For all the current and former Republican governors facing serious scandals – Rick Perry, Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, et al – let’s not forget about Gov. Scott Walker. The Wisconsin chief executive is in the middle of a tough re-election fight – which he’ll have to win to move forward with his presidential plans – and a lingering controversy is making his task more difficult.
To briefly recap, Wisconsin election laws prohibit officials from coordinating campaign activities with outside political groups. When Walker faced a recall campaign, however, he and his team may have directly overseen how outside groups – including some allegedly non-partisan non-profits – spent their campaign resources.
Late Friday night, the allegations surrounding the governor’s office appear to have grown far more serious. Consider this report from Madison’s Wisconsin State Journal.
Gov. Scott Walker personally solicited millions of dollars in contributions for a conservative group during the 2011 and 2012 recalls, which prosecutors cited as evidence the governor and his campaign violated state campaign finance laws, records made public on Friday show.
Among the groups that donated money to Wisconsin Club for Growth during that time was Gogebic Taconite, which contributed $700,000, according to the records. The company later won approval from the Legislature and Walker to streamline regulations for a massive iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.
In an April court filing unsealed briefly on Friday, a lawyer wrote, “Because Wisconsin Club for Growth’s fundraising and expenditures were being coordinated with Scott Walker’s agents at the time of Gogebic’s donation, there is certainly an appearance of corruption in light of the resulting legislation from which it benefited.”
I think it’s safe to say these revelations do not cast Walker and his team in a positive light. On the contrary, Friday’s night’s evidence appears quite damning.
As additional reporting from the weekend makes clear, Team Walker, with the governor’s direct involvement, is accused of raising money for Wisconsin Club for Growth, which in turn ran ads to support the governor and helped disperse campaign funds to conservative allies.
In one especially damaging detail, Walker was dispatched to Las Vegas with talking points on the importance of unregulated contributions for the supposedly independent nonprofit group.
“Stress that donations to [Wisconsin Club for Growth] are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits,” an aide told Walker via email. “Let [potential donors] know that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.”
Wisconsin Club for Growth allegedly funneled these unregulated contributions to allies, all to help Walker prevail in his recall election. Indeed, the reports suggest the governor insisted on Wisconsin Club for Growth maintaining a leadership role in order to “ensure correct messaging.” A fundraising consultant for Walker to one of the governor’s campaign consultants, “We had some past problems with multiple groups doing work on ‘behalf’ of Gov. Walker and it caused some issues.”
The coordination aspect is clearly problematic under campaign-finance laws, but the scandal may also include a possible quid-pro-quo angle.
Other Wisconsin Club for Growth donors included Gogebic Taconite LLC, which has proposed opening a 4 1/2-mile long iron mine in northern Wisconsin. The company gave $700,000 to Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012. Walker signed legislation last year streamlining state mining requirements and paving the way for the project. The documents don’t show whether Walker directly solicited donations from that company. A spokesman for the company did not return a message seeking comment.
There are 71 days until Election Day in Wisconsin. These are probably not the kind of headlines the Republican governor was hoping for as the campaign cycle approaches Labor Day.
Postscript: If you’re new to Walker’s scandal or need a refresher, this Q&A is helpful (thanks to my colleague Nazanin Rafsanjani for the heads-up).
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, August 25, 2014
Up until fairly recently, Wisconsin’s Bill Kramer was the Republican Majority Leader in the state Assembly. As Rachel noted on the show on Friday, that changed when the state lawmaker was charged with two counts of felony second-degree sexual assault – charges that cost Kramer his GOP leadership post
The charges were not, however, enough to compel Wisconsin lawmakers to throw Kramer out of the state Assembly all together. He’s no longer the Republican Majority Leader, but he’s still a voting member of the legislative body. Some in the party have called on Kramer to quit, but for now, he seems to be determined to stay in office, and his colleagues aren’t prepared to force the issue, at least not yet.
Perhaps they’ll be interested to know that the recent sexual-assault allegations are not the first time Kramer has been accused.
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, his chief of staff and a Waukesha County GOP official were all told three years ago of allegations that a then-aide to the senator had been sexually assaulted by state Rep. Bill Kramer, but none of them took the matter to the police or Assembly leaders.
The woman told her supervisor in Johnson’s office and a number of other people, but decided at the time to have her attorney send a letter to Kramer rather than go to the police, records show. Last month – nearly three years after the alleged assault outside a Muskego bar – the woman learned of Kramer’s alleged mistreatment of other women and filed a complaint with Muskego police that has resulted in two felony charges of second-degree sexual assault.
According to the weekend report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a woman who worked for Ron Johnson was allegedly assaulted by Bill Kramer in 2011, who then quickly informed several people, including her supervisor in Johnson’s office, Tony Blando, the senator’s chief of staff, who informed the senator himself.
But they didn’t tell anyone and remained silent when Republican state lawmakers elevated Kramer to the Majority Leader’s office. The aide in the 2011 incident only came forward after the 2014 allegations against Kramer came to public light.
So why didn’t the senator say something at the time? Initially, Johnson and his office didn’t want to comment, but after the Journal Sentinel was published online, the senator’s office changed its mind
…Johnson’s office issued a statement saying that when the woman spoke with Johnson and his chief of staff, Tony Blando, she already had an attorney. “Senator Johnson and Mr. Blando conveyed their commitment to be 100% supportive of any actions she chose to pursue on the advice of her legal counsel – up to and including the filing of criminal charges,” the statement said. “She requested that Senator Johnson and Mr. Blando keep the matter confidential and take no further action. Senator Johnson and Mr. Blando fully honored her request.”
U.S. Senate policies do not appear to directly address cases in which employees are assaulted by individuals from outside the Senate but do require internal reporting of sexual harassment. Each senator establishes his or her own employee policies. […]
According to the criminal complaint, the woman decided not to go to police at the time of the incident because she didn’t want to embarrass her family, the Republican Party, Kramer and Johnson as her employer. Instead, she had her lawyer send Kramer a letter saying she had been assaulted, that Kramer needed to seek treatment for drinking and that she would reconsider her decision not to report the incident to law enforcement if she learned of him acting inappropriately toward others in the future.
In other words, based on this reporting, Johnson and his team kept quiet because the alleged victim asked them to.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 7, 2014
“Early Voting Under Attack In Wisconsin”: Republicans Putting Up Even More Obstacles To Civic Participation
It may soon get a lot harder to vote in Wisconsin.
State and federal courts are currently deliberating the outcome of Wisconsin’s enjoined strict photo ID law. Governor Scott Walker this week said he would call a special legislative session to modify the law if it’s struck down, so voter ID could be in effect for the November 2014 election. And, this Wednesday, Senate leadership muscled through a bill, SB 324, which would cut back on early in-person absentee voting in that state. The measure passed 17-16, with one lone Republican joining the state’s Democratic Senators in casting nay votes. If the vote in the Assembly falls along party lines like it did in the Senate, the rollbacks could very well become law. Governor Walker has stated that he is open to instituting cutbacks on early voting if the measure reaches his desk.
In Wisconsin, all voters who apply may vote absentee in advance of Election Day, either by mail or in-person at the local municipal clerk’s office. Early in-person absentee voting starts the third Monday before the election, and is available through the Friday preceding Election Day. The bill passed by the Senate would eliminate early voting on weekends, and require that all early voting during the week conclude no later than 7 p.m. The bill also proposes a 45-hour weekly cap on early voting. Under the current law, which has no such restrictions, two communities that are home to nearly 15 percent of the state’s total population and nearly half of the state’s non-white population, Milwaukee and Madison, offer extended hours to serve more voters.
Cutting back on early voting puts up obstacles to civic participation. Voters like it, and they use it. When people can choose to vote on a day and time that does not conflict with work, family care, or other obligations, they are more able to wait in lines and undertake the other administrative costs involved in voting. Over the last three presidential elections, an average of 14 percent of voters in Wisconsin cast early ballots. Despite what some lawmakers are doing to make it harder to vote, citizens around the country support increasing access to the ballot. For example, a recent Iowa poll found that people there overwhelming believe that ensuring every eligible voter gets to cast a ballot outweighs concerns over ineligible voters. And, as the Brennan Center found in its comprehensive 2013 study of early voting, it’s also popular with the people who administer elections, because it reduces stress on the voting system on Election Day, leads to shorter lines, and allows for more opportunity to discover and correct problems before the polls close.
In producing our report, we looked into which jurisdictions have most successfully implemented early in-person voting, and were able to distill a set of seven best practices. Wisconsin does begin its early voting period a full two weeks before Election Day, which is one of the identified best practices for administering early voting. Another is to offer early voting on weekends, including the last weekend before the election. In fact, in eight of the nine states with the highest early voting turnout in recent elections, jurisdictions are required by law to offer early voting on at least one weekend. Not only does current Wisconsin law not mandate any weekend hours—instead leaving that decision up to the individual jurisdictions—but under the proposed changes weekend voting would be actively prohibited. A third best practice is to offer extended early voting hours during the week outside of business hours. The bill approved by the Wisconsin Senate, conversely, limits how many early voting hours may be offered each week, and likewise prohibits evening early voting after a certain hour.
Given the popularity of early voting among those who vote and those who administer elections, it’s hard to understand why Wisconsin lawmakers are intent on limiting early voting systems and throwing up more and more obstacles to the franchise. Their efforts would be better spent making elections more free, fair, and accessible for their constituents.
By: Jennifer L. Clark, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law, March 14, 2014
Today, the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released a new report that details the exclusive network of corporate lobbyists and special interest groups that influence the Wisconsin legislature through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
“This report reveals details of the extraordinary influence of ALEC and its agenda on the Wisconsin legislature and our laws over the past 16 months,” said Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy. “This corporate-backed agenda undermines the rights of Wisconsin families while advancing the agenda of huge corporations and special interest groups.”
Six weeks ago, corporate members of ALEC started jumping ship when it became known that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” — linked to the Trayvon Martin shooting — spread to over two dozen states via ALEC. So far, 14 corporate members and 45 legislators from other states have quit the organization.
“We document how global corporations are buying influence with Wisconsin legislators through potentially illegal gifts called ALEC ‘scholarships,'” said CMD Law Fellow Brendan Fischer, the report’s author. “ALEC’s corporate members are not only giving Wisconsin legislators thousands of dollars of campaign contributions, they are also buying flights and hotel rooms. These gifts undermine Wisconsin’s reputation for clean government and the strict ethics rules designed to protect the voices of Wisconsin residents in our state’s democracy.”
CMD asked the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board in March to determine whether ALEC member legislators receiving gifts of flights and hotel rooms from ALEC’s corporate members violates state ethics and lobbying laws. Now, CMD and Common Cause in Wisconsin are asking Wisconsin’s Attorney General to look into ALEC’s lobbying activities.
“It is time for the Attorney General to determine that ALEC is primarily a corporate lobbying group masquerading as a charity,” said Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck. “ALEC’s corporate members fund the organization to access and influence state legislators, and it is unacceptable to get a tax deduction for doing so.”
Here are some of the key findings from the new report:
- 32 bills or budget provisions reflecting ALEC model legislation were introduced in Wisconsin’s 2011-2012 legislative session;
- 21 of these bills or budget provisions have passed, and two were vetoed;
- More than $276,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC legislators in Wisconsin from ALEC corporations since 2008;
- More than $406,000 in campaign contributions were made to ALEC alumnus Governor Walker from ALEC corporations over the same time period for his state campaign account;
- At least 49 current Wisconsin legislators are known ALEC members, including the leaders of both the House and Senate as well as other legislators holding key posts in the state. Additionally, the Governor, the Secretary of the Department of Administration, and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission are ALEC alumni; and
- At least 17 current legislators have received thousands of dollars of gifts cumulatively from ALEC corporations in the past few years, in the form of flights and hotel rooms filtered through the ALEC “scholarship fund” (complete “scholarship” information is not available).
ALEC describes itself as the largest “independent member association of state legislators” in the country, but over 98 percent of its nearly $7 million in annual revenue comes from corporations and sources other than legislative dues, which are $50 a year. Representatives from America’s largest corporations, including Koch Industries, Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil, Reynolds, and Altria/Phillip Morris fund ALEC and sit on its private sector governing board.
By: Sara Jerving, PR Watch, Center For Media and Democracy, May 17, 2012
After Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican in his first months in office, announced early this year that he wanted to cut collective bargaining rights for public workers, relations between political parties in his newly red State Capitol fell into a long, deep frost.
But after six months of bruising partisan fights, Mr. Walker seemed to issue an utterly different message this month. He said he wanted to meet with Democrats and to find shared agenda items — an invitation that has been met with polite acceptance and deep skepticism.
“My thought is, you start out with small things, you build trust, you move forward, you keep working on things and you try and pick as many things that are things that people can clearly work together on,” Mr. Walker, who may face a recall election next year, said in an interview.
In the months after a flurry of Republican wins of governors’ offices and state legislatures in 2010, perhaps nowhere was the partisan rancor more pronounced than in the nation’s middle — places like Wisconsin and Ohio, where fights over labor unions exploded. But now, at least in those states, there are signs that the same Republicans see a need to show, at least publicly, a desire to play well with others.
In both states, critics dismiss the moves as desperate attempts to shore up sinking popularity ratings or disingenuous, tardy strategies to appear agreeable after already ramming through their agendas.
“It’s all P.R. — none of it is substantive,” Mark Miller, the Democrats’ minority leader in the Wisconsin State Senate, said earlier this month, before Mr. Walker held what some described as a “cordial” meeting with the Democratic leaders last week.
Whatever the true substance of the offers, the recent tones in Ohio and Wisconsin do appear to show one thing: With threats of recalls and bill repeals, with public dismay in recent months over the partisan stalemate in Washington on the debt ceiling, and with battleground-state presidential politics looming in 2012, governing with majorities has turned out in some states to be more complicated than it may have first appeared.
Across the nation, partisan relations in statehouses where Republicans made significant gains last fall have varied widely, and in many cases there are no signs of softening messages — or even the need for such a thing. But leaders in other states, including some that are expected to consider limits to unions in the months ahead, are closely watching what unfolds now in Ohio and Wisconsin, the states that became the unexpected battle zones for an earlier season of discontent.
In Columbus, Democrats and union leaders were enraged this year when Gov. John R. Kasich, another first-term Republican governor, and the Republicans who now control both chambers of the legislature pushed through — mostly along partisan lines— a law that would limit the rights of public workers to bargain collectively.
Republicans in Ohio advocated for the measure as the logical response to shrunken budgets in towns, cities and counties. But union leaders and Democrats — and a group calling itself We Are Ohio — spent months collecting more than 900,000 valid signatures (hundreds of thousands more than needed) to put the law to a vote in a statewide referendum in November. A campaign, which is expected to draw significant interest and spending from political groups in Ohio and nationwide, is likely to begin in earnest soon.
Last week, Mr. Kasich and Republican leaders sent a letter to the union organizers, calling for a meeting to discuss a compromise. The leaders said they still believed in the law they had passed, and a spokesman for Mr. Kasich would not say precisely what areas the Republicans were willing to give in on. “We are prepared to move forward immediately with legislative action to implement any agreement on changes we are able to reach together,” the letter read.
“We ought to get to the table and we ought to talk about it,” Mr. Kasich told reporters on Friday, meeting with them in a room full of empty seats and placards for the absent organizers, although the organizers said they had turned down the invitation. “Is it too late?” Mr. Kasich asked. “It’s never too late.”
Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Mr. Kasich, said the new invitation did not mark any shift in Mr. Kasich’s approach; the governor had sought to talk to labor groups during the legislative fight, Mr. Nichols said, and some representatives had engaged in private discussions over the issue again in June before the unions ended those talks, he said. “He, more than most, has a long history of working across party lines,” Mr. Nichols said.
But critics balked at the notion that any real talks had been offered before or that any true, concrete compromises — not just photo opportunities for a public fatigued by partisan rancor — were being offered now.
“If they’re honestly coming forward for a compromise, repeal the bill and then we’ll talk,” said Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, explaining why representatives for the group had declined to meet with Mr. Kasich on Friday. “If they wanted to get along, they probably should have tried to during the legislative process instead of locking people out.”
In Wisconsin, partisan relations — and that state’s fight over limits to collective bargaining — have proved still uglier.
In the weeks after Mr. Walker proposed the limits in February, state lawmakers, newly dominated by Republicans in the Capitol, split in two. The minority Senate Democrats fled the state to try to block a vote on the measure. The Republicans issued the lawmaking equivalent of warrants against them, and at one point, threatened that the Democrats had to collect their paychecks in person — or not get them at all. And, as protesters screamed outside his closed office door, Mr. Walker firmly defended the bargaining cuts and said his administration was “certainly looking at all legal options” against the other party.
But after a summer of expensive, brutal recall election efforts against nine state senators — Democrats for having fled the state, and Republicans for having supported the bargaining cuts — Mr. Walker seemed to be sounding a different, softer note. He said he had called Democratic leaders in the Legislature even before the polls closed in some of this month’s recalls, which, in the end, maintained the Republican majorities in both legislative chambers, though by a slimmer margin of 17 to 16 in the Senate.
Democrats in the state had harsh theories about what was behind Mr. Walker’s sudden wish to get along. Some said he had already accomplished a stunningly partisan agenda, including the bargaining cuts, an austere budget, a voter identification law, a concealed-firearms provision and a redistricting map that favored Republicans, and was now hoping to appear to be reaching out. Others said he feared a different recall election effort — against him — next year, as well as creating a drag in the state on any Republican presidential ticket.
“This is totally phony — a totally unbelievable act of desperation,” said Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. “It will fade away and return soon enough to the scorched-earth method that has marked his career.”
Reflecting on the start of his term, Mr. Walker said that he wished he had spent more time “building a case” with the public for why collective bargaining cuts could shore up budgets, but that he remained a firm supporter of the cuts themselves — a fact that seems certain to complicate any effort for bipartisanship now.
“I’m not thinking that just because we snap our fingers that suddenly everybody’s going to run out and work together and it’s all going to work perfectly,” the governor said.
By: Monica Davey, The New York Times, August 21, 2011