mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Damning And Far More Serious”: Wisconsin’s Walker Confronted With Damaging New Details

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

August 26, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Scott Walker, Wisconsin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Political Careerist”: Scott Walker Has A Rough Race On His Hands—And It’s Not For President

Mary Burke’s name appeared for the first time on a statewide ballot in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for governor of Wisconsin.

In fact, it was the first time that Burke’s name had ever appeared on a partisan ballot.

Aside from a successful nonpartisan bid for a seat on the Madison School Board in 2012, Burke has never before contended for elective office.

Yet, on Tuesday, the former Trek Bicycle executive and Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce won the highest vote of anyone on the ballot for any statewide office, taking 83 percent of the vote against state Representative Brett Hulsey, D-Madison. Despite his long record in state politics, Hulsey’s run was weakened by personal and political stumbles; yet in a year of political frustration and disenchantment that has seen top-of-ticket contenders in other states (such as Kansas Governor Sam Brownback) lose as much as 35 percent of the vote to little-known primary challengers, Burke’s finish was robust and significant. Notably, in many western and northern Wisconsin countries where she must renew her party’s appeal, Burke was winning well over 90 percent.

The scope of the statewide win builds on the sense created by recent polls—which have since May portrayed the race as a toss-up, with Walker and Burke both capturing around 47 percent of the likely November vote—that Burke has evolved into a serious challenger to Republican Governor Scott Walker, the anti-labor, pro-austerity, extreme social conservative who began the 2014 race as a prohibitive favorite.

That does not necessarily mean that she will beat Walker, the all-but-announced 2016 Republican presidential contender who was unopposed in Tuesday’s GOP primary. But the strong primary finish provides another indicator that Burke, an unlikely and unexpected contender for the governorship, might well be putting together the campaign that Democrats lacked in their 2010 and 2012 attempts to beat Walker.

A favorite of the Koch brothers and conservative donors across the country, Walker will still have a lot more money to spend in 2014. And he has already confirmed that he will use it to wage a scorched-earth campaign, characterized by brutally negative television ads. Unfortunately for the governor, however, his ads may actually have strengthened Burke—especially after the governor launched a bumbling attack on outsourcing by Burke family’s firm, Trek, that drew criticism even from Walker-friendly media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal.

Walker will also have the power of incumbency—no small factor in the hands of a Chris Christie–style electoral micromanager who has done more to politicize appointments and policymaking than any Wisconsin governor in modern times.

But Burke brings to the fall race two strengths that go to the heart of Walker’s vulnerabilities in a state that has not backed a Republican for president since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Even now, Burke remains relatively unknown—almost half of voters tell pollsters that their opinions of her are not fully formed. That gives Walker an opening for more attacks, of course. But it also means that the challenger has room to build on her strengths, which are:

1. Burke is the first woman ever nominated by a major party for governor of Wisconsin. And polls show that she has benefitted from a gender gap that has been an increasingly significant factor in the state’s elections. Like US Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, who coasted to victory in 2012 on the strength of a 56-41 advantage among women voters (as opposed to a much narrower 51-46 advantage with men for Republican former Governor Tommy Thompson), Burke’s position is bolstered by support from women. Marquette University Law School polls have given Burke a seven- or eight-point lead among likely women voters, while Walker maintains a solid advantage with men.

As women make up more of the electorate, the female voters who are putting Burke into contention could be a determining force in November. If the Democrat builds even marginally on her advantage among women, Burke’s chances of winning expand exponentially. If she can get anywhere near Baldwin’s numbers, she wins. And Burke got a good break on primary night, when voters chose Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ as the Democratic nominee for state attorney general. That means that the Wisconsin Democratic party will, for the first time in history, be running women in both of the state’s marquee races. This could help to attract a crossover vote from moderate Republican women and Republican-leaning independents. But, far more significantly, it could help with generating turnout among young

2. Burke is, by most reasonable measures, a political newcomer, a relative outsider in a year when voters are very upset with the political class—and when polls show that voters much prefer candidates with a background in business to candidates with a background in politics.

The contrast with Walker is stark. The incumbent has since 1990 run twenty-five primary and general election campaigns (counting a scrapped gubernatorial bid in 2006, but not counting the 2016 presidential bid he is furiously advancing). Few figures in Wisconsin, or national, history more fully fit the definition of a political careerist than Walker. His ambition is intense; he lives for politics and he surrounds himself with political junkies—several of whom have gotten into serious trouble for political abuses. Yet the governor shows few signs of being satisfied with his current position; he has already published a 2016 campaign book, made trips to key Republican primary and caucus states and nurtured a national network of billionaire donors and friendly operatives.

When the Marquette Poll asked Wisconsin voters about Walker’s national ambitions, however, the response was strikingly unenthusiastic. A overwhelming 67 percent of Wisconsinites said they did not want Walker to seek the presidency. And 65 percent (including a majority of Republicans) said they did not think a governor could run for president and handle his state duties.

Like fresh contenders who have won Wisconsin’s governorship in previous periods of political turbulence—most notably Republican Lee Sherman Dreyfus in 1978—Burke is not harmed by the fact that she is a first-time statewide candidate. Indeed, in this election, against this incumbent, it could prove to be a decisive strength.

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, August 13, 2014

 

August 15, 2014 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Scott Walker, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ignoring Well-Established Law”: Gov. Scott Walker, Allies Knew Prevailing Interpretation Of State Law

Supporters of Gov. Scott Walker have been working hard in recent weeks to conjure up excuses to dismiss the John Doe campaign finance probe.

First, they attacked it as a partisan witch hunt, ignoring the fact that the investigation is led by a Republican who voted for Walker and that it has the participation of both Republican and Democratic district attorneys from across the state.

Then, they tried to dismiss it as a “legally baseless” investigation, and argued that Wisconsin law does not prohibit the Walker campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth from coordinating on electoral “issue ads” that omit the phrase “vote for” Scott Walker.

Now, Walker’s allies are acknowledging that the probe is grounded in Wisconsin law, but are claiming that prosecutors are enforcing a “zombie law” — allegedly rendered unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court — that the Walker campaign was purportedly free to ignore.

This is not the case.

The governor is endowed with many powers, but he cannot single-handedly rewrite the law or reverse legal precedent.

For decades, Wisconsin law has capped campaign donations to limit the influence of money in elections, and required candidates to disclose major contributions so the public can see who is bankrolling our politicians. Courts have interpreted the law to mean that “issue ads” coordinated with a candidate for state office can be regarded as in-kind contributions to the campaign, because they are of great value to the campaign. Any coordinated issue ad “contributions” that exceed donation limits and are omitted from campaign filings can be illegal. The same is true in federal elections, under federal law.

Even if the Walker camp believed that coordinated issue ads shouldn’t be regulated, or that at some point in the future a court might overrule existing Wisconsin precedent, this belief shouldn’t have given them license to ignore well-established law during the 2012 elections, as the prosecutors’ theory in the case alleges.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never held that counting electoral issue ads as contributions is unconstitutional. In fact, in 2003 the court explicitly upheld a provision of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that treats issue ads that air near federal elections (called “electioneering communications”) as in-kind contributions if coordinated with a candidate. That holding has never been overturned.

And, even as a slim majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has chipped away at campaign finance limits for PACs and non-profits, it has done so with the express proviso that these groups are “independent” and their activities not coordinated with candidates.

Conservative Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy explained in Citizens United vs. FEC that “the absence of prearrangement and coordination…undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate.” In other words, if a candidate is coordinating with a third-party group, that group’s expenditures are of value to the campaign — and the contribution limits and disclosure requirements that apply to candidates would be rendered meaningless if politicians can work closely with a group that takes secret, million-dollar donations.

Wisconsin courts have had a similar take, and the John Doe prosecutors are relying on an interpretation of state law established by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in 1999, in a precedent-setting case called Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation.

In that case, the court rejected arguments identical to those now being made by Walker and the Club for Growth, and held that, under Wisconsin law, electoral issue ads coordinated with a campaign count as contributions to the campaign.

Despite the claims of op-ed writers published by the Journal Sentinel, it is not the case that the courts had overturned the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation precedent or rendered its holding unenforceable in advance of the recall elections. Just ask Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen. As thousands of people were occupying the Wisconsin capitol in 2011 — sparking a movement that would lead to the recall elections — Van Hollen was citing Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation in court briefs as controlling precedent.

Just months later, with recall elections heating up, prosecutors believe the Walker campaign and Club for Growth began working together, an alleged violation of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals’ interpretation of state law that Van Hollen had recently endorsed.

The Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation precedent was no secret. It is explicitly cited in the end notes to the Wisconsin statutes, which provide guidance on the prevailing interpretations of Wisconsin law for candidates such as Walker and the raft of lawyers who advise him.

Plus, the Wisconsin Elections Board — the precursor to the Government Accountability Board — issued a 2002 opinion citing both state and federal cases to advise that coordinated electoral issue ads are contributions under Wisconsin law. That opinion was affirmed by the GAB in 2008 and is clearly posted on the GAB website.

If the Walker campaign or Wisconsin Club for Growth believed courts were “moving” toward a different interpretation of Wisconsin statutes, they could have sought an advisory opinion from the GAB, or requested advice from Van Hollen. If they believed that U.S. Supreme Court rulings had made the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation decision unenforceable, they could have sought a declaratory judgment from a state court.

The Walker campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth cannot claim they were unaware of the prevailing interpretation of Wisconsin law, and Wisconsinites should know better than to buy their after-the-fact rationales.

 

By: Brendan Fischer, General Counsel, The Center for Media and Democracy in Madison: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 17, 2014

July 20, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Scott Walker, Wisconsin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“No Accountability In The GOP”: A Dejecting Pattern Of Behavior In Wisconsin

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

April 8, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Sexual Asault, Wisconsin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: