MacIver News Service | October 30, 2012[Milwaukee, Wisc…] Senator Chris Larson’s office directly coordinated with a registered lobbyist to secure a free dinner for a closed-door meeting between the Milwaukee teachers’ union and Democrat legislators and candidates, according to email records obtained by the MacIver News Service.
The Milwaukee Democratic Caucus scheduled a meeting with the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association on October 8th at MTEA’s office in Milwaukee. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the impact budget cuts are having on Milwaukee Public Schools. An email promoting the event stated, “MTEA has graciously offered to provide food and refreshments for the meeting.”
It is a violation of Wisconsin’s gift ban law for legislators to receive free food from organizations that employ a lobbyist.
“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),” Jonathan Becker, Administrator, Division of Ethics and Accountability at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board wrote in an email to MNS.
Shannon Powell, Larson’s legislative aide, conducted much of the coordination for the event. MNS sent an open records request to Powell on October 16th requesting emails concerning it. Those records were received on October 30th.
On Friday, October 5th, Powell sent an email to David Weingrod, a registered lobbyist for MTEA: “We still good on the pizza idea too? That’s always a selling point.”
Kim Schroeder, MTEA vice president, who was cc’d on that email, responded, “We are good for Monday. Pizza will be ordered. And the room should be ready.”
Becker told MNS there is an exception to the gift ban law for legislators that are “giving a talk about state issues. That may apply here.”
However, the emails give no indication that legislators would be speaking, except for either Senator Larson or Representative Pasch, who would act as moderator.
“They can hear directly from our educators so that we all may better represent them in the Wisconsin State Legislature,” the emailed invitation read.
On the Friday before the event, Weingrod emailed Powell that 25 people had signed up for the meeting at that point.
The morning of the event, Powell emailed MTEA with the RSVP list. Senators Tim Carpenter and Chris Larson; Representatives Sandy Pasch and Peggy Krusik; and Democrat candidates Mandela Barnes, Evan Goyke and Nikiya Harris confirmed they would attend.
The emails obtained by MNS’s open records request did not confirm the event actually happened. However, Powell sent the meeting agenda to Senator Larson less than two and a half hours before it was set to begin.
MNS had requested all communications concerning the event up to October 12th, four days after it was scheduled to occur. The request turned up no follow-up emails after the event concerning how it went or whether it actually occurred.