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“A Murky Fog, A Legal Morass”: Scott Walker’s Conservative Bubble Shielded Him, Now It Might Sink Him

There was a big political development in Wisconsin Thursday, with the release of court documents that include an allegation by state prosecutors that Gov. Scott Walker, a 2016 presidential prospect, was part of a “criminal scheme” to skirt state laws in coordinating with outside conservative groups to stave off the 2011-2012 recall effort prompted by his successful push to undo public employee collective bargaining. The allegation was contained in files ordered unsealed by a judge in the so-called “John Doe II” case into whether Walker’s political team and outside conservative groups violated Wisconsin’s stringent rules against direct coordination between independent political groups and candidates by funneling millions of dollars from donors, many of them from outside Wisconsin, to fight the recall, which Walker won in June 2012. The investigation has devolved into a legal morassa federal judge ordered a halt to it in May and instructed prosecutors to destroy their evidence, saying they were overreaching, but his order was in turn blocked by a federal appeals court, which will soon rule on whether the investigation can proceed. Meanwhile, rumors circulate that Walker is in talks to settle the case with the state prosecutors, which has earned him the ire of some of his conservative allies.

Walker, now in the midst of a tight race for reelection, has not been charged with any crime. Still, the document’s release adds considerable detail to the murky fog around the investigation, and, by laying out so many of the prosecutors’ findings, helps explain why Walker may be inclined to settle rather than fight the case. The five county district attorneys leading the investigation appear to have plenty of goods to back up their claim of a “nationwide effort to raise undisclosed funds for an organization which then funded the activities of other organizations supporting or opposing candidates subject to recall.” From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article on the release:

In the documents, prosecutors lay out what they call an extensive “criminal scheme” to bypass state election laws by Walker, his campaign and two top Republican political operatives R.J. Johnson and Deborah Jordahl.

The governor and his close confidants helped raise money and control spending through 12 conservative groups during the recall elections, according to the prosecutors’ filings.

The documents include an excerpt from an email in which Walker tells Karl Rove, former top adviser to President George W. Bush, that Johnson would lead the coordination campaign. Johnson is also Walker’s longtime campaign strategist and the chief adviser to Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group active in the recall elections.

“Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities),” Walker wrote to Rove on May 4, 2011.

I did not go down the rabbit hole of the John Doe II investigation in my new cover story about Walker and the racial divisions and political polarization in metro Milwaukee. (The piece does quote from racially charged emails released as part of an earlier investigation“John Doe I”that produced guilty pleas by six former Walker aides and allies, for misdeeds that include embezzling from a veterans fund and doing campaign work on taxpayer time.) I decided that delving into the John Doe II morass might distract from the piece’s focus on how the metro Milwaukee political landscape, with its stark divides and influential local talk-radio culture, has shaped Walker and in turn been shaped by him.

But the theme of the cover story and the investigation into coordination between Walker’s team and conservative groups are not unrelated. Both are, at bottom, about the same thing: the protective bubble of adulation and affirmation in which Walker has become increasingly ensconced in Wisconsin. The cover story describes one aspect of this bubblethe astonishingly monolithic base that Walker has, with the help of the talk-radio hosts he has cultivated for years, built for himself in the nearly all-white suburbs of Milwaukee, where voters turn out at the highest rates in the country to vote for him at levels that surpass 80 percent in some communities.

The other aspect of this bubble, though, is the inter-locking network of conservative groups and donors, such as Wisconsin’s own Bradley Foundation and the Koch brothers, have since 2010 come together to boost Walker and the Republican legislators who joined him in pushing through an aggressive conservative agenda in the face of massive protests in Madison. It is worth recalling that when a prank caller got through to Walker in February 2011 pretending to be David Koch, Walker made a direct request to the man he thought was Koch: to do everything he could to offer covering fire to protect Republican legislators: “A lot of these [lawmakers] are going to need a message out there reinforcing why this is a good thing for the economy and for the state,” Walker told “David Koch.”

That is what this investigation is about, whether the “reinforcement” provided by conservative groups and donors to Walker and legislators up for recall broke the law. In ordering a halt to the investigation in May, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa, a Republican appointee who has been active in conservative judicial-activist circles, argued that there was no problem with coordination between Walker and outside groups because it wasn’t as if the groups were trying to bring Walker over to their side by funding his anti-recall campaign: “[Wisconsin Club for Growth] obviously agree[s] with Governor Walker’s policies, but coordinated ads in favor of those policies carry no risk of corruption because the Club’s interests are already aligned with Walker and other conservative politicians,” Randa wrote in his ruling. “Such ads are meant to educate the electorate, not curry favor with corruptible candidates.”

This is a striking claim, reminiscent of the Supreme Court’s recent rulings against limits on campaign contributionsthat limits can only be justified as bars against explicit attempts to bribe politicians to change their stances on issues. But that’s not what at issue in the John Doe II investigationthe question is whether the outside groups exerted undue influence over the outcome of the recall by skirting the state’s rules on coordination. It is whether the state’s electoral system was corrupted, not whether Walker was. No, there’s not any question that Walker already agrees with the groups that were backing himas our cover story shows, he’s developed politically in a deeply homogenous realm with precious little space for deviation. Our piece argues that this development has had a limiting effect on him that makes him a less than ideal presidential candidate for a Republican Party seeking to broaden its ideological and demographic appeal.

But with today’s release, the odds that Walker will even get the chance to make the 2016 case for himself within his party took a hit. The bubble helped Scott Walker rise, but it now threatens to take him down.


By: Alec MacGinnis, The New Republic, June 19, 2014

June 23, 2014 Posted by | Scott Walker, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Recall | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Judge In The Hand Is Worth…”: Judge Who Stopped Wisconsin Campaign Finance Probe Tied To Koch-Funded Junkets

The federal judge who ordered an end to an investigation into possible illegal campaign coordination between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups during two recent recall elections regularly attended expenses-paid judicial conferences sponsored by conservative organizations including the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation — groups that have funded efforts against campaign finance reform.

In a 26-page decision issued on May 6, Judge Rudolph Randa of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin ordered prosecutors to immediately halt its long-running investigation into the campaign spending and fundraising activities of Walker, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups. Prosecutors were trying to determine whether the Walker campaign and the conservative groups were illegally coordinating campaign strategies at the time of the 2011 and 2012 recall elections in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth spent millions on ads during Wisconsin’s recall elections, supporting the governor’s collective-bargaining reforms. It requested that the federal court stop the investigation, claiming that the probe violated the group’s constitutional right to free speech.

Randa wrote in his decision that the Wisconsin Club for Growth had found a way to get around campaign finance laws. “That circumvention should not and cannot be condemned or restricted,” the decision said.  “Instead, it should be recognized as promoting political speech.”

As the Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy first reported, Randa has regularly attended expenses-paid judicial conferences hosted by George Mason University’s Law & Economics Center and funded by right-wing foundations like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and large corporations like ExxonMobil, Dow Chemical and Pfizer.

A Center for Public Integrity investigation last year revealed that conservative foundations and corporate giants were the most frequent sponsors of George Mason judicial conferences, which often serve state and federal judges a steady dose of free-market, anti-regulation lectures.

Most recently, court records show, Randa reported attending an October 2013 judicial conference hosted by the university’s Law & Economics Center. The three-day conference, titled “Antitrust Law & Economics Institute for Judges,” was sponsored by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the John William Pope Foundation, among other conservative groups, corporations and individuals.

Previously, Randa attended George Mason judicial conferences in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth’s director, Eric O’Keefe, has connections to the Koch brothers.  Michael Grebe, the Bradley Foundation’s president and CEO, chaired Gov. Walker’s 2010 and 2012 gubernatorial campaigns.

A woman who answered the phone in Randa’s chambers Tuesday said he would not comment on cases that are still pending.

In siding with the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Randa told prosecutors to return all of the property seized during their investigation and to destroy copies of documents they obtained during their searches.

A day after his ruling, however, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Randa’s order ending the investigation, ruling that the judge overstepped his authority when he ordered that prosecutors destroy documents.


By: Chris Young, The Center for Public Integrity, May 27, 2014

May 28, 2014 Posted by | Koch Brothers, Scott Walker, Wisconsin Recall | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Unfriendlies In The Working Class”: Why Did So Many Workers Vote For Scott Walker?

The results of the Wisconsin recall election were very similar to the first run of this matchup in November 2010, when Scott Walker beat Tom Barrett. This means that the radical right agenda of the GOPers elected in 2010 has not turned off the voters.

How can a government of the 1% receive so much support from the 99%?

In the case of the Wisconsin election, there’s been a lot of finger pointing and speculation post-election: Walker used loose campaign finance rules to overwhelm Barrett financially; Obama didn’t come to Wisconsin; unions didn’t force the collective bargaining issue front and center. And so on.

Yet pre-election polling and Election Day exit polling showed that the vast majority of voters had taken their positions months before the serious campaigning. So, the money and the celebrities made little difference. And people were already as informed on the issues as they wanted to be.

The fact is the radical right is very good at propaganda. They have used race and cultural issues to hold their base and they have used anti-government rhetoric in an era of frustrated economic hopes and resentment to expand that base to majority status.

Walker, even more so than in 2010, ran against Milwaukee and Madison.

His negative ads against Milwaukee Mayor Barrett were actually negative ads against the mayor’s city, equating it with high unemployment, rising property taxes, crime, and poverty. This is the tried-and-true GOP race card because everybody knows Milwaukee has a substantial population of dark-skinned people.

And Madison, of course, is the state capital where privileged bureaucrats earn too much, enjoy too rich benefits, and do too little work.

Walker did not dream up this argument. Even before the 2010 election, on-the-ground research from a University of Wisconsin professor showed that ordinary Wisconsinites outside of Madison had a very negative view of this city of large government office buildings, a fairly high standard of living, and liberal politics. Walker simply exploited an existing bias.

Exit polling showed Walker won the votes of a majority of non-college graduates, along with way too many union households (around 38 percent) in both 2010 and 2012.

Meanwhile, college graduates—the ever-shrinking middle-income households—and the very poor did not vote for Walker.

In other words, way too much of the working class voted for Walker.

We progressive labor people might smugly shake our heads and ask, how can these people vote against their own interests? While some of them are serious cultural conservatives or racists, probably a majority legitimately see themselves as actually voting in their own self interest.

People struggling to get by on $12-15 an hour have to watch every penny. And the Republican message of small government and low taxes resonates every time a worker pays sales tax, property tax, or income tax.

And thanks in part to a gullible or lazy media which dutifully and uncritically repeats GOP propaganda about the eventual demise of Social Security and Medicare, struggling workers have a jaundiced view of their payroll taxes. The Republicans, with their expensive wars and tax giveaways for the wealthy, are certainly not the party of small government and fiscal responsibility, but they have sold their message well.

If progressives hope to regain governing power, they have to win back the “unfriendlies” in the working class, as Mike Amato correctly points out. They might not be able to garner the support of the devoted racists and cultural conservatives, but they can and must win the loyalty of the others.

We can get started right away with the issue of taxes. Not by promising tax cuts, but rather tax fairness. At every level of government in the United States our tax structure is one of the most regressive in the world.

Obama, to his credit, has made some effort to address this by calling for the Buffet rule, which would lift taxes on millionaires, and an end to the Bush tax cuts for the super rich. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton (who I can now publicly admit I could never bring myself to vote for) undermines this push by giving the Republican argument that rolling back these tax cuts would hurt the economy.

As usual, Democrats do not seem to have a coherent and consistent philosophy on matters of important public policy. Nor do they appear to have a plan beyond the next election.

The Republicans clearly do.

Unions and other progressives must push the Democrats or some other vehicle to pursue a coherent and consistent pro-working class agenda, or we will continue to be governed by Walker types and to wring our hands over this state of affairs.

By: Jim Cavanaugh, Labor Notes, June 8, 2012

June 10, 2012 Posted by | Wisconsin Recall | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Expensive And Unnecessary Political Gambit”: Scott Walker’s Recall Hypocrisy

Last Friday night’s Wisconsin recall election debatebegan a series of bizarre exchanges between Republican Governor Scott Walker and his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, over Walker’s attitudes regarding direct democracy.

During this campaign, Walker and his supporters have been harshly critical of those who have sought to recall and remove the governor and his political allies. Though the Wisconsin Constitution is absolutely clear that the reasons for recall elections are to be defined by those who seek them—as opposed to the politicians who would like to restrict the scheduling of accountability votes—the Walker camp has claimed that the recall is an expensive and unnecessary political gambit.

Barrett challenged this spin with a suggestion that Walker is a recall hypocrite.

Referring to Walker during the debate, Barrett said: “He has signed recall petitions, it’s my understanding, against Senator Feingold, against Senator Kohl, not for criminal misbehavior, but because he disagreed with political decisions that were made.”

Walker did not respond immediately. But the next day the governor said, “I have no memory” of signing on for the recall of the Democratic senators when they were targeted in 1997 by anti-abortion groups.

Since organizers of the Feingold-Kohl recall effort say they’re unaware of whether Walker signed, and since the old petitions have been destroyed, this particular debate may remain unresolved.

But there is no question that Scott Walker has spoken enthusiastically about the use of the recall power. Indeed, he attained his previous position as Milwaukee County executive in large part because of a recall initiative. And that initiative clearly delighted him.

Back when he was a state legislator, Walker was an enthusiastic proponent of recall elections—especially in Milwaukee County.

Walker got even more enthusiastic about recalls in 2002, when he became the favored candidate of the group seeking to remove Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament. After Ament resigned, Walker was elected to replace him.

When he ran for governor in 2010, Walker talked up the 2002 recall drive as an exercise in democracy.

Speaking of the Milwaukee County fight, Walker said: “You know the folks that were angry about this started a recall and they were told they needed to collect 73,000 signatures in sixty days. Well, not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of ordinary people did an extraordinary thing. They stood up and took their government back. In less than thirty days they collected more than 150,000 signatures. It was at that moment I realized the real emotion on display in my county wasn’t just about anger. You see, if it had been about anger, it would have been about people checking out and moving out or giving up. But instead what happened was really amazing. You saw people standing up shoulder to shoulder, neighbor to neighbor and saying ‘we want our government back’ And in doing so the real emotion on display was about hope.”

Well, not hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of ordinary people did an extraordinary thing last winter. They have gathered more than 900,000 signatures seeking the recall of Scott Walker, more than 800,000 seeking the recall of Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch and close to 100,000 more to recall four Republican state senators. Wisconsinites are again standing up, shoulder to shoulder, neighbor to neighbor, and they are saying “we want our government back.”

And, as the United Wisconsin activists who organized and advanced the recall drive will tell you, the real emotion on display across Wisconsin as the recall petitions were gathered last year, and as the recall fight has played out this year, has been about hope for Wisconsin’s future.


By: John Nichols, The Nation, May 29, 2012

May 30, 2012 Posted by | Wisconsin Recall | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We’re Just Educating Folks”: Koch’s Americans For Prosperity Say They’re Not Supporting Scott Walker In WI Recall

DC-based special interest group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is busing-in out-of-state Tea Partiers and spending millions on advertisements, rallies, and phone banks in the weeks before recall elections for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and four state senate seats. But the group founded and funded by New York-based oil billionaire David Koch insists their activities have nothing to do with the campaigns or elections.

“We’re not dealing with any candidates, political parties or ongoing races,” said AFP-Wisconsin Director Scott Hilgemann about AFP’s four-day, ten-city bus tour taking place the week before Wisconsin’s June 5 election.

“We’re just educating folks on the importance of the reforms,” he said.

The “reforms” Hilgemann is referencing include Governor Walker’s contentious attack on public sector collective bargaining and his austerity budget, which AFP touts as having saved taxpayers money — but which Walker’s critics say have crippled public schools and led to Wisconsin being dead last among all 50 states for job growth. Those controversial reforms also compelled over 900,000 people to sign petitions for Walker’s recall.

Since at least November, AFP has staged an aggressive pro-Walker campaign while claiming to be focused merely on promoting Walker’s “reforms” rather than the candidate himself or the recall election. The group has been one of Walker’s top allies since he introduced his divide-and-conquer legislation in February of 2011.

Continuation of AFP “It’s Working!” Campaign

Just as Walker’s opponents started collecting recall signatures in November 2011, AFP began running a series of slick TV and web ads claiming “It’s Working!”, and alleging that Walker’s fiscal policies have been good for the state (while ignoring all the bad news). The campaign has reportedly cost at least $2.9 million so far — nearly three times as much as Walker’s opponent Tom Barrett has raised.

The ads come from the “charitable” side of AFP — the AFP Foundation — which as a charity organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, has an absolute prohibition against intervening in political campaigns. The ads were produced in collaboration with another 501(c)(3), the Bradley Foundation-funded MacIver Institute, which has the same prohibition. As the Center for Media and Democracy has reported, the ads push the envelope on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules about nonprofit participation in political campaigns, never mentioning Walker or the election but advancing a message consistent with Walker’s electoral strategy.

The AFP-Foundation and MacIver “It’s Working!” campaign has also included a series of townhall events across the state in November and December to have a “respectful discussion on why we must maintain the reforms that have saved hundreds of millions for Wisconsin taxpayers,” according to an AFP press release. The implication is clear — the election of a governor other than Walker would threaten the “reforms,” and his reelection would maintain them. And according to AFP, “we must maintain the reforms.”

But, AFP claims the campaign is not about the elections — indeed, if it were, the organization could lose its nonprofit status.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign believes the AFP / MacIver ads really are about the elections, and filed a complaint with the IRS accusing the groups of violating IRS rules.

“Stand With Walker”

In February and March of last year, hundreds of thousands of people occupied and marched on the capital in protest of Governor Walker’s policies, including his Act 10 proposal to limit public sector collective bargaining. At the start of the uprising’s second week, Walker accepted a phone call from a person he believed to be David Koch, who asked how the governor’s efforts to “crush that union” were going. The caller was actually Buffalo Beast blogger Ian Murphy, who recorded and publicized the conversation. Among other things, Walker asked that Koch have “his guy on the ground” – presumably an Americans for Prosperity leader – organize rallies and encourage people “to call lawmakers and tell them to hang firm with the governor.”

Regardless of how AFP received the request for help, the group seemed to have met Walker’s request. The same day that Walker chatted with the fake David Koch, Koch’s AFP began running “Stand With Walker” TV ads across the state, along with promoting a pro-Walker petition. As the anti-Walker protests heated up, AFP launched a “Stand With Walker” website and a “Stand With Walker Wisconsin Bus Tour,” and organized a “Stand With Walker” counter-rally at the state capitol.

Months later, Walker himself adopted the “Stand With Walker” slogan for his election campaign. (The slogan also appeared to inspire this face-melting rock video).

Not about the Election?

In 2012, AFP appears to be ramping-up its campaign to aid Walker as his recall election grows near. AFP kicks off the “A Better Wisconsin Bus Tour” in Waukesha on May 30, visiting ten Wisconsin cities before rendezvousing in Racine with out-of-state AFP members. As part of the tour, 70 staff members will be recruiting volunteers to call voters and canvass neighborhoods. In recent weeks, the group has also been organizing phone banks.

Although Governor Walker likes to complain that out-of-state union bosses are behind his recall, AFP has been recruiting plenty of support for Walker from outside Wisconsin. State AFP chapters around the country have been organizing organizing “Freedom Phone” phonebanks for “patriots throughout the nation” to make phone calls into Wisconsin to tell Wisconsin residents to “support[] the Wisconsin reforms.” The AFP chapter in Illinois is busing out-of-staters “to rally and canvass neighborhoods in [Racine] Wisconsin on June 2” (three days before the election) to “make our voices heard in support of the Wisconsin reforms.” The effort appears to be well-funded — attendees are charged cost only $5 for a round-trip bus ticket with lunch and dinner provided. By comparison, a round-trip commercial bus ticket from Racine to Chicago would cost $47, lunch and dinner not included.

AFP-Wisconsin’s director insists the effort has nothing to do “with any candidates, political parties or ongoing races,” despite photos from recent events prominently displaying pro-Walker campaign propaganda and one of AFP’s top field coordinators being a current Vice-Chair and Executive Board Member of the Winnebago County Republican Party. Additionally, many AFP staffers have long ties to the GOP, such as AFP Director Luke Hilgemann, who until recently worked as Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder’s Chief of Staff.

It is not clear whether the bus tour, phone banks, and canvassing are operating via the 501(c)(3) AFP-Foundation, which is officially prohibited from any political campaign activity, or through AFP’s 501(c)(4) wing, which can participate in a limited amount of election work, but cannot act as a Political Action Committee.

Regardless of which AFP wing is advancing the campaign, it stretches the imagination to believe AFP’s claims that organizing bus tours, phone banks, TV ads and out-of-state canvassers — in the weeks and months before the election — has nothing to do with the election. Particularly when AFP chair David Koch, who has not given any money directly to Walker’s recall campaign fund, has recently said “we’re helping [Walker], as we should” and “we’ve spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We’re going to spend more.”


BY: Brendan Fischer, Center For Media and Democracy, May 27, 2012

May 27, 2012 Posted by | Wisconsin Recall | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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