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Wisconsin ethics, the fairy tale
A storybook rendering, for a dark and dreary night

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called Wisconsin, the most beautiful in all the land. The people were proud and strong, but often too distracted by work, drink and sporting events to keep track of what was going on. Some didn't even read newspapers, that's how ignorant they were.

The kingdom's leaders were wicked but clever, proclaiming their ethics at every turn while seldom passing up chances to do unethical things. In time, this caused a crisis, which anyone paying attention could have predicted. (Indeed, those who were, did.)

Newspapers reported that leaders were abusing their power and breaking the law. Nothing was done. In time, several leaders were convicted of crimes against the kingdom; some even got dungeon stays. But the conditions for corruption remained ripe.

The ruler of Wisconsin, King Doyle, promised the people he would act, but didn't. Other leaders made similar promises, breaking them also. One, a conniver named Huebsch, professed to favor reform but let slip that he didn't see any need. 'In Wisconsin,' he declared, 'we can be proud of our ethical traditions and ethical standards.' Those who were paying attention scratched their heads and said, 'Huh?'

Then one day, everything changed ' or so it seemed. King Doyle shouted from his kingdom's highest hill: 'We must pass changes in the law, and we must do it now! Right away! Before the moon goes full again! Move it!'

And so with great haste the kingdom's leaders assembled to alter Wisconsin's ethics. The law they came up with was unveiled by King Doyle on the second Thursday of the first month of the fifth year of his reign ' Jan. 11, 2007, to be exact.

'Pass this now!' the king bellowed, retreating to his chamber to drink weak green tea, his favorite.

As the people got to see details of the new law, many objections were raised. But most of these fell on deaf ears. Or cunning ones.

A knight named Blanchard pointed out that the proposed law would let leaders accused of crimes be tried in their own fiefdoms, a privilege not afforded anyone else. 'No matter!' cried Huebsch and his cohorts. King Doyle said nothing.

Others wondered whether the tribunal created by this law could probe violations on its own authority, or act only if a grievance were filed. It just wasn't clear. 'No matter!' cried Huebsch and his cohorts. King Doyle said nothing.

Still others noted that all those who worked for this tribunal were sworn to secrecy regarding most misconduct allegations, under threat of a nine-month dungeon stay. Indeed, a vanquished knight named Lautenschlager opined from exile that a person who leaked word of an ethics probe could face harsher penalties than the person accused.

'No matter!' cried Huebsch and his cohorts, clearly pleased that this tribunal would be a place where allegations went to die, ne'er to see the light of day. King Doyle said nothing.

There were many other objections. The tribunal would receive and debate requests for advice on campaign finance matters behind closed doors. Previously, such issues were handled in the open. Gail Shea, a knight who once helped oversee the kingdom's rules in this area, noted that this change potentially cut off valuable input.

Moreover, said Shea, 'If you shroud in secrecy the advice you're giving major players, you're basically undermining public confidence in the system.'

'No matter!' cried Huebsch and his cohorts. King Doyle said nothing.

There was one provision so foul with the stench of contagion even the people of Wisconsin wouldn't go along. The new law, as proposed, contained a 'poison pill' clause holding that, if any provision were found unlawful, every provision would be cast into oblivion.

'No matter!' cried Huebsch, indignant. Indeed, when objections were raised, he conjured up a mighty spell: Without this poison pill, he warned, 'the credibility and balance of the new system would instantly come into question. It would then be possible for one majority party to manipulate the new weaker system at the expense of the minority.'

The failing of this argument, which Huebsch hoped no one would notice, was that it made absolutely no sense. King Doyle said nothing. But enough people did notice, and protest, that this poison pill was removed.

Still, efforts persisted to pull the wool over the people's eyes. A leader named Robson, rumored to be a rival of Huebsch, though this was not apparent, called the final product the 'strongest and toughest' ethics law in all the land.

Yes, it was strong and tough ' if by strong and tough one meant weak and compromised, and quite possibly worse than what existed before.

The law passed on Jan. 30, a mere 19 days after it was introduced, and before the next full moon. King Doyle roused himself from his slumbers to shower it with praise: 'It is a model for what can happen when [we] set aside differences and do what's right.' Huebsch was of like mind: 'Today will be remembered as the day that Wisconsin voters got their government back.' Yea, verily.

Even the champions of ethics reform, long accustomed to achieving nothing, gazed upon this hideously deformed offspring and pronounced it beautiful.

And the tainted leaders who pushed it through? Why, it almost goes without saying: They all lived happily ever after.

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