In order to understand the latest turn of events in embattled Wisconsin, it is necessary to review recent history.
Before running for the governorship in 2010, Scott Walker served two terms as Milwaukee County executive. Milwaukee County is a Democratic Party stronghold, one of the three most resolutely Democratic of the state’s 72 counties (the other two: Dane, the seat of state capital Madison and main campus of the University of Wisconsin; and Menomonee, populated almost entirely by Menomonee Indians). In 2009, one of Walker’s staffers reported some apparent financial irregularities to him concerning a veterans’ charity which he ran, and Walker asked the county district attorney to look into them.
What is called a “John Doe” probe was launched, and indeed an aide was caught embezzling funds from the charity, prosecuted, and convicted. But in the course of the investigation, two other staffers (including, ironically, the one who had reported the irregularities in the first place) were also caught engaging in non-official tasks on government time using government computers. These are technical violations of state law concerning political activities whose enforcement is often controversial and widely believed to be highly partisan. In this case, there were again prosecutions.
Nothing was found suggesting that Walker had any knowledge of these activities (a bit more on that later). However, the same district attorney’s office considered these minor incidents evidence of possible higher-level shenanigans, and a judge was persuaded to permit the launching of a second “John Doe” investigation after Walker was elected governor. This was based on the rather bizarre theory that any level of communication between third-party advocacy groups (such as Americans for Prosperity [AFP]) and a candidate for office was illegal under state law.
Four years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars later, no evidence of any wrongdoing whatsoever has surfaced about Walker. Two judges — one state and one federal — have ruled against the probe. The federal judge found the theory unconstitutional; appeals are pending however, and the federal judge’s ruling was overturned by the federal appeals court in Chicago.
The Wisconsin head of AFP has filed a countersuit against the district attorney for unconstitutional search, seizure, and harassment after police broke into his home in the middle of the night and confiscated not only his electronic devices but those of his children, searching for “evidence.”
In the wake of the countersuit, a whistleblower has come forward from the DA’s office to report on record that the probe has largely been fueled by political animus and personal spite: the DA’s wife is an official of the teachers’ union who has been terribly upset ever since Walker’s administration passed the “Act 10” legislation, which curtailed public employee union power and was a major tool in balancing the state’s budget.
Walker’s successor as county executive — Chris Abele, a long-time activist and advocate of leftist causes and Democratic politics — has proven a fairly able administrator, better than most conservatives expected, hut nonetheless a bitter partisan. His politics are a matter of record: he has so far contributed over $63,000 to Walker’s opponent, Mary Burke, and previously he was a generous supporter of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who ran against Walker in the union-engineered gubernatorial recall election of 2011 (Walker made American political history by being the first governor of a U.S. state to survive a recall election).
On October 21, Abele made a data dump of 16,000 pages of e-mails sent and received by Walker as county executive, thus reigniting interest in the old investigations a mere two weeks before the general election. Needless to say, political motives are suspected.
Beyond creating a headline in the immediate run-up to the election, there are no new revelations in the e-mails. They had all been gone over with a fine-tooth comb. And amongst them is Walker’s e-mail concerning one of the staffers accused of improper activities, whom he said was to be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
A mere two hours before the data dump took place, Burke’s campaign released a new ad impugning Walker’s integrity, containing the line: “Four years of political fistfights, criminal convictions, and secret donations. We can’t afford four more years of Scott Walker and we don’t have to.” (As of this writing, no support for the allegations of “secret donations” has been offered).
In a subsequent press conference, reported in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Burke — of course — denied any prior discussion or coördination with Abele: “The timing is that people, when they go to the polls, need to consider Governor Walker’s entire record over the past four years when looking at the next four years. Part of that … [is] certainly the scandal around his administration.”
Television ads, of course, are routinely produced overnight without prior discussion or coördination, and four years are easily expandable to twelve, n’est-ce pas?
Yes, that is sarcasm. You may now shake your head in cynical wonderment.