New Research: Scott Walker's Criminal Path to Power
By Melissa Baldauff
New research by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin answers the questions - 1. What Did Scott Walker Know and When Did He know It? and 2. What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?
Questions Still to be Answered
We know that senior level staffers of both his gubernatorial campaign and his County Executive’s office were illegally coordinating and campaigning for months on county time. Are we to believe that the very same staffers who committed these crimes on Scott Walker’s behalf and now hold positions in Walker’s administration have not been conducting the same type of illegal activity on state time?
If Tom Nardelli didn't hire Kelly Rindfleisch, who did? Are her personnel records still on file in Milwaukee County?
Will Scott Walker call for the resignation of Joe Fadness and Cullen Werwie, who he now knows to have been involved in illegal campaign activity?
Will Scott Walker call for a full investigation into his office in the Capitol to ensure that no such secret-network is being used to conduct the state’s business or political activity?
Who authorized the installation of this top-secret network, and which Walker administration staffers used it? Did Walker himself use it?
How much County business was conducted on the top-secret network, and will Walker call for a full accounting of any such business?
We now know that the John Doe investigation commenced in early 2010 as an inquiry into the potential misappropriation of $11,000 in Operation Freedom funds.
The initial scope of the investigation resulted in the arrest of Scott Walker’s longtime campaign adviser and former Deputy Chief of Staff, Tim Russell, for embezzling charitable contributions and using the money, in part, to finance illegal corporate contributions to Scott Walker’s campaign, as well as embezzlement charges against Kevin Kavanaugh, a Walker appointee, and charges of child enticement against Tim Russell’s domestic partner, Brian Pierick.
But the felonious activity involving members of Scott Walker’s political machine doesn’t end there.
Criminal charges filed yesterday against Milwaukee County employees, and apparent Walker campaign staffers, Kelly Rindfleisch and Darlene Wink reveal that multiple members of Walker’s inner circle of trusted County employees were engaging in criminal political activity on Walker’s behalf, a clear indication of the presence of an office culture where this was an accepted, if not encouraged, practice.
Campaign and Political Activity at Taxpayer Expense
As far back as 2004, Scott Walker was using taxpayer resources to fund his annual Harley ride across the state, an event touted by Walker as an opportunity to promote Milwaukee tourism, but was in fact an excuse for Walker to promote himself throughout the state. County staffers, including Jim Villa, who has since served as a key advisor to Walker’s campaign, were involved in the promotion and planning of the event.
In his 2005 tour, just as Walker was beginning his first gubernatorial campaign, it was revealed that Walker gave away more than $19,000 worth of free tickets to various Milwaukee-area attractions to members of the media, many of whom ultimately returned the freebies as ethical questions were raised about the giveaways.
And in 2009, objections were raised over a new wrinkle in Walker’s plan – corporate sponsorship by AirTran airlines. This lead to Milwaukee County Supervisors John Weishan, Marina Dimitrijevic, and Chris Larson filing a complaint with the Milwaukee County Elections Commission alleging that the event was actually about publicity for Scott Walker’s campaign, not for promoting Milwaukee County tourism. Also included in the complaint was the fact that personal emails were used “to provide cover from open records requests.”
In 2010, during his ultimately successful bid for governor, Walker moved the timing of the trip to coincide exactly - not only with the date of the Republican Party’s state convention, but also to coincide with the site of the Republican convention, the Harley-Davidson Museum, where on May 21, 2010, the Republicans kicked off their annual convention.
Inexplicably accompanying Walker was Tim Russell, the County’s Housing Director. Any reasonable person would conclude that Housing has nothing to do with tourism – Russell’s presence indicates that the ride was in fact illegal campaign activity.
This event took place just one week after Darlene Wink resigned her position from Milwaukee County over allegations, now confirmed, that she was posting on blogs and websites in support of Scott Walker on taxpayer time. We now also know that Wink’s campaign activity went much further – she was planning fundraising events for Scott Walker on taxpayer time, including a birthday celebration for Scott Walker.
Wink even went so far as to send an email regarding a campaign event to Reince Priebus’ personal work email account, receiving a near-immediate reply. It is simply not believable that a low-level staffer would have such access to the Chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin without the consent of someone higher up.
Wink’s resignation lead Scott Walker to send the following email to Tim Russell,“I talked to her at home last night. I feel bad. She feels worse. We cannot afford another story like this one. No one can give them any reason to do another story. That means no laptops, no websites, no time away during the work day, etc."
What is significant about this exchange is that the email from Walker to Russell came from Walker’s campaign email account – proof that Walker was using his campaign email to conduct County business.This is a clear admission that Walker knew what was going on – he knew that people in his office were using private laptops to conduct campaign activity.
If we are to believe Scott Walker, who claims he knew nothing of her illegal campaign activity on his behalf, Darlene Wink’s resignation was a County personnel matter. A matter which Walker had no business discussing with an employee, Tim Russell, who was not involved. Russell worked in the Housing department – it was inappropriate to involve him in a personnel matter in the County Executive’s office.
Concurrent to these activities, Kelly Rindfleisch was hired to the County Executive’s office as a policy advisor despiteTom Nardelli, Walker’s Chief of Staff, claiming he was unaware of her hiring. However, information detailed in the criminal complaint reveals that Rindfleisch was tasked with doing policy work for Walker’s campaign and took her orders and received her assignments from Tim Russell, then-Deputy Chief of Staff.
In the course of her employment with the County, Rindfleisch engaged in political activity on taxpayer time, running the fundraising operation for Brett Davis, Scott Walker and the GOP’s preferred Lt. Governor candidate. Rindfleisch was in near-constant contact with Cullen Werwie, who at the time was Davis’ campaign manager, and who currently serves as Scott Walker’s spokesman, with prosecutorial immunity for testifying against Rindfleisch.
Rindfleisch’s illegal activity went undetected for months, owing to a secret network installed by, or at the request of, Tim Russell, which was used by several top staffers in the County Executive’s office to conduct campaign activity, as well as County business, in an apparent attempt to conceal records from the public.
Open Records Obstruction
For as long as we have evidence of Walker and his advisers using taxpayer resources for political activity, we have evidence of obstruction on open records from the same players.
In 2004, the Walker administration was the subject of a formal open records complaint for overcharging for records, and obstruction behind-the-scenes. The Wisconsin Department of Justice didn’t reach a conclusion as to whether Walker actually broke the law, but did state in a highly critical letter to the Walker administration that, “[I]n sum, this episode evinces a case of how government officials ought not to do business…” and that “nobody honored to serve in public office ought to manipulate public records in this fashion.”
And in 2010, following Darlene Wink’s resignation, Supervisor John Weishan, Jr., suspecting the existence of the very same type of concealed network that we now know existed just 25 feet from Scott Walker’s desk, requested records of County employees visiting political or campaign websites. At the time, the request was characterized as a “fishing expedition.”
Walker’s office provided documents responsive to the request – four pages, at a cost of $2,800, that indicated that Walker, Wink, spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin and chief of staff Tom Nardelli had each visited Wispolitics.com a handful of times in April or May. It is unrealistic and unbelievable to think that, at the very least, Walker and his spokeswoman were not viewing press releases daily. In this case, the lack of activity on the County network suggests that Walker and his staff were accessing these sites on a different network.