MADISON — Big money, nasty campaigning and The Nuge top Wisconsin‘s wild week in politics.
On the fraud front, an exclusive Wisconsin Reporter investigation found more than 460 Wisconsin inmates collected unemployment checks last year.
That’s a no-no.
The probe followed up on a September 2011 audit by the state Department of Workforce Development’s Unemployment Insurance Division that found 236 inmates had received unemployment checks through August 2011, costing employers some $325,000.
Unemployment compensation programs are administered by the states and funded by payroll taxes that employers pay.
The latest data obtained by Wisconsin Reporter found 460 inmates scammed unemployment benefits, costing employers $435,975.
Another $23,705 in overpayments were made to 57 other inmates, apparently by mistake, according to DWD.
DWD spokesman John Dipko told Wisconsin Reporter that the cross-match search yielded 1,197 hits in 2011, all of which were investigated. He said almost 75 percent of the hits resulted in a potential unemployment insurance problem, accounting for $459,680 in fraudulent and non-fraudulent overpayments. That’s a 546 percent increase from the previous year’s tally of $84,159 in ineligible payments.
“Our aggressive approach to detect and prevent overpayments among incarcerated individuals is one of the many efforts (Unemployment Insurance) is pursuing to promote UI program integrity in Wisconsin,” Dipko said in an email.
Nearly $81 million.
That’s how much money candidates, special interest groups and political action committees spent in the failed attempt to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker in June, according to estimates released by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a liberal-leaning campaign finance watchdog organization.
The spending barrage was more than double the record $37.4 million spent on the regularly scheduled governor’s race in 2010, according to the group, which reviewed outside electioneering activities, advertising buys and campaign finance reports.
The total tab for Wisconsin’s long, hot recall season — including 15 recall races over the past year-plus — topped $137 million, Democracy Campaign estimates.
Walker and GOP groups and committees outspent their Democratic rivals and surrogates $58.7 million to $22 million in the governor’s race, in which Walker clobbered Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Republicans outpaced Democrats in spending on the other recall races, $84.5 million to $52.6 million, the analysis found.
Mudslinging, if you’re nasty
Another week, more mud was thrown in what is quickly becoming a nasty race for the Wisconsin GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination.
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson smeared political newcomer and Madison businessman Eric Hovde, while Hovde and former 1st District U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann simultaneously chucked mud at each other and Thompson.
Thompson charged that Hovde, as hedge fund manager, used taxpayer dollars to purchase banks, and then bet against U.S. companies, a charge Hovde vehemently denied.
Neumann attacked Hovde for supporting bank bailouts and higher taxes on the rich.
Hovde punched back, castigating Thompson for once backing the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act, known derisively by conservatives as Obamacare, earning the praise of President Barack Obama.
And Hovde hit Neumann for voting to raise the nation’s debt ceiling when Neumann was in Congress.
Perhaps thinking the candidates have been remiss in mentioning what it sees as conservatives’ real enemy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched an ad attacking liberal Tammy Baldwin, the 1st District U.S. representative from Madison and the Democrat’s candidate in the U.S. Senate race.
Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, rolled out campaign ads that seemed to steer clear of the mud and muck of his fellow Senate candidates, pointing to his stand with Walker and passing landmark bills that conservatives love.
Tommy and The Nuge
The Motor City Madman, one of Nugent’s many handles, endorsed Thompson and rallied supporters at a campaign stop Thursday near Racine.
Thompson’s “not a politician, he’s not going to be just an elected official. He’s a warrior,” Nugent told a crowd of about 150 people. “He will take on these politically correct, brain-dead, soulless liberal Democrats, and he will cause them pain and suffering.”
He did so despite what some in the NRA see as Thompson’s once lukewarm position on gun rights.
Asked about his refusal to take up a concealed carry law when he was governor, Thompson told Wisconsin Reporter he has always supported it.
That’s not what history suggests.
A New York Times piece in 1999, among other sources, noted the then-governor’s opposition to allowing permit holders to carry concealed weapons.
“Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin has vowed to veto any concealed-weapon ban,” the Times story stated.