June 16, 2005
Logrolling: The Decision
Posted by Gordon Smith

The Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard has responded to Austin King's claims of logrolling in the Wisconsin State Legislature, which I have blogged about here and here. As expected, Blanchard concluded that his office would not pursue criminal action. The Blanchard letter is here.

The letter relies heavily on Section 13.07 of the Wisconsin Code, which provides:

Nothing in secs. 13.05 and 13.06 shall be construed as prohibiting free discussion and deliberation upon any question pending before the legislature by members thereof, privately or publicly, nor as prohibiting agreements by members to support any single measure pending, on condition that certain changes be made in such measure, nor as prohibiting agreements to compromise conflicting provisions of different measures.

According to Blanchard, the negotiations over the minimum wage legislation were merely "free discussion," not logrolling. This seems too easy to me. Read Austin King's letter again, and look at the evidence of a deal. I think the evidence of a compromise deal, a tradeoff, is pretty compelling, and Blanchard's characterization of the exchange as "free discussion" elides the thrust of King's complaint.

Blanchard makes several other arguments: (1) the public nature of the debate suggests the absence of logrolling, which he redefines as "covert agreements by public officials on matters of narrow or private interest made at public expense"; (2) logrolling also implies "an attempt by any public official to enrich or benefit himself personally at public expense or to corruptly gain a dishonest advantage over anyone else" (note that, again, Blanchard is adding requirements to the statute); and (3) "[c]riminal prosecution in this area could have chilling effects on necessary discussions between and among legislators and with a governor, as well as chilling effects on the decisions of public officials to share information about these communications with the public."

The end result here is the right one, so it is hard for me to get too agitated about Blanchard's analysis. The bottom line is that anti-logrolling statutes like Wisconsin's are bad public policy.

Thanks to Mike Wittenwyler for sending me the Blanchard letter.

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