that bill. Heck says a more clear accounting is needed. “We’re not talking here about trying to dig into the details of a personal relationship,” Heck says. “The public interest here is in knowing whether or not a personal relationship affects a judgment with regard to public policy.”

AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (:50 MP3) AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (:50 MP3)

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