State officials recently gave a definitive answer to the question of how public funds should be spent on legal fees. In a press conference Friday morning, state Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager outlined the plan upon which she and the legislative leaders agreed.
The plan, which is in response to the approximately $700,000 of legal fees paid in connection to the caucus investigation, will require those charged and convicted with crimes to pay back the money they have spent. It will also require all future employees seeking help for legal fees to sign an agreement stating they will return the money if charged and convicted.
Lautenschlager contacted the district attorneys in charge of the caucus prosecutions to ensure that the fees paid for those who are found guilty will be reimbursed.
\This resolution is a victory for the citizens of the state,"" she said in statement.
The plan comes a few weeks after Gov. Jim Doyle authorized Lautenschlager to take action in this matter. The governor disagrees with the plan, but respects Lautenschlager's right to make that decision, according to his spokesperson, Thad Nation.
""The governor has always believed that legislators should be treated the same as anyone else, that they shouldn't have legal fees paid for,"" Nation said.
Nation said the plan, while giving a framework to recover the money if the person is found guilty, does not stop payments from continuing.
Although Doyle disagrees with the plan, Common Cause in Wisconsin, a non-partisan watchdog group that filed suit after Doyle was unable to do so, does not, according to Executive Director Jay Heck. While their suit was later dismissed, an appeal is pending. However, Heck said he thinks their lawsuit may no longer be necessary.
""The settlement really accomplished the goals of our lawsuit, which was to bring some accountability to the outflow of taxpayer dollars,"" Heck said.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign also approves of the plan. Executive Director Mike McCabe said he sees it as a positive step.
""The fact that the payment of legal fees will be stopped for those people who are charged with a crime, I think, is the right thing for the legislature to do,"" McCabe said.
At the press conference, Lautenschlager said the plan is based on the constitutional principle that the legislature may only use public funds for public purposes.
""This agreement ensures that the Legislature's current and future attorney fee payment policies will comply with the law,"" Lautenschlager said.