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Democrats Meet Behind Closed Doors with Teachers' Union

Comments | Posted in News | By Staff | Posted October 17, 2012 9:11 AM

Rep. Sandy Pasch Orchestrated Meeting with Candidates, Lawmakers, Union and Staff Through Email from Official State Account

MacIver News Service | October 17, 2012 [MILWAUKEE...] State Representative Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay) may have helped her fellow Democrats break state law last week when she facilitated a closed-door meeting with a high-powered labor union. 

Pasch used her official state email account to invite Democratic lawmakers, candidates for the legislature and legislative staff members to attend a private meeting with the Milwaukee teachers' union. 

In an email to more than 50 individuals, sent from her official legislative account and dated September 27, Pasch wrote:
   
"I am inviting members of the Milwaukee Democratic Caucus to join Senator Chris Larson and me at a meeting with the general membership of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA). 
"The conversation will be centered on what our teachers see as the real world impacts of the state budget cuts over the past two years, and how it has impacted their jobs and the quality of education for our children. This is a great opportunity for us, as their state elected officials, to hear directly from our teachers who are on the front lines every day. 
"We are also extending this invitation to all those who will be new to the Legislature in January, so they can hear directly form our educators so that we all may better represent them in the Wisconsin State Legislature."
The email went on to discuss the logistics for the October 8 meeting at the union's Vliet Street Headquarters. 

"MTEA has graciously offered to provide food and refreshment for the meeting," Pasch wrote. 

While Pasch's use of state resources to coordinate the strategy meeting may have crossed the line, it is that sentence describing the refreshments that may hint at the more serious indiscretion. 

In an email to the MacIver News Service, Jonathan Becker, 
Administrator, Division of Ethics and Accountability 
Wisconsin Government Accountability Board explained the gift ban law for organizations, like MTEA, which employ lobbyists. 
 
"If the event is purely social, legislators should not accept any food or drink. If the event is intended for and conducive to the discussion of state issues, legislators may accept the food and drink but must pay the cost (or fair value if any items have been donated). To determine the appropriate per person charge, divide the total cost (or value) of the food and drink being offered by the number of people you expect to attend," Becker wrote.

In her email, Representative Pasch made no mention of a cost to attend, but did make it clear that the meeting would be held away from the prying eyes of the public. 
 
"This meeting is not open to the media and no press have been invited," Pasch wrote. 
 
In response to a reporter's question regarding the use of state resources as well as the timing, content, open meetings and potential quorum issues raised by the gathering, Representative Pasch insists there was no impropriety. 

"This legislative, non-campaign event was held so that Milwaukee elected officials could hear - firsthand from our educators - the impact of the $1.6 billion cuts to public education, and the redirecting of taxpayer dollars to unaccountable voucher schools." Pasch told MacIver News Service. 
 
Pasch declined to answer questions regarding who attended the meeting or if she requested GAB guidance before sending the email from her state account. 

The MTEA is a major political player in Madison. Campaign finance records at the GAB confirm MTEA has spent more than a quarter million dollars on political campaign efforts in 2011 and 2012. In the last two-year legislative session, they spent more than $69,000 lobbying lawmakers. 

Senator Larson and the union have not responded to questions about the event. 
 
The MacIver News Service has filed a request under Wisconsin's Open Records Law, for all communications regarding the meeting from the offices of Larson and Pasch. 

We'll post updates to this story as events merit.

The email (Click to enlarge)
pasch email