On first blush, the Walkergate investigation seems to be small potatoes in many ways. After all, there are no juicy details of Walker being involved in some deep conspiracy as governor. No, instead it has the appearance of a bunch of overzealous party faithful people conducting Republican party business on the public dime during Walker's tenure as Milwaukee county executive.
Rest assured, it is not a small potatoes thing at all. It is a very, very big deal, not only because it exposes the corruption among one state's Republican party structure, but because it also exposes a blueprint for how I suspect Republicans operate around the country.
After reviewing the official complaints against two of the players—Darlene Wink and Kelly Rindfleisch—a pattern emerges that is almost defiant in nature. After all, in 2005, the Wisconsin caucus scandal forced 2 Democrats and 1 Republican to resign for campaigning on the public's time. Yet here we are back in 2012, with incontrovertible evidence that Republicans are not only continuing the practice, but they've refined it to an art form.
High Level Overview
While Scott Walker was Milwaukee County Executive, employees who he had appointed to his staff set up a separate 3G network with separate laptop computers for the sole purpose of conducting campaign business. Much of that business was conducted during time that they were on the payroll as public employees, and by using unofficial email addresses with Yahoo and Gmail, they were not only attempting to circumvent Wisconsin's open records laws, they virtually guaranteed the open records officer wouldn't even know to review the accounts to see if any of those emails should be included in open records requests.
Wisconsin has pretty strict laws for how public employees conduct themselves while on the public's payroll. Campaign activities are expressly forbidden under the law. Yet these employees spent large chunks of their day planning and preparing fundraising and other campaign events.
Further, in order to be a public employee in Milwaukee County, residence within the county is required. In at least one case (Reindfleisch), that residence requirement was "satisfied" by listing the address of a Scott Walker crony and former Chief of Staff of the Milwaukee County Executive's office, James Villa, as her own address.
What they did
If you're a Republican who wants to reward your most loyal minions for their service, there's no better way than appointing them to decent-paying public jobs. Of course, that means they're not going to be available, at least from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday to conduct campaign business. That is, unless you make sure they have ways to conduct that business on outside equipment from inside the office, which is what they did. And boy, did they conduct some business.
I. Darlene Wink
Wink is reportedly negotiating a plea deal to exchange information about the destruction of electronic data for a lighter sentence. The John Doe complaint against her has some shining examples of the business she was conducting on the Wisconsin taxpayers' dime.
- October, 2009 - Reaching out to RNC Chair Reince Priebus to see if Sarah Palin could stop in at a November fundraiser celebrating Scott Walker's birthday, since her event on the same day was siphoning away interest from their event. The text of her email, sent at 10:07 AM on October 20, 2009:
I was wondering if you would be able to help the RPMC out in getting Sarah Palin to stop into our event which is being held on the same evening as her program with the Wisconsin Right to Life. Attached is flyer for event.
We are already losing people to that event from our event -- and there is no time like the present to be able to let people know that she will also be at the RPMC event on the 6th og [sic] November.
- November, 2009 - Holiday Gala Fundraiser featuring talk show host Vicki McKenna as the featured guest. Photo with Scott Walker cost attendees extra—the price went from $35 per plate to $100 per plate if you wanted the picture taken.
- November, 2009 - Script writing and execution of 5,000 robo-calls featuring Scott Walker inviting people to attend the fundraiser. Emails indicate that the robocall script was written and approved in late November for Scott Walker to record, and on December 1 Wink received confirmation that the robo-calls had been completed.
- February, 2010 - Organizing and recruiting phone banking efforts for Walker's gubernatorial bid.
Wink also drafted and disseminated press releases during that time frame which were intended to paint Scott Walker as a strong leader who stood firm on budgetary issues, as frames upon which he would base his campaign for Wisconsin Governor.
II. Kelly Reindfleisch
Kelly Reindfleisch's participation in the parallel "county employee/GOP operative" scandal is even more shocking and extensive. Shocking because she was questioned in connection with the caucus scandal back in 2002, and appeared to fully understand why she could not conduct GOP party business on the public's dime. Still, in 2010, she did just that. She practically ran the Scott Walker campaign from her desk at the Milwaukee County Executive's office in 2010, even after she was promoted to Deputy Chief of Staff in March, 2010.
Some examples of Reindfleisch's activity:
- February, 2010 - Entered into a contractual agreement with Brett Davis, primary candidate for Lieutenant Governor to raise money and fundraise for his committee. She was paid $5,000 on the contract.
- March, 2010-May 2010 - Prepared spreadsheets and reports for the Brett Davis campaign regarding fundraising and fundraising goals, held conference calls to plan fundraisers, sent emails, designed flyers, and made plans with outside vendors for events.
But these things were not a small part of her day. It appears as though they consumed her day. One example in the complaint is the day of April 20, 2010. She clocked in to the county parking lot at 6:40 a.m. and out at 5:26 p.m. In the course of the day she sent 56 emails which included attachments she had designed for various fundraisers, amde telephone calls, managed lists, and other campaign duties which certainly appear to have taken the majority of the workday.
The walls fall down
On May 14, 2010, Darlene Wink resigned, not because she was caught fundraising on public time, but because she was caught writing pro-Walker comments on the Journal-Sentinal's website. In order to appear as though she hadn't misused county resources, she also admitted that she wasn't using a county computer.
She did say that she brings a personal laptop to work and that she posts most—and perhaps all—of her comments using it, not a county computer. In addition, she said she tries to put in extra time doing her real job, helping fix problems raised by individual county residents, when she takes time out to read and reply to stories about Walker or other gubernatorial candidates.
Now we know that the computer she used was one she was conducting partisan political business on from the County Executive's office. Probably the most interesting nugget in all of the depositions was Scott Walker's email, sent from his campaign email BlackBerry account at 8:46 a.m. on May 14, to Tim Russell, his Director of Housing for the Department of Health and Human Services.
Ten minutes later, Reindfleisch has an IM chat with Tim Russell, where she says, "I took the wireless down. It's in my bag for now."
It seems to me that Scott Walker has a problem, not only because of what his aides were doing, but also because of what he appears to be doing. That email indicates he had a campaign account on a BlackBerry which he was using during work hours to email other paid public employees about campaign business and problems.
And what did he mean by "no laptops, no websites, no time away during the work day etc."? Was he simply referring to Wink's claim that she stayed longer than 8 hours in a day to cover the time she spent defending Walker on newspaper websites, or was operation of campaign functions in public buildings while on the public payroll a commonplace activity, while public comments on newspaper websites were not?
What we have here is one small operation, but I doubt it's the only one like it. All I have to do is remember the Karl Rove emails which never saw the light of day because they were not on White House servers, to know something is very, very rotten and stinky in Wisconsin.