Abby Scher on the race to elect Maine's next Governor
A former Wisconsin attorney general and a Milwaukee county supervisor who was subpoenaed by the John Doe prosecutor are both wondering why Scott Walker wasn't charged with violating the state's public records law while he was Milwaukee county executive.
The recently released 27,000 pages of documents from the first John Doe investigation provided enough evidence to bring such a charge, they say.
John Weishan, a Democrat and a critic of Walker on the Milwaukee County board, submitted an open records request for the computer communications in the county executive's office back in the spring of 2010. Weishan suspected at the time that Walker or members of his staff were doing campaign work on the public dime, which turned out to be the case.
But Weishan received only four vacuous pages back in response to his request, along with a bill for $2,800 and the accusation from Walker's staff that the supervisor was engaged in a "fishing expedition."
Today, Weishan says, he feels vindicated. The document dump "proves that everything I thought was going on at the time did take place," he says.
The documents show Walker regularly communicating on a private e-mail system during work hours both on campaign business and county business.
Cindy Archer, Walker's deputy, told another staffer about the secret communication network: "Consider yourself now in the 'inner circle.' :) I use this private account quite a bit to communicate with SKW." Those are Walker's initials.
In another e-mail, Walker asked Archer to "get me all the facts" to counter an attack by his Republican primary challenger.
Weishan points a finger directly at Walker.
"It's clear from the e-mails that not only did Scott Walker know but he was the head cheerleader in orchestrating keeping this secret and conducting business outside the realm of the public," Weishan says. "He actively engaged in business to defraud the public."
Weishan says that's a felony, and he adds that "submitting a false response to an open records request is also a felony."
Weishan says the prosecutors asked for all the documents relating to his open records request, which he handed over to them. John Chisholm, the district attorney leading the investigation, along with assistant DA Bruce Landgraf, then interviewed him about this.
Weishan says he doesn't want to criticize Chisholm, but he adds: "This is one of the few cases where it's extremely crystal clear that Walker not only conspired to break the open records law, but he did break the open records law."
That law states that "all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them."
It adds that "an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees whose responsibility it is to provide such information." This "shall be construed in every instance with a presumption of complete public access."
According to a "compliance outline" written by current Wisconsin attorney General JB Van Hollen, a Republican, public records include "e-mail sent or received on an authority's computer system" and "personal e-mail sent by officers or employees of the authority," as well as "e-mail conducting government business sent or received on the personal e-mail account of an authority's officer or employee."
It is a felony to violate this law. "Whoever with intent to injure or defraud destroys, damages, removes or conceals any public record is guilty of a Class H felony," the Wisconsin statutes say. And the penalty for a Class H felony is "a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 6 years, or both." Former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat, also believes there was sufficient evidence to indict Walker. She says the documents show two kinds of illegal activities: "One that are political, done on state time to coordinate campaign. And two, you've got these documents that should be public record, and clearly they did this to avoid public records laws."
The fact that Walker knew that campaign work was "being done on public time," says Lautenschlager, "coupled with the fact that he was on this secret system, is enough to show intent."