What Did Ron Johnson Know And When Did He Know It?

Hi all, I'm happy to be starting here today. You may know me from OpenLeft.com, where I mainly cover LGBT issues and organize netroots pro-equality action, but I also write about the Obama administration and broader progressive issues. I've also

RonJohnson.jpg

Hi all, I'm happy to be starting here today. You may know me from OpenLeft.com, where I mainly cover LGBT issues and organize netroots pro-equality action, but I also write about the Obama administration and broader progressive issues. I've also been managing the Prop 8 Trial Tracker/NOM Tour Tracker blog, a project of Courage Campaign Institute, to help cover National Organization for Marriage and their "Summer for Marriage" tour, along with their current California tour to urge Latino/a voters to support Carly Fiorina for Senate. Looking forward to writing about our crop of Blue America candidates and other elections this cycle.

For my first post I want to focus on Russ Feingold and his opponent, Ron Johnson. Last night was our weekly "Glee" night with me and 10 friends, which we turned into a special "Russ Feingold Brings Me Glee" night, and raised a couple hundred for our friend from Wisconsin (the campaign even set up a special Glee URL for our 'raiser- www.russfeingold.org/glee- frankly, one of the 10 best URLs I've seen all year).

Many of us spoke about why we're supporting Russ- for me, it's because he was one of just 14 Senators to oppose the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, one of the first few to come out in support of marriage equality, and the only to oppose the PATRIOT Act. It's one of the better examples I can name of feeling good about working on an election to support someone because they're strongly progressive instead of doing so just to keep a wingnut out of office.

Then I stopped by TPM and found this blockbuster piece today:

Johnson Testified To Protect Catholic Church From Sex Abuse Lawsuits

As a member of the finance council for the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay until he resigned to run for Senate this year, Ron Johnson served alongside a bishop named Robert Morneau who, as a Church leader, had been made aware over two decades ago of the abusive tendencies of Rev. John Feeney.

Rev. Feeney was convicted in 2003, before Johnson joined the council, for sexually assaulting two brothers in the late 1970s. But according to documents obtained by the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the Church sought to cover up his crimes, which one reverend called "sexually very inappropriate."

Seven years later, Johnson testified before the Wisconsin State Senate against legislation to eliminate the statute of limitations for such crimes, making it easier for victims of sexual abuse to seek damages from the Church or any other culpable institution.

This legislation is so critical because so many of these abuse cases take place when the victims are children and remain silent- only speaking up and fighting back when they are adults, which is usually longer than the statute of limitations on the crime.

Johnson, who is not even a Catholic, keeps insisting he that he testified as a concerned community member. But that's being questioned (bolding mine):

Deacon Tim Reilly, Director of Administration for the Diocese of Green Bay told TPM that the Church played a significant role in getting Johnson to the state capital. According to Reilly, the Church didn't support the legislation and wanted to raise public awareness of its objections. So the diocese arranged for a meeting with Randy Hopper, the state senator in the Oshkosh area who sits on the panel that was deciding whether this legislation would go to the floor for a vote. Some 20 people met at St. Rafael's Parish in Oshkosh, several of whom spoke -- including Johnson. His arguments were among the most articulate and persuasive to the group, so Hopper asked him to go to Madison and testify -- the sort of not-quite-lobbying that happens in Washington and in state capitals around the country all the time.

Reilly reiterated to TPM that Johnson was not speaking specifically on behalf of the church. "He was speaking on his own behalf, as a concerned citizen, that this would adversely affect the Catholic School System and the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA and other non-profits without government protection."

That beggars belief, according to experts and clergymen.

"He can't be testifying just as a concerned citizen," says Father Tom Doyle, a priest who presciently warned the Catholic Church about the looming sex abuse scandal years ago. "If he was a member of the finance council of the diocese, the senator picked him out not because he was concerned about the Boys and Girls Club.... I don't know of any instance where a layperson, on his own, without any connection with the Church administration has come forward to testify."

The news is so bad it's actually turning people away from Johnson:

After learning of Johnson's testimony in news reports a former Johnson supporter named Todd Merryfield -- one of Feeney's victims -- appeared on MSNBC to announce that he'd renounced his support for the Tea Party-backed candidate.

For Merryfield and others who advocate on behalf of abuse victims, legislation extending the statute of limitations in child abuse cases was and remains a key legislative goal, and Johnson's successful attempt to kill it is a nearly unpardonable sin.

Here's what I want to know. Why did Johnson and his backers emphasize so hard that he was doing this as a community member? Is it because he could be compelled to reveal information he doesn't want to share?

Doyle admonished that, though many finance councils around the country are intimately familiar with diocesan secrets (both good and bad), they are in some instances left in the dark by their bishops. He has no direct knowledge of what the finance council knew in Johnson's case.

[...]

But in addition to seeking penance from Johnson, and calling on him to press the Church to release information about priest abuse, they want to know what he knew when he testified in January.

"We don't know exactly what he knew," Merryfield told TPM in a phone interview. "It just seemed a little strange that he was in a position of knowledge being on the finance council, having to sign the checks to everyone being paid."

The issue has taken on greater salience as Johnson's lead over Feingold has grown. But for victims, the question of whether Johnson was acting as a dispassionate citizen and member of the business community, or as an agent of the Church, is the most crucial.

"These pedophiles that they have hidden away, they pay their room and board, living costs," Merryfield said, speculating that Johnson "has to know who they are because he has to write the checks to somebody."

So the question is, what did Ron Johnson know and when did he know it?

In the interest of fairness, we should really give Johnson a chance to respond. His response:

The Johnson campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Ohhkay.

Russ Feingold for Senate.

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