By SCOTT BAUER, The Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A $500 per-person fundraiser for the co-chair of the Legislature's budget-writing committee was called into question Wednesday by a watchdog group, which said the event was "a little sleazy" because it comes the night before the panel is to complete its work on the state's two-year spending plan.The Thursday night cocktail reception for Joint Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling, a Republican from River Hills, is nothing more than a shakedown for lobbyists and special interests, said Jay Heck, director of the Government watchdog group Common Cause in Wisconsin."It sends a bad signal that the budget is still up for sale," Heck said. "It's the day before Joint Finance ends. That seems a little sleazy."Heck called on Darling to cancel or delay the reception, which is scheduled to be held at a private club just two blocks from the state Capitol.Assembly rules prohibit lawmakers from raising money in Dane County while the budget is under consideration. There are no such prohibitions in the Senate.Darling, a member of the Senate since 1992, did not immediately return a message left on her cellphone seeking comment Wednesday. The state Republican Party referred questions to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate. A message left with its spokeswoman was also not returned.Committee co-chair and fellow Republican Rep. John Nygren, of Marinette, is scheduled to attend Darling's fundraiser as a special guest.Even though there's nothing preventing Darling from holding the fundraiser, she should not do it because of the perception it gives that special interests can pay for last-minute favors in the budget, said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat from Middleton."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."___Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report.