Here’s a good government rule of thumb: foxes ought not guard the henhouse. When self-interested politicians rig the rules to protect themselves against independent scrutiny, citizens have a reason to be concerned. Common sense tells us that any politician – especially one with White House dreams like Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker – should know that undermining an independent government agency sure makes it look like you’ve got something to hide.
Gov. Walker gained office – and won reelection last fall – by casting himself as a conservative reformer. His zeal for cutting budgets and bashing unions has made him popular on the right. Following a reportedly “strong performance” at Iowa’s Freedom Summit, sponsored by Citizens United, the same organization that brought you unlimited and unaccountable secret money in politics through its infamous Supreme Court case, Gov. Walker filed paperwork last week to set up a 527 political organization, “Our American Revival,” to explore a run for President in 2016.
This first move towards a presidential run is sure to bring Walker plenty of attention from reporters and Republican activists. Yet it seems Walker’s dreams for the Oval Office might lead him, or allies helping to position him, to interfere with an independent investigation into his campaigns. Walker’s loyalists are attempting to defund, undermine, and destroy Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB), an independent investigative agency, which enforces ethics, campaign finance, and election laws. It’s an agency that investigated alleged illegal campaign finance violations that plagued Walker’s 2012 recall election.
Top election law experts around the country call Wisconsin’s GAB, “America’s Top Model” of agencies charged with administering state elections. Most modern democracies around the world have independent election overseers to avoid partisan hacks writing election rules to favor their party. Unfortunately, impartial election boards are not common in American democracy yet. Wisconsin’s GAB is the gold standard, and is watched closely by reformers eager to modernize our political system so that voters set the rules for politicians, instead of politicians writing rules for themselves.
The GAB was created in 2007 with virtually unanimous, bipartisan support in the state legislature. It replaced a collection of ineffective, partisan state elections and ethics boards. By law, six retired judges make up the board. They are selected in a deliberate, three-part process to ensure that they’re non-partisan and politically impartial. A key provision of the law blocks legislative appropriators from meddling in the agency’s investigations.
Allies of Gov. Walker are unhappy because in 2012 the GAB voted unanimously to investigate possible illegal coordination between the governor’s recall campaign and two outside special interest groups, Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Those organizations spent millions of dollars on Walker’s behalf in the recall election. The GAB also cooperated and pooled resources with another probe, “John Doe II,” led by Republican and Democratic District Attorneys and a Republican Special Prosecutor.
The John Doe investigators considered potential criminal charges of illegal coordination between Wisconsin Club for Growth and other groups with the Walker campaign during the 2012 recall elections. The John Doe process in Wisconsin is similar to a grand jury investigation – it’s largely secret and permits grants of immunity from prosecution to witnesses in exchange for their testimony.
Some of Gov. Walker’s political allies want to eviscerate the GAB. Others are trying to gut longstanding campaign finance protections. Wisconsin Club for Growth has filed a lawsuit against the GAB, claiming that it lacked power to investigate the possible illegal campaign coordination. Another lawsuit implies that anti-coordination rules, designed to prevent circumvention of contribution limits, impinge on free speech.
Meanwhile, the GAB also is facing legislative attacks. The legislature has cut GAB funding in the last three state budgets and launched an audit of the agency in an attempt to embarrass and undermine it. Most recently—and alarmingly – Wisconsin’s speaker of the assembly and the senate majority leader, both Republicans, have pledged an ill-advised effort to ram through legislation adding partisan appointments to the nonpartisan panel of retired judges, or replace it altogether with partisans.
Either move would destroy the agency’s independence and ability to hold Wisconsin’s government accountable. To date, the ongoing John Doe investigation (now enjoined by a federal court) has not produced charges against Gov. Walker or his campaign. But if the governor allows allies in the Legislature to eviscerate an independent state agency that voted unanimously to investigate his past campaign, he will face plenty of questions about his role in the debacle that may turn his White House dream into a nightmare.
By: Karen Hobert Flynn, The Daily Beast, February 10, 2015
“Where In The World Is Blago?”: Scott Walker Transfers $160,000 In Campaign Contributions To Mysterious Legal Defense Fund
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is diverting campaign donations to bankroll his legal defense fund. For what charges does he need a legal defense? He won’t say.
The three-year long investigation is targeting Walker employees who may have committed a host of corrupt activities — accusations include embezzlement, coercion, and use of taxpayer funds for campaign work. According to the Huffington Post, “Mike Tate, the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, says state law permits Walker to set up such a fund only if he is charged or under investigation for election or campaign violations.”
No one knows exactly if any allegations have been leveled against Walker, or what those might be. However, at the beginning of this year, a Walker appointee and staffer were both arrested and charged with felony embezzlement. Another Walker supporter — one of his funders — was convicted with exceeding campaign spending limits. Whatever Walker’s legal exposure, he is concerned enough to divert substantial campaign funds to his legal defense just days before the election.
Walker’s latest campaign finance report filed with the state on Tuesday shows transfers of $70,000 and $30,000 out of his campaign account to the Scott Walker Trust. He previously transferred $60,000 into the account.
His Democratic challenger in Tuesday’s recall election Tom Barrett has repeatedly called on Walker to disclose who is paying for his legal defense fund. Walker has refused to say.
The Governor is required by law to have donors sign off on a transfer of funds, but the Walker campaign will not reveal who those people are. It has been a contentious issue in the lead up to the June 5 recall election, in which Walker has recently found himself in a dead heat, according to some polling. Other pools show Walker with a narrow lead.
By: Annie-Rose Strasser, Think Progress, May 30, 2012
Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman, the Assistant Majority Leader and a close ally of GOP Governor Scott Walker in the effort to destroy collective bargaining in the Badger State, is taking crazy to new levels.
Grothman has introduced a bill that would require the State of Wisconsin to officially deem single parenthood to be a “contributor” to child abuse and neglect and to put the same into statutory laws of the state.
Here is the relevant section of the Wisconsin law that was the subject of a hearing yesterday in the Wisconsin state Senate Committee on Public Health, Human Services and Revenue. The bold lettering represents the amendments to the existing law that Senator Grothman has proposed for addition:
Section 1. 48.982 (2) (g) 2. of the statutes is amended to read: 48.982 (2) (g) 2. Promote statewide educational and public awareness campaigns and materials for the purpose of developing public awareness of the problems of child abuse and neglect. In promoting those campaigns and materials, the board shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.
Section 2. 48.982 (2) (g) 4. of the statutes is amended to read: 48.982 (2) (g) 4. Disseminate information about the problems of and methods of preventing child abuse and neglect to the public and to organizations concerned with those problems. In disseminating that information, the board shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.
If it strikes you as odd that the Wisconsin senate is spending the taxpayers’ money debating this sort of legislation in committee—considering that a full one-third of Wisconsin’s parents are, indeed, single parents—you need to understand a little bit more about Wisconsin state Senator Grothman.
You should know that it was Senator Grothman who informed us last year that “The Left and the social welfare establishment want children born out of wedlock because they are far more likely to be dependent on the government.” This is also the same Senator Grothman who opposed a provision in the 2010 Wisconsin sex education law that would prohibit teachers from promoting bias based on sexual orientation because he believed that instructors would have an “agenda” to persuade students to become gay.
And, yes, this is the same Senator Grothman who wants to defund kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds because, argues Grothman, any academic benefits disappear by the fourth grade, and the program is used by school districts to pad their budgets to get more state aid.
Apparently, no longer content with suggesting that single parents (most of whom were not always single) are only out to bilk the government when deciding to have children, Grothman has decided that these same evil doers are more responsible for child abuse and child neglect than, say, alcoholics, people with mental health issues, married couples who engage in domestic violence, unemployment and the other causes cited as material contributors to child abuse.
I say that Grothman believes single-parenthood to be more responsible because I don’t see him proposing that these other causes be specifically included in his legislation.
To be fair, data reveals that there are more incidents of child abuse in households with only one parent than in households with two parents. But the data does not indicate that this factor is somehow more responsible for child abuse than the other factors listed above so, again, why single this factor out to include in the state’s statutes and not the others?
According to Lisa Subeck, a program manager and family advocate at Wisconsin’s Dane County Parent Council Head Start, Grothman’s bill was written to dictate personal choices rather than to help prevent child abuse. Says Subeck, “Sen. Grothman is inserting government into what should be a very personal decision.
That sounds about right.
And here I thought it was the GOP that was dedicated to keeping government out of our private lives.
By: Rick Ungar, Contributor, The Policy Page, Forbes, March 2, 2012
Scott Walker is running a television commercial extolling the crowning achievement of his short time in office —the balancing of the Wisconsin state budget and the wiping out of the $3.2 billion deficit he inherited. Check this out: http://youtu.be/vYFrt_jwdCk
Even the harshest critic of the Wisconsin governor would have to acknowledge that this is some pretty impressive work. For a governor to balance his state’s budget in these tough times—even if it is done by making Draconian cuts to health and education—is a noteworthy accomplishment.
Of course, such admiration would only be required if the Governor had, in truth, actually succeeded in the manner he suggests.Unfortunately, it turns out that Scott Walker is being a very bad boy…again.
In fact, we now know that the Governor is either being untruthful with the good people of Wisconsin on the whole ‘I balanced the budget and wiped out the deficit’ thing or he’s been, shall we say, stretching the truth when speaking to Uncle Sam on the same topic.
As we all know, it’s not nice to lie to your Uncle Sam.
In a letter sent by Mike Huebsch, Walker’s Administration Secretary, to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services just two months ago, Huebsch disclosed that the state of Wisconsin would have an ‘undisclosed deficit’ from January, 2012 through June, 2013.
But didn’t we all just watch the video where Walker extolls his great victory in cleaning up the state’s multibillion dollar deficit?
If you’re confused, get use to it as it only gets worse.
This latest episode in the “Adventures of Scott In Dairyland” it is the perfect expression of everything we have come to expect from Governor Walker—half-truths designed to mislead, broken campaign promises, and a predilection to sneak through the back door when going in via the front would result in way too much unwanted exposure.
Let’s begin with why Walker would want to go on record with his letter to HHS claiming a deficit while, at the same time, campaigning on a message that tells a very different story.
Federal law allows a state to remove people from the state’s Medicaid rolls only in the circumstance where the state can show that it is suffering deficits. As Walker is planning to make even more cuts to Wisconsin’s health budgets—cuts he tells us he is attempting to accomplish without forcing people out of this critical health program—the Governor wants to keep his options open. To do that, it was necessary for the Walker Administration to tell HHS that his state is running a deficit while attempting, at the same time, to convince voters of the precise opposite—all so he can hold onto the opportunity to place more than 50,000 Wisconsinites in danger of losing their only access to health care.
Perfectly understandable, yes? After all, what’s a governor to do when he wants to take health care away from thousands while trying to convince those same people to vote for him in a recall election?
It’s not easy being Scott.
Still, we are left to wonder whether Walker is lying to the people of Wisconsin or fibbing to the federal government? It pretty much has to be one or the other.
The answer is dependent on, of all things, accounting.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel does a good job of laying it out-
In June, Walker and Republican lawmakers passed a balanced budget according to the measure that is always used for state budgets – cash accounting. That means essentially that the state will have cash left in its main account – an estimated balance of $68 million – when the budget ends on June 30, 2013.
That’s the measure that state officials use for budgets and the one Walker has repeatedly touted in statements when he says he eliminated a $3 billion budget deficit on a cash accounting basis.”
There are, essentially, two accepted methods of accounting. There is the “cash method”— the one utilized by the Wisconsin legislature and Gov. Walker in creating their balanced budget—which accounts for how much money is in the bank at the end of the fiscal year after bills have been paid. If there remains cash in the bank account, then there is no deficit.
Of course, this approach does not take into account the reality that upcoming obligations are not only going to wipe out that cash, but create a deficit when those obligations exceed what is in the bank. As a result, cash accounting rarely presents a true picture of an organization’s finances—which is precisely why every public company in America, along with most city and country units of government, are required to use the GAAP method.
GAAP (the acronym for Generally Accepted Accounting Practices) accounting takes into consideration the money expected to come in and the money committed to going out in order to work out where an organization actually stands.
If you employ the cash method being utilized by Governor Walker, were you to have $100 in the bank at the end of the year, after all the invoices that came in during December have been paid, you can credibly claim that you have no deficit. Never mind that you know full well that a credit card bill is coming in January for the $5,000 you spent Christmas shopping during the month of December and that there won’t be anywhere near enough cash in your bank account to pay that bill when it arrives. That is what we call a deficit. If you are using GAAP, you are required to account for that $5,000 obligation in the month you rack up the obligation. Thus, what is a $100 surplus if you are using cash accounting becomes a $4900 deficit if you are using the more precise GAAP accounting.
What Walker is doing here is using the cash method of accounting to form the basis of his claims as stated in his advertisement while using GAAP accounting when making his claim to the Feds.
That’s a no-no in anybody’s version of the real world—or should I say anybody but Scott Walker. While the rest of us are required to live and die by the accounting method we choose, Governor Walker, apparently, doesn’t believe that this applies to him because …well, because Governor Walker is ‘special’. He is, after all, on a first name basis with the Koch Brothers.
To be fair, politicians have long used the more favorable cash method of accounting to lay claim to better financial results, including Walker’s predecessor, Democrat Governor Jim Doyle. However, because this is so dishonest a way of putting forth the realities of a state’s financial condition, people have long been disturbed by the practice—people like ….Scott Walker?
It seems that while Governor Walker now chooses to use cash basis accounting rather than a more honest representation of the state’s finances—at least when reporting his results to the people of Wisconsin—Candidate Walker saw it very differently. In fact, in 2010, Walker vigorously campaigned on the importance of ridding the state of this distorted method of accounting, going so far as to state on his campaign website that he would “Require the use of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) to balance every state budget, just as we require every local government and school district to do.”
How quickly he forgets—except when it serves his purposes to suddenly convert to GAAP when he wants something from the federal government.
There is really no logical way around the conclusion that Governor Walker has, at the very least, (a) broken an important campaign promise within months of making that promise, and (b) lied to either the people of Wisconsin or the government of the United States.
The good news is that Governor’s Walker’s spokesman, Cullen Werwie, doesn’t see a big deal here. He tells us that this is all “…nothing more than what we’ve been saying all along.”
That’s good enough for me. I mean, it’s not like this is the Cullen Werwie who required a grant of immunity from prosecution before he would cooperate with prosecutors in the John Doe investigation into illegal electioneering that threatens to bring down the Walker Administration before we even get to the recall vote.
Oh wait….it seems that the governor’s chief spokesman is the very same Cullen Werwie who required a grant of immunity to avoid prosecution.
Say what you will about the folks running things up in Madison, Wisconsin, but you certainly can’t say they aren’t colorful.
There will be no criminal charges against the Wisconsin Supreme Court justice accused of choking a colleague in chambers, the special prosecutor investigating the case told The Associated Press Thursday.
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley had alleged that Justice David Prosser put her in a “chokehold” during an argument in chambers in June over the passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill. Prosser’s defenders said Bradley rushed at him with her fists raised and he put up his hands in self-defense.
With all but one of the state high court justices present for the altercation, and offering widely different stories of what happened, Sauk County District Attorney Patricia Barrett, who was given the case by local prosecutors and law enforcement who recused themselves, decided not to pursue charges, she told the AP.
“The totality of the facts and the circumstances and all of the evidence that I reviewed did not support my filing criminal charges,” Barrett said.
Barrett did not disclose how she came to that decision, but said witnesses had different versions of what happened. She didn’t elaborate.
Prosser, a conservative justice on the officially nonpartisan court, did not seek reconciliation with Bradley in a statement he issued after Barrett’s announcement.
“Justice Ann Walsh Bradley made the decision to sensationalize an incident that occurred at the Supreme Court,” Prosser said. “I was confident the truth would come out and it did. I am gratified that the prosecutor found these scurrilous charges were without merit. I have always maintained that once the facts of this incident were examined, I would be cleared. I look forward to the details becoming public record.”
Bradley, a liberal justice, released a statement defending her decision to make the skirmish public.
“My focus from the outset has not been one of criminal prosecution, but rather addressing workplace safety,” she said. “I contacted law enforcement the very night the incident happened but did not request criminal prosecution. Rather, I sought law enforcement’s assistance to try to have the entire court address informally this workplace safety issue that has progressed over the years. To that end, chief of (Capitol Police Charles) Tubbs promptly met with the entire court, but the efforts to address workplace safety concerns were rebuffed. Law enforcement then referred the matter for a formal investigation and I cooperated fully with the investigation.”
Prosser was reelected to a 10-year term in a contentious election in April. Bradley’s term is up in 2015.
By: Reid J. Epstein, Politico, August 25, 2011