Walker owes explanation on scandals
|Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley);||Date: Feb 9, 2012;||Section: Opinion;||Page: 8A|
Walker owes explanation on scandals
Aides accused of fundraising on county time
Shortly before he died, President Warren G. Harding complained about the scandals that surrounded his administration. “I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies in a fight. But my damn friends, they’re the ones who keep me walking the floor nights.”
On Tuesday, Darlene Wink pleaded guilty to political fundraising from her Milwaukee County office on county time. Wink worked on two fundraisers for then-County Executive Scott Walker. She denies Walker had any knowledge of her work on those fundraisers.
Given that Wink was doing that work for the Milwaukee County Republican Party and not as an operative of the Walker campaign, it’s understandable that Walker would not know about her work on those fundraisers. Like the earlier allegations against Walker aide and friend Tim Russell, the charges against Wink do not present a threat to Walker.
It’s the charges against the other Walker aide that present the bigger problem.
Kelly Rindfleisch is accused of fundraising from her Milwaukee County office for Brett Davis, a candidate for lieutenant governor. According to the criminal complaint against Rindfleisch, she was hired by Russell as a policy analyst for Walker.
In a text message exchange with another Walker confidant, Rindfleisch said that half her work was being done for the Walker campaign for governor.
During that time, Rindfleisch was hired by Cullen Werwie, the campaign manager for Davis, to do fundraising for the Davis campaign. Werwie is currently the governor’s spokesman, and Brett Davis is the state Medicaid director.
Rindfleisch had to know that doing fundraising work from her office on county time was against the law because she had already been granted immunity previously in the investigation of the caucus scandal in Madison, which was about the very same type of activity.
Both Davis and Werwie had to know, too, that fundraising from a government office on government time is a serious violation of the law, yet both contacted Rindfleisch about fundraising issues repeatedly during working hours.
The John Doe investigation also turned up an unofficial Internet link used by Rindfleisch and others to allegedly circumvent any open records requests that would have turned up illegal campaign activity.
It’s entirely possible that Walker didn’t know about the unofficial Internet network set up by Russell. The wireless router for my entire house is about as big as a laptop computer. However, we have no explanation from Walker’s administration for the existence of the network, nor do we know if Walker knew anything about it.
As part of the John Doe investigation, Werwie was granted immunity. That makes it very difficult for the Walker administration to answer any questions about the investigation. When the administration refers questions to Walker’s campaign, the campaign is also under investigation.
Walker will voluntarily meet with the district attorney investigating his administration as Milwaukee County executive. That means it is unlikely we can expect an explanation from Walker on what he knew of the possible illegal political campaign activities under him as Milwaukee County executive.
The longer this drags on, the more harm there is to Walker. It doesn’t help Walker that this investigation comes in the midst of a recall effort.
Keeping a spokesman like Werwie that was directly involved in the alleged illegal activities just makes it more difficult for Walker’s administration to defend itself. The Walker administration needs to be able to explain what Walker knew about the activities in the county executive’s offices while he was there. Unless the governor breaks his personal silence on the investigation, there is nobody else that can speak for him.
Then there’s the ethics question. Walker has the same information we all do about Rindfleisch’s fundraising activities on Davis’ behalf. What possible reason could Walker have for keeping Davis and Werwie?
In the recall campaign, so far the Democrats have failed to put up a real challenger to Walker. But as the John Doe investigation drags on, the real challenge to Walker may be his own friends.
The public is waiting for an explanation. Who can give it?