- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The co-chair of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee postponed a fundraiser Wednesday after a government watchdog group and Democrats criticized her over its timing.

Sen. Alberta Darling, a Republican from River Hills, said she determined it was “not a good idea” to continue with the $500 per-person fundraiser originally scheduled for Thursday night - hours before Darling’s committee was to meet for the last time Friday to make decisions about what would be funded in the two-year state spending plan.

Jay Heck, director of the Government watchdog group Common Cause in Wisconsin, said that the planned cocktail reception at a private club just a couple blocks from the Capitol was nothing more than a shakedown for lobbyists and special interests, and had called on Darling to cancel or postpone the event.

“She should not have scheduled it in the first place but in the very least she had the good sense to postpone the event,” Heck said. “And we commend her for that.”

Assembly rules prohibit lawmakers from raising money in Dane County while the budget is under consideration. There are no such prohibitions in the Senate.

Joint Finance Committee co-chair and fellow Republican Rep. John Nygren, of Marinette, was scheduled to attend Darling’s fundraiser as a special guest. Nygren said Wednesday that when the fundraiser was originally scheduled, he anticipated that the budget would be completed before the event.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat from Middleton, also called on Darling to postpone the fundraiser because of the perception it gives that special interests can pay for last-minute favors in the budget.

“Perception is a killer and the perception isn’t very good,” said Erpenbach, a member of the budget committee. “People are very cynical about politics and this is one reason why.”

Erpenbach and fellow budget committee Democrat Sen. Lena Taylor hosted a $1,000 per-person fundraiser on May 18 at a bar across from the Capitol. Erpenbach said that was different because he and Taylor aren’t co-chairs of the committee, the fundraiser wasn’t the night before the last scheduled meeting and it was to raise money for all Senate Democrats, not their individual campaigns.

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Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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