By Gavin Schmitt
This column previously reported on the ongoing John Doe investigation of people surrounding Scott Walker in our December and January issues. I strongly encourage readers to track down those columns for future reference. It is time again to check up on the investigation, leaving no stone unturned.
As of this writing, John Doe II seems to have gone largely underground and may ultimately grind to a halt. In January, Judge Gregory Peterson quashed subpoenas intended for Governor Walker’s campaign, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Citizens for a Strong America. What does this mean? This could be that Peterson felt the investigation had become a “fishing expedition” and was asking for records without enough evidence to suspect a crime would be improper.
Peterson wrote in his decision, “The State’s theory is that various parties engaged in illegal coordinated activities during the recent recall elections. I concluded, however, that the coordinated activities are not prohibited under the statutes. Yet, the State’s theory is not frivolous. In fact, it is an arguable interpretation of the statues.” So although Peterson thinks the foundation of the search warrants was groundless, he can see why prosecutors asked for them. In fact, the “quashing” is on hold pending an appeals court review.
Attorney Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy claims Peterson’s decision, if it stands, could be letting groups off the hook, basically stating that campaigns and third party groups can coordinate as much as they please, just so long as the magic words “vote for X” never appear in ads. Fischer may be relying on hyperbole, but his basic point is this: more money in politics leads to more corruption, so allowing these groups to proceed unhindered doesn’t benefit anyone.
Fischer is actually echoed by the prosecutors, who have filed a brief saying that coordination is the crime in itself, because the third party ads are an unreported “contribution” when they are designed to assist in electing someone. Just as providing vehicles or office space would be a contribution, why would a million-dollar advertisement not be simply because the wording is cleverly engineered? In their words: “Simply put, contributions to a candidate’s campaign must be reported whether or not they constitute express advocacy.”
Where did the prosecutors get this idea? Apparently from a decision that Judge Peterson has not read, Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation v. State Election Board (1999). In this case, the courts wrote that Wisconsin law counts issue ad “expenditures that are ‘coordinated’ with, or made ‘in cooperation with or with the consent of a candidate’… as campaign contributions.” So, contrary to Peterson, “coordination” may be something of a crime in itself.
The Club for Growth has also filed a federal lawsuit claiming the probe violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights (free speech and equal protection). They further allege that prosecutor John Chisholm is biased against Walker and company because he opposed Act 10 and voted for Tom Barrett over Walker. That may sound like a reasonable charge, but Chisholm is only one of the five prosecutors in the investigation —with the man leading the probe, Francis Schmitz, being an appointee of President George W. Bush. This is by no means one man’s personal vendetta.
(Most interesting, Wisconsin’s Republican Senators Lazich and Fitzgerald introduced SB654 on March 4 of this year. This bill would amend state statutes to expressly allow the coordination the probe is looking into. When politicians are caught breaking the law, they simply vote to change the law!)
With John Doe II going stealth, the bigger story has been the release of 28,000 e-mails from the original John Doe investigation. The public can now see the messages exchanged between the public (legal) and private (illegal) networks set up in Milwaukee County. One e-mail from administration director Cynthia Archer specifically says she used the “…private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW.” This strongly suggests he was aware such a system existed.
The e-mails have shown the county fired a doctor because she once modeled thong underwear in earlier days, and e-mailed jokes about blacks, Jews, homosexuals and the mentally ill were not uncommon. The former incident irked women’s groups who could not understand why a woman’s personal life—especially something legal—should affect her professional career. The latter incidents offended almost everyone else.
Since the e-mail dump, the only backlash seems to be the termination of Department of Transportation attorney John Schulze, who had sent a fabricated press release about legalizing prostitution in Wisconsin Dells, suggesting the move would boost tourism and provide jobs for women on welfare. Other e-mails show Walker was fed inside information from his 2010 opponent Mark Neumann’s campaign via GOP chairman Reince Priebus, and that Walker aides disliked Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, calling her “radioactive,” and a “one-woman circus.” One aide wrote “she makes me sick.”
Still more e-mails showed that open records requests were delayed or ignored, especially those from political opponents, and that a $1.2 million contract was given to Ed Aprahamian for his business, MidAmerican Building Services, to provide county custodial services. Aprahamian, a Walker donor, was given the contract despite not putting in the winning bid for the job.
Walker was not charged for campaigning on public time, and will likely not face any consequences for any other shenanigans that may have happened. Prosecutors, both from Republican and Democratic camps, freely admit that there was no “sufficient evidence;” while he probably was aware of the criminal activity, he was smart enough to avoid directly implicating himself. As for the racism aspects, we must be clear not to play the guilt by association game. Walker himself did not send the jokes out. If all managers were responsible for the e-mails of their employees, no boss would be safe from attack.
But now that the first investigation is over, Walker’s involvement again comes into question. When asked by journalist Chris Wallace if he knew about the private e-mails, Walker responded that “the district attorney has reviewed every single one of those issues.” When pointed out by Wallace that this was not a yes or no, Walker said flatly he would not answer the question. A wise legal strategy, perhaps, but a strong suggestion that the answer was yes.
Even more damning, perhaps, is the revelation from Milwaukee County human resources assistant director Bob Kiefert that, in 2002, he was called into Walker’s office by deputy chief of staff Tim Russell. Russell had Kiefert show them how to set up an Internet connection with a DSL modem and a telephone line, the foundation of what we now refer to as the second, private e-mail system.
Why is this news if we already knew about it? Because the system discovered by investigators was an AT&T broadband account paid for by Russell starting October 2009. If Kiefert is to be believed, this AT&T account was merely an upgrade from one he helped put in seven years earlier. Long before the gubernatorial campaign took off, behind-the-scenes deals may have been going down.
Of course, I will keep following these stories as they develop and pass the word on to you. The final John Doe conviction has not yet been handed down. Stay tuned…