Walker's brush with illegal campaign donations
Just how much did candidate Walker and/or his campaign officials know about William Gardner's illegal contributions, and when did they know it?
It's a question I can't quite escape after reading through the entire Government Accountability Board complaint against the owner of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad. Gardner, who it was officially announced yesterday now faces two federal indictments, had been laundering significant amounts of money through his business and into Walker's campaigns for governor in both 2005 and 2009.
The amount given by Gardner and his workers ended up totaling around $53,800, with almost $50,000 of that going to the Friends of Scott Walker. Gardner had been encouraging his employees to personally donate to the campaign, then reimbursed them via company funds a big no-no in both state and federal law, as it violates the maximum contributions allowed by a business and the rights of employees not to be told who to support by an employer.
The Walker campaign returned most of that money in May of 2010, once the case was made public, but according to the GAB some $20,000 remains unaccounted for.
I attended the GAB press conference about the investigation and indictments yesterday you can read my full write-up of it here.
What I didn't know at the time, though, was that the complaint (which the press was only given as the conference was beginning) contains an interesting little tidbit of information that did not come up during the Q&A that followed the official GAB statement.
It reads: "The Friends of Scott Walker campaign provided records indicating that William Gardner met with the candidate Scott Walker on December 21, 2009 at the Crowne Plaza Suites in Milwaukee." (see the full complaint and news release here)
A later email exchange also details a personal meeting that Gardner had with Walker at the Noodles in Madison on April 13, 2010. The GAB was contacted by Gardner's disgruntled ex-girlfriend, Stacie Long, on April 19, 2010 and told of the potentially illegal campaign contributions.
Second to that, but very important, is the fact that this girlfriend had earlier asked a friend, Gregory Edminster, whether it had been illegal for her to have donated to the Walker campaign at the request of Gardner, and then reimbursed by him for that contribution. Edminster, rightly, told her that he thought it was illegal, and even went so far as to contact the Walker campaign about it.
However, an unidentified Walker campaign official apparently told Edminster that the campaign "had methods to detect illegal contributions and that they were confident that there were no illegal contributions coming into the Walker campaign."
What I'd like to know is when exactly that exchange happened did candidate Scott Walker meet with Gardner twice after his campaign had been notified of potentially illegal activities on his part? Did that campaign official just blow off Edminster's concerns entirely?
A reporter at the press conference did ask if that campaign manager could be identified, but John Chisholm, the DA in charge of the criminal investigation of Gardner in Milwaukee County, said he declined to include that information because Edminster couldn't remember exactly with whom he had spoken and could only guess. "It wouldn't be fair to that person in the case that he turned out to be wrong," Chisholm explained.
Still, shouldn't Walker have been compelled to give testimony in this case, given that he twice met with the man now charged with two felonies?
And what about this campaign manager? When asked at yesterday's press conference if the Walker camp should be held at all responsible for not catching the illegal contributions sooner, GAB director Kevin Kennedy defended them, saying that the sheer numbers and diverse origins of contributions would make it nearly impossible for campaigns to catch everything. "Campaigns are not going to, nor should we expect them to, investigate every time they get unusual contributions," he said.
So then why was this campaign manager so sure that they could, in fact, ferret out any impropriety?
There's a lot that doesn't quite add up here, and since there are still apparently a number of ongoing investigations into former Walker personnel, I can only hope that these questions are being asked and, eventually, answered.
That's not what she said
Democratic (and presumably politically lonely) member of the Waukesha County Board of Canvassers Ramona Kitzinger is not happy with how her words have been used by rightwing pundits to excuse Kathy Nickolaus' massive computing fail.
The 80-year-old released a statement via the Waukesha County Democratic Party yesterday, wherein she explained that her brief comments at the press conference held by Nickolaus to announce the counting snafu came from being left almost totally in the dark about the situation:
On Thursday, I then showed up as per normal procedure at 9am and the canvass again went normally and concluded sometime between 4pm and 5pm. During the course of the day, the issue of minor vote corrections in New Berlin and Lisbon came up, but again nothing of a historic nature or reflecting glaring irregularities. In fact, the matter of vote totals in Brookfield City came up specifically during the course of Thursday's canvass. In retrospect, it seems both shocking and somewhat appalling there was no mention of discovery of this 15,000 vote "human error" that ultimately had the potential to tip the balance of an entire statewide election.
It wasn't until Nickolaus' press conference itself that Kitzinger was made aware of the lost Brookfield votes. The statement continues:
I am still very, very confused about why the canvass was finalized before I was informed of the Brookfield error and it wasn't even until the press conference was happening that I learned it was this enormous mistake that could swing the whole election. I was never shown anything that would verify Kathy's statement about the missing vote, and with how events unfolded and people citing me as an authority on this now, I feel like I must speak up.
Unless a thorough and non-partisan investigation of what happened in Waukesha turns up actual evidence of fraud (and there are certainly a few irregularities worth looking into), it seems likely that that was not the case just breathtaking incompetence followed by an apparent scramble to cover tracks (ultimately unsuccessfully, of course).
Kitzinger's account of the canvass only seems to further bolster that theory and strengthens the case for a swift recall of Clerk Nickolaus and a complete overhaul of the vote counting system in Waukesha County. No matter how much I might personally disagree with the overwhelming political leanings of a particular region, everyone's vote should be counted in a timely and accurate fashion. At the very least then I (and every other Wisconsin liberal) could have avoided the near heart attack suffered as news broke about Nickolaus' error.
"Walker no fan of transparency" most obvious statement I could ever make?
As if Walker's budget couldn't get any more fun! Turns out it calls for gutting public access to court records and ending funding for civil legal help for the poor, too.
I should stop being surprised by this crap, but I can't help myself.
According to Bruce Vielmetti, writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Among the big losers in Gov. Scott Walker's proposed budget are groups who provide legal services to the indigent in civil cases -- all $2.6 million that used to help finance such representation would be cut.
About half the money used to help fund Legal Action of Wisconsin, the state's largest provider of civil legal help to the poor. Without it, the agency has already marked 21 staff, mostly lawyers,for layoff July 1, according to Leon Lynn, a spokesman for the group whose job is among those being eliminated.
Lynn estimates that will mean Legal Action will help 2,000 fewer clients, and that another 1,600 will lack counsel due to the cut's impact on other legal service groups and programs.
That's simply inexcusable. Stripping the indigent's ability to receive decent representation in court essentially means that Wisconsin lapses into a system where the rich can buy their way out of punishment, while the poor are pretty much screwed.
And no one would know much about it, either, since the budget also calls for eliminating the collection of a small court filing fee that currently funds CCAP, the state's data management system. Through CCAP, anyone can now look up public court records.
This is such an essential tool for democracy that I supposed I shouldn't be shocked that Walker would deem it unimportant (or target it specifically for removal). I have yet to see any evidence that our current governor cares at all about transparency and good governance. These latest budget revelations simply stack evidence to the contrary to yet more skyscraper-like heights.
The war won't be over in a month
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the American Civil War. On this day in 1861 Confederate forces opened fire on one of the last remaining Union bases in the South: Fort Sumter. No one (save a poor horse) died as a result of the bombardment, but the bloody conflict that followed took the lives of over 600,000 American men (and women).
The equivalent proportion in today's population would be six million dead.
Why did they fight? The reasons are too many and varied to list, but one of the major dividing factors that caused the political and social rifts which would lead to families being able to tear each other to shreds in such brutal fashion was, inescapably, slavery.
The fact that the economy of substantial chunks of the middle and southern states relied on the forced labor of nearly 4 million African Americans inevitably caused a massive rift to form between US citizens either for reasons of moral and religious beliefs, economic necessity, or national/regional pride.
Because even many of our Founders were too wrapped up in the financial and social benefits they reaped from the "peculiar institution" and were therefor unable or unwilling to denounce its presence in the newly formed and supposedly free United States, because too many politicians were quick to compromise over an inexcusable practice, because it became an immensely complicated issue with roots too deep and tangled to tackle otherwise, our country has ever since been paying the often devastating price.
Through institutionalized and more subtle forms of racism. Through still-extant wounds and resentments between victor and conquered in a war fought 150 years ago.
All this should do is illustrate, painfully, how important it is to call out injustice when you first see or experience it how crucial it is to find common ground especially with those we might otherwise see as different or frightening.
There are lessons we must still learn from what was arguably our nation's most trying hour, instead of simply holding grudges and walking backward. Not even slavery has been entirely eradicated. Racial equality and unity is still depressingly far off.
Progress has still been made, yes, and on anniversaries like today it's important for us all to remember the sacrifices and struggles that got us to where we are now. Tomorrow we go back to the hard, daily work of making good on the promise of the real American Dream, the one too many have fought and died for: Real equality, real cooperation, and a decent and free existence for all who live and breathe in these United States and around the world.