The appointment of Scot Ross, the former executive director of One Wisconsin Now, to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission has drawn criticism from both conservatives and liberals because of his public conduct and infamous potty mouth.
Dan O’Donnell of WISN-AM has a collection of some of the most recent Ross rants on Twitter, many of them using obscene language, many of them directed at Republican officials at all levels.
Jake Curtis, writing in National Review, says the appointment of Ross undermines the bipartisan appointment structure of the commission.
“The appointment could turn a serious and somber commission that addresses some of the most complex ethical questions in the state into a partisan circus,” Curtis wrote. “To be clear, many believe it is important that, instead of having ‘non-partisan’ appointments to the commission, the leaders of the two respective parties should have the ability to make appointments, thereby providing a clear partisan balance. However, that policy decision rests on the assumption that the respective party leaders will make qualified appointments within their respective parties.”
Madison’s daily liberal newspaper The Wisconsin State Journal also chimed in with an editorial criticizing the appointment of Ross, saying it “soils” the legacy of former state Senate Minority Jennifer Schilling (D-La Crosse) who made the appointment before stepping down.
“Will Ross even try to build consensus with GOP appointees on the ethics panel?” the editorial asked. “Or was Shilling’s goal more dysfunction? She didn’t respond to inquiries.”
(The Wisconsin State Journal did not address the number of times they have used Ross as a source for their stories.)
In addition to Ross’ inability to express himself without using obscene language, the State Journal, National Review and O’Donnell all noted Ross’ role in the “caucus scandal” where he admitted to doing political campaign work during time he was being paid by the taxpayers. The “caucus scandal” brought down Democratic and Republican legislative leaders and led to the creation of the horribly flawed and partisan Government Accountability Board.
Despite Ross’ past, newspapers across the state regularly used him as a source, eagerly consuming and regurgitating his press releases when he was with One Wisconsin Now. Television and radio news outlets regularly placed a microphone in front of Ross for him to comment on political issues regardless of the hypocrisy or the accuracy of his statements.
The only issues on which Ross has not commented in the media seem to be sports and weather. We suspect he was excluded from commenting on the former because Ross is originally from Pittsburgh and the latter because he would use gutter language to describe a sunbeam.
There is a part of us that would like to see Ross on the Ethics Commission, if for no other reason to see Wisconsin Eye have to add a “bleep button” for their coverage of the meetings lest they be labeled a porn site whenever Ross is in full obscenity-laced rant mode.
There is also a small part of us that admires Ross’ ability to manipulate the media, even as he has publicly expressed his disdain for the First Amendment rights of others. Ross is pleasant enough behind the scenes, and we’ve certainly enjoyed some of his more humorous comments.
However, we have concerns about Ross’ appointment beyond the unprofessional expletive-laced tirades.
Ross’ trade is political opposition research. He is not just a political flak. At One Wisconsin Now, he was the dirt-digger for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, unearthing and creating scandals with which the Democrats and their allies in the media could attack Republicans and other conservative elected officials in Wisconsin.
It’s that low, dirty work that has made him so popular with a state media that no longer has the resources to do such monkey-poo flinging themselves. Are we really expected to believe that the Ethics Commission will be able to conduct sensitive investigations of political matters in complete confidentiality while Ross is sitting on the board?
We’re also concerned about Ross’ rather elastic commitment to the First Amendment. He is all for it when it comes to Democrats, not so much when it comes to Republicans. As a member of the Ethics Commission, Ross will be sitting in judgment on all sorts of First Amendment issues concerning campaign finance. Is a shameless, unprincipled partisan really the best choice for this role?
But there is another issue that is of grave concern regarding Ross’ appointment. There is a ton of smoke suggesting the fire of a deal to prevent a Democratic primary in the 26th District.
Until very recently, Ross was giving serious consideration to running for the seat in the Wisconsin Senate to replace the retiring Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison), making him a potential challenger to former state Representative and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Helen Kelda Roys (D-Madison). Ross announced his intention not to seek the seat on April 13 and by April 24 he was appointed by the Democrats’ leader in the Senate to the Ethics Commission.
If Ross were a Republican, his former organization One Wisconsin Now would be issuing press release after press release calling for an investigation into whether a deal was made to prevent a Senate primary in that district.
Ironically, the first action of the Ethics Commission with Ross on it should be to investigate its newest member’s appointment because, as Ross himself would observe, something f*&%ing isn’t right about it. In the meantime, Shilling’s successor state Sen. Jennifer Bewley (D-Mason) should ask Ross to step down and appoint someone more qualified and less ethically compromised in his place.