Scott Fitzgerald: Welfare King of the Wisconsin Legislature

Or; by not traveling 50 miles, Scott Fitzgerald has pocketed $123,376 in per diem allowances from Wisconsin taxpayers over the last nine years.

Welfare King Scott Fitzgerald

Welfare King Scott Fitzgerald

“I just try not to take advantage of the system,” former Sun Prairie State Assemblyman Tom Hebl told the Associated Press in 2003.  During the previous year, Hebl had requested only $1,628 in per diem allowances – by far the lowest in the legislature – but he recognized that not all of his colleagues were so conscientious about their constituents’ tax dollars. “Some people,” Hebl concluded, “believe that they are entitled to it because they’re at the Capitol” (A.P. Wire, Madison, Wisconsin: January 31, 2003).

Lately, no Wisconsin legislator has felt more “entitled to” per diem allowances and has been more willing to “take advantage” of the system than Senator Scott Fitzgerald,  the Republican Senate Majority Leader.  Over the weekend, it was disclosed that Big Fitz, whose residence in Juneau is barely an hour from the state Capitol building, led all 2011 state legislators in claiming $18,128 in per diem allowances for his “food and lodging” in Madison.

We wondered if 2011 had merely been an anomaly for the conservative lawmaker, who might have felt compelled to hole up in his office at the State Capitol due to the tumultuous events that have convulsed Madison since last February.  Upon examining Wisconsin Senate per diem reports for the past nine years, however, we feel that it is safe to say that Big Fitz has always been near the front (or at the front) of the line in claiming the state’s generous $88/day in per diem allowances.

Scott Fitzgerald has established a clear pattern of abusing the reimbursement system; he has shown no qualms about greedily stuffing his pockets with the money of Wisconsin’s hard-working taxpayers; and, over the last nine years, he has brazenly run up the largest per diem tab of any state lawmaker, despite working a mere 50 miles from where he lives.  Put simply, since 2003, the citizens of Wisconsin have paid Big Fitz $123,376 to not travel the short distance between his office in Madison and his house in Juneau.

Senator Fitzgerald has been remarkably consistent in seeking outsized reimbursements even though his residence is a mere 25 miles from the Dane County line. In every year since 2003, he has ranked among the top eight senators in collecting per diem allowances.  (As an aside, the legislature’s per diem allowances are in addition to mileage reimbursements of 48.5 cents per mile, which lawmakers can use to fund the actual travel between their districts and Madison.  So, it is likely that Big Fitz has received another pot of taxpayer money from this fund, as well.)

In 2003 and 2005, Senator Fitzgerald was relatively reserved and placed number eight (out of 33 senators) on the annual “Per Diem Ranking Report.” In each of the other seven years, however, he ranked among the top four in per diem allowances.  In 2008, he won the per-diem bronze medal; in 2009, he won the per-diem silver medal; and, in each of the last two years, Big Fitz has won the per-diem gold medal, receiving more money for “food and lodging” in Madison than any other state legislator. Maybe if we built a train between Madison and Juneau, Senator Fitzgerald would be able to return home more frequently!

Scott Fitzgerald's Yearly Per Diems

Scott Fitzgerald's Yearly Per Diems

Since the economic downturn in 2008, Big Fitz has really cashed in with his per diems. In both 2008 and 2009, he collected 65% more in “food and lodging” allowances than the average Wisconsin senator, and in 2010, his per diem tab of $16,544 was a whopping 120% more than the average senator’s reimbursment of $7,537.33.  The complete 2011 “Per Diem Ranking Report” has not yet been released, but his 2011 bill of $18,218 was the highest per diem request since 2003, and it will assuredly end up being significantly larger than most of his colleagues.

Scott Fitzgerald and Average Senator Per Diems

Scott Fitzgerald and Average Senator Per Diems

(We have uploaded copies of all of the Wisconsin Senate “Per Diem Ranking Reports” from 2003-2010, if you would like to see the raw numbers.)

Back in October, when the GOP-controlled legislature enacted a new state compensation plan that included no raises for public employees for the next two years, Big Fitz justified the decision, by saying: “There are 240,000 people out of work in Wisconsin, and they aren’t getting automatic pay raises either.”  You know what else the unemployed or state workers or, well, pretty much all other workers in the state of Wisconsin aren’t getting these days, Senator Fitzgerald? Access to an extravagant per diem system that grants a tax-free $88 per day, $18,128 per year, and $123,376 per nine years for a job that is 50 miles from their homes.

If you thought Big Fitz couldn’t bilk the state’s taxpayers any more, be sure to read this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story from 2007, which detailed legislators’ practice of “double dipping.”  According to the article, Senator Fitzgerald was one of 15 state lawmakers, who “tapped their campaign accounts to pay for meals and hotels on days they also received [per diem] payments from taxpayers for the same purposes.”  That’s right, according to the JS’s investigative reporters, Big Fitz “spent hundreds of dollars” on meals with campaign money and then turned around and also billed taxpayers for per diems.

Senator Fitzgerald’s bizarre defense of his shameful actions was simply: “Per diem is per diem. It’s always going to be open to scrutiny.”  You’re damn right it’s going to be open to scrutiny – especially when you stick taxpayers with a nine-year bill of $123,376! (Of course, it is difficult to actually scrutinize the expense allowances of state legislators, since they do not need to provide receipts or any other evidence to claim per diems.)

Inquiring minds want to know: has Big Fitz continued his practice of double dipping? Did he receive double reimbursements from the state and from his campaign during the 2010 election season?  Does he plan on double-billing during the upcoming recall election?

There is such loose oversight and lax regulation of legislators’ expense reporting that Senator Fitzgerald has broken no laws with his profligate per diems. He has, however, exposed himself as a breathtakingly shameless and arrogant hypocrite, who abuses privileges and thumbs his nose at the citizens of Wisconsin.

Despite filling his pockets with an ever-increasing amount of taxpayer per diem money over the past nine years, Senator Fitzgerald has consistently lectured Wisconsin’s citizens about the necessity of severe austerity measures and shared sacrifices.  At every opportunity, he preaches about runaway government spending and the need for  fiscal responsibility and self-reliance. He demonizes Wisconsinites who rely on the government for assistance, and he attacks “broken” programs of “government handouts.”

Where is your fiscal responsibility, Senator Fitzgerald?  Where are your personal austerity measures?  Where is your shared sacrifice? While the country and the state’s economy have been ravaged by a deep recession, you have have increasingly kept your hand out to the state’s taxpayers, and, over the last nine years, you have brazenly stuffed your pockets with $123,376 of per diem allowances ostensibly to provide you with “food and lodging” in Madison even though you reside 50 miles from the State Capitol.

In FitzWalkerstan, sacrifice is only for the taxpayers and not for the political leaders. In FitzWalkerstan “government handouts” are only “broken” when they go to to the poor and the needy.

Senator Fitzgerald, over the past nine years, you have shamelessly billed the people of the great state of Wisconsin $123,376 to support your one-hour commute that covers 50 miles. You have also just given the people of your district 123,376 reasons to Recall Fitz.

+++++

NOTE:  The State Assembly has a rule limiting members to per diem claims for only 153 days.  The State Senate has no similar rule, so senators like Big Fitz routinely outpace their Assembly colleagues in pocketing taxpayer per diem money.

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Breaking Down Scott Fitzgerald’s $18,128 in 2011 Per Diems

Senator Scott Fitzgerald

Senator Scott Fitzgerald

At the 2011 Wisconsin State Republican convention, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald gave  a speech railing against big government and governmental dependence.

“Our government is growing too fast, too big; it’s becoming too expensive,” the Republican from Juneau thundered. “One out of every two [people in Wisconsin] are on some kind of government handout,” he claimed (a charge, by the way, that PolitiFact subsequently debunked), before telling the GOP crowd that “we’re getting deeper in debt every day, [and] something is broken here badly.”

You can imagine our surprise when the Wisconsin State Journal reported this weekend that Senator Fitzgerald led all legislators by collecting $18,128 in taxpayer money for his per diems in 2011.  Talk about taking full advantage of a “government handout.”  Those handouts, of course, were on top of his yearly legislative salary of $49,943.

According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, “each legislator may claim a ‘per diem’ allowance for food and lodging for each day spent in Madison on legislative business.”  You’ll notice that each legislator “may” claim these allowances, which means Senator Fitzgerald chose to bill the taxpayers of Wisconsin $18,128 for these per diem charges.

We were curious how far $18,128 went in terms of food and lodging, so we made a few calculations.  First, Senator Fitzgerald lists his voting address at N4692 Maple Road in Juneau.  According to Google Maps, this residence is 48.5 miles from the State Capitol building in Madison.  That’s right, Senator Fitzgerald billed the taxpayers of Wisconsin $18,128 in allowances for “food and lodging” in Madison, even though his residence is not even 50 miles from the State Capitol.  In other words, the taxpayers of Wisconsin paid $373.77 for each mile between Big Fitz’s house and the State Capitol building.

Legislators who reside outside of Dane County can claim $88 per day in per diem allowances, which means Big Fitz requested per diems on 206 days in 2011.  There were 243 non-public-holiday weekdays, so Senator Fitzgerald claimed per diems on 85% of working days in 2011 and 56% of all days.  One wonders if he ever slept or ate at home in 2011.  Let’s hope he at least made it home for the holidays!

Although per diems are technically not supposed to be used for travel expenses, Senator Fitzgerald’s $18,128 could have bought him 5,476.7 gallons of gasoline (at $3.31/gallon) to help make that arduous 50-mile journey from Juneau to Madison.  On the other hand, he could have just bought a brand new Ford Focus with the money. (Here is a list of 9 other “cool cars,” Big Fitz could have bought for about $18,000)

If he applied all his per diems for food, he, of course, would have had many delicious options from the numerous fine restaurants in Madison.  If he opted for frugality, he could have bought 3,362 Big Mac combo meals from McDonald’s (at $5.39 apiece).  That’s about 9 Big Mac meals for every day in 2011.  I think Morgan Spurlock would counsel against eating that many McDonald’s hamburgers and french fries.

Hopefully, Big Fitz has better taste than that. Maybe he likes the food at the Old Fashioned right across the street from the State Capitol.  Senator Fitzgerald could have ordered the tasty Old Fashioned Beer-Battered Wall-Eye Sandwich 1,821 times at $9.95 apiece.

If he was looking for more up-scale fare, I hear the GOP legislators often dine at Kavanaugh’s Esquire Club, which features a surf and turf option of Sirloin & Lobster for $56.95 a plate. Big Fitz could have ordered this tasty dish 318 times – almost once per day – with his per diem allowances.

Perhaps Senator Fitzgerald decided to reward the members of his caucus and treat them to a private dinner at L’Etoile, one of Madison’s finest restaurants. L’Etoile offers a private dining experience in an exclusive dining room for $75 per person.  Big Fitz could treat all 17 members of his caucus (Sorry ex-Senators Hopper and Kapanke!) for a savory $1,275. He could host this spectacular meal 14 times – or more than once a month.  (Even more often if they decide to exclude Dale Schultz!)

Maybe Senator Fitzgerald is more concerned about housing, since the 50-mile trip back to Juneau is just too long. If he devoted all $18,128 he received in per diems towards lodging in Madison, he could have signed a yearly lease for $1,510.67 per month.  This price could get him a one-bedroom apartment on the penthouse floors (for $1,335/month) of the fantastically luxurious Lucky Apartment Building on University Avenue.

Of course, knowing his attitude  about the University of Wisconsin, he would probably not want to be surrounded by so many students. Alternatively, he could rent a 1,014 square foot two-bedroom apartment for the entire year for $1,500/month at Washington Court on 536 West Washington Avenue, a stone’s throw from Capitol Square.

Any way you look at it, $18,128 goes a long way.  According to this map from the New York Times, a household in non-metropolitan areas of Wisconsin (like Dodge County) with an income of $18,128 ranks in the bottom 15% of all households. Or, in other words, Big Fitz’s per diem allowances alone give him more income than 14% of his neighboring households.  Talk about a broken “government handout!”

Governor Scott Walker, Senator Scott Fitzgerald, and the rest of the Wisconsin GOP have repeatedly talked about the necessity of shared sacrifice and the modest reforms needed to balance the state budget. Through salary freezes and increased contributions to health insurance and pension plans, Scott Walker and Scott Fitzgerald legislated an effective 10% salary cut for public workers in Wisconsin.

Scott Fitzgerald does not practice what he preaches.  At the same time he is lecturing teachers, nurses, social workers, and other public employees about the need to tighten their belts and make hard but necessary sacrifices, he is charging the taxpayers of Wisconsin $18,128 for food and lodging despite the fact that his residence is not even 50 miles from the State Capitol.

What’s more, he’s not sharing any sacrifice. In 2010, he charged the taxpayers of Wisconsin $16,544 for per diem allowances.  Yup, while he forced through an effective paycut of 10% for public employees, Big Fitz, increased by 9.6% the amount of per diem allowances he charged to the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

Over the last two years, Senator Fitzgerald has run up a tab of $34,672 for “food and lodging” that the taxpayers of Wisconsin must pay, despite the fact that he lives about 50 miles or one hour away from the State Capitol. There is your scandal. There is your broken system of “government handouts.”  There are 34,672 reasons to Recall Fitz.

Is it any wonder that Wisconsin Senate President Mike Ellis was caught on tape (at the 1:10 mark) denigrating Scott and his brother Jeff by saying: “These Fitzgeralds are the two biggest grifters.”

Scott Fitzgerald has grifted the taxpayers of Wisconsin out of $34,672 in the last two years. Seriously, Senator Fitzgerald? $34,672 for “food and lodging” when you work 50 miles from where you live?

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Scare Tactics of the WPRI: Or, Why Christian Schneider Thinks People With Funny Names Should not Sign Recall Petitions

You're going to call me WHAT!?Christian Schneider, who is a “senior policy fellow” at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, wrote a breathless article last week for the National Review Online decrying the “Mickey Mouse” recall process in Wisconsin.  Schneider noted that the Government Accountability Board announced that it would merely flag suspect names like “Adolph Hitler” or “Mickey Mouse” that appeared on recall petitions.  This, of course, is in keeping with established Wisconsin law that requires official challenges by the incumbent officeholder to formally strike names from recall petitions.

Schneider evidently believes that this is much too much work for Scott Walker and the crack legal team at Michael Best and Friedrich, the Governor’s loyal counselors.  Schneider conjures up a dramatic hypothetical situation involving a befuddled “elderly volunteer” who scans the recall petitions and does not spot clearly fraudulent names like “Wyatt Donnelly,” “Freddy Newandyke,” “Frances Buxton,” and “Emil Schuffhausen.”

You see, Schneider chortles, these names are characters from “Weird Science,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” and he jokes that “unless Leonard Maltin is scanning those signature sheets on that day, all those names will count.”  The horror.

Let’s investigate some of these names.

(1) According to the 1870 census, Frances G. Buxton was a dressmaker in Oshkosh. Certainly, none of her descendants would share this name.  Furthermore, according to the Social Security Death Index, ten people with the name “Frances Buxton” have died in the U.S. since 1970.  Clearly, it’s impossible that someone in Wisconsin might be named “Frances Buxton” and might want to recall Scott Walker.

(2) According to page 148 of this 2008-2009 yearbook “Wyatt Donnelly” was a student at Shawnee East Mission High School in Kansas. Apparently, if young Donnelly moved to Wisconsin after high school, Christian Schneider does not think he should be able to sign a petition against Scott Walker.

(3) Emily Schaffhausen works at Texas A&M.  If she ever moved to Wisconsin, does her name too closely resembles that of a fictional character for her to be allowed to try to recall the governor?

(4) According to the Social Security Death index, at least 6 people with the last name Newendyke (including one person with the first named Winifred) have lived and died in Whiteside, Illinois since 1970.  If a relative named “Fred” moved to Wisconsin and disliked Scott Walker, would Schneider allow him to sign a recall petition? Or, would he be disqualified for the offense of having an odd name?

These simple examples clearly indicate why it is the responsibility of the incumbent office holder to challenge allegedly spurious names and to prove that they are illegitimate. By themselves, odd, unconventional, or famous names on a petition are not evidence of misconduct. Recall petition names must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, unless we believe that  funny names or names resembling those of famous people or of fictional characters should never count.

This is perhaps not the best possible way to handle recall petitions, but it is current state law. The alternative of striking suspect or funny names without the necessary investigations to prove fraud is unacceptable.

Various states have vastly different procedures for  verifying the signatures on citizen petitions. A system like Nebraska’s, where they send the petitions to county clerks who then validate the signatures, would probably be a much needed improvement. Of course, this would require the state legislature to act in the best interests of the state of Wisconsin and to provide more funding for the Government Accountability Board.  Naturally, Jeff Fitzgerald is threatening to kill the GAB in favor of the pre-2007-style partisan elections and ethics boards.  All for the GAB’s sin of following the law.

In the meantime, Christian Schneider’s “elderly volunteers” will be put to work trying to strike the obviously fraudulent names they find on recall petitions, like “Scott Walker.”  After all, the governor would never sign his own recall petition, right?  Of course, whitepages.com lists 30 other people named Scott Walker in Wisconsin, some of whom may not much like their doppelganger in the Governor’s mansion.  Let’s also not tell Christian Schneider about the 37 Michael/Mike Ellises, the 11 Scott Fitzgeralds, the 6 Jeff Fitzgeralds… or the 23 Chris Schneiders, who live in Wisconsin.

At least the GAB and Schneider’s “elderly volunteers” will be able to flag and to strike clearly fraudulent names like “Marijuana Pepsi Sawyer” if they show up on a recall petition.  Wait, what’s that you say? Marijuana Pepsi Sawyer is a well-respected teacher in Beloit?

Christian Schneider would probably be appalled.

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