The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s political gossip columnist Dan Bice is reporting Glendale Mayor Bryan Kennedy, a former candidate for Milwaukee County Executive, has filed an ethics complaint against Mike Maistelman, the Democrats’ best election lawyer.
Kennedy is a “former” candidate because Maistelman, representing County Supervisor Theo Lipscomb, got enough nomination petitions thrown out to kick Kennedy and former state Sen. Jim Sullivan off of the ballot. Sullivan is appealing the Election Commission’s decision.
Full disclosure, Maistelman and Associates have done legal work for RightWisconsin and me because Maistelman is good at what he does. And he’s damn funny.
Kennedy is complaining that Maistelman represented the mayor a gazillion years ago when Kennedy was one of the series of Democratic losers who ran against Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI05). Kennedy, Bice and reporter Alison Dirr reminds us, used campaign funds to pay himself a salary. Maistelman should’ve obtained a waiver from Kennedy, the mayor believes, even though Maistelman last represented Kennedy in 2006.
The Journal Sentinel then quotes several legal ethics experts who don’t have much sympathy for Kennedy’s complaint. That makes sense because, in this bubble of politics, sooner or later election law attorneys are going to cross paths with former clients. Did Kennedy expect Maistelman to move to another state or give up practicing law?
Ironically, among Kennedy’s complaints is that he and Maistelman were friends, but Maistelman practices “slimy Chicago-style politics.”
“That is the reason that I have not done business with him in more than a decade,” Kennedy told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Does Kennedy mean Chicago-style politics like those practiced by former President Barack Obama in his first campaign for state senate? Obama had one of his opponents tossed off the ballot, too. Perhaps Kennedy has been secretly voting Republican for president.
As for not doing business with Maistelman, Kennedy had no problems accepting campaign contributions from the election law attorney. What other ethical compromises is Kennedy willing to make?
Of course, there is no real substance to Kennedy’s complaint. Kennedy is not moving to have Maistelman recuse himself from the case. If Maistelman did, Lipscomb would be given time to find a new lawyer, enough time that the ballots would be printed without the names of Kennedy and Sullivan before Sullivan’s appeal can be heard.
The fact is, the law is pretty clear about circulators of nomination papers only doing it for one candidate per public office. It’s an old, old rule, known by almost every politician, and the certification for the circulator at the bottom of each of the nomination petition pages states that the circulator intends to support the candidate.
Milwaukee County isn’t the only community keeping Maistelman busy. In Oconomowoc, the Waukesha County Democratic Party asked Maistelman to get involved in a case where a mayoral candidate, Common Council President Louis Kowieski, failed to submit 200 valid signatures. The clerk originally thought Kowieski submitted enough signatures after a number of them were successfully challenged, but a recount put Kowieski short. He is going to run as a write-in candidate.
Kowieski and his supporters, rather than accept responsibility, are blaming the injection of partisan politics in a non-partisan race.
The very first sentence of the law regarding nomination papers puts the responsibility for collecting the necessary signatures on the candidates. “Each candidate for public office has the responsibility to assure that his or her nomination papers are prepared, circulated, signed, and filed in compliance with statutory and other legal requirements,” the law states.
As Maistelman told the Waukesha Freeman, “If you seek an office whose duties include upholding the law, you should, at a minimum, be able to follow the laws that apply to seeking that office.”
Kennedy, Sullivan, and Kowieski would rather put the blame on their opponent or, in Kennedy’s case, their opponent’s lawyer.
If Kennedy and Sullivan were so incompetent that they couldn’t oversee the collection of nomination signatures by their campaigns, how does anyone expect either of them to run the largest county in the state? And if Kennedy is going to throw a tantrum and file a baseless ethics complaint, he doesn’t have the temperament to serve as Milwaukee’s county executive.
As for Kowieski, he can blame partisan politics all he wants. But in the end, he’s responsible for not making the ballot. If Kowieski can’t own up to that failure, perhaps he’s not ready to be mayor.