Saturday, June 02, 2012

Wisconsin Recall: Will Money Talk?

The recall in Wisconsin is now days away and the outcome by no means certain. In the meantime the corruption investigation which has been simmering for months shows signs of having the potential of overshadowing the recall itself as new information comes to light on almost a daily basis. This article in Salon highlights some of what has developed:
The two-year-old corruption investigation into Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker reached a major inflection point just days before his recall election next week when it came out that Walker had transferred $100,000 of campaign money to his legal defense fund and seemed to acknowledge that he is the center of the probe.... The probe reportedly started with a single staffer who had worked for Walker when he was Milwaukee’s county executive, but it has since grown much larger, touching almost everyone who has worked for Walker, and even the governor himself, and producing several arrests and convictions. Documents made public last night show prosecutors requested the secret investigation after they found Walker’s office “unable or unwilling” to provide information. “It may be the county executive’s office is reluctant to provide information to investigators due to a fear of political embarrassment,” an assistant DA wrote to a judge in May 2010. Walker has maintained that he has cooperated with prosecutors all along, so the document casts doubt on his story of the proceedings. Asked about the stonewalling last night, he essentially called the report untrue.
The whole subject of Walker's criminal defense fund itself raises many, at this point unanswered questions.
Walker, thus far, has maintained that he is not the target of the investigation. But under Wisconsin law, politicians can only use their legal defense funds for themselves or their staffs, and Walker said this week that none of the money from the fund would go to his staff, suggesting it would be used only to defend himself. Democrats seized on the comment as an admission from Walker that he is personally a target. Walker had already contributed $60,000 to the fund — which comes from campaign donors whom he refuses to name — before this week’s transfer, bringing his total legal war chest to $160,000. He claims the money is being used to help turn over documents to investigators, but some experts point out this amount of money suggests a more sophisticated legal defense representing hundreds of hours of attorney work. There are also email records suggesting that Walker was personally involved in trying to stem the bleeding when the first allegations came out.
One of the most disconcerting aspects of the recall has been the the obscene amounts of money involved in what is a demonstration case of what post-Citizens United politics are going to look like. gives an accounting of the fund raising in what is arguably the most expensive political undertaking in Wisconsin history:
Walker, in the fight of his political life, raised $5.9 million along between April 24 and May 21, according to finance disclosures posted at the Government Accountability Board website. He has raised around $31 million since he took the oath of office in early January 2011. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker’s Democrat challenger in next week’s unprecedented gubernatorial recall election, took in $3.4 million more than the most recent five-week reporting period, and has raised $4.2 million since jumping into the race in late March. Walker’s totals to date are record-setting by every measure, with the governor far outpacing his previous campaign finance high-water mark of $11 million-plus in 2010. Critics have knocked Walker for his legal ability under Wisconsin recall law to raise unlimited campaign funds through the first stage of the recall campaign. But Walker in recent week still has dwarfed his challenger in the money chase.
I close with the Kinks:

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