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Duly Noted

Tuesday, Jun 5, 2012, 9:24 am

Wisconsin Recall Vote: Required Reading

By Lindsay Beyerstein

Anti-Walker protesters in March of 2011.   Dave Hoefler, Creative Commons.

Investigative journalist Joe Conason asks why the national media have been so quiet about the campaign finance scandal unravelling around Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who faces a recall vote today:

The typical reference to the scandal in the national media notes that Tom Barrett, Walker’s Democratic opponent, is seeking to “stoke suspicions” regarding the investigation, “in which former Walker aides stand accused of allegedly misappropriating campaign funds.” But the suspicions have been stoked by actual events, not campaign propaganda, including guilty pleas, immunity deals, and home raids by law enforcement officials. (Last September, a team of sheriff’s deputies and FBI agents raided the Madison home of Cindy Archer, a former top county official who served as the governor’s deputy administration secretary until going on extended “sick leave” in 2011.)  And Walker’s associates stand accused of felonies that go well beyond the mere misuse of campaign funds.

Without close attention to the Wisconsin media, you might not know that a top Walker associate is currently facing charges of embezzling funds from a veteran’s charity – or that Walker’s former spokeswoman just became the 13th figure in the scandal to accept an immunity deal from prosecutors. Indeed, nearly all of Walker’s highest-ranking aides and associates from his years as county executive appear to be either facing prosecution or cutting immunity deals to save themselves. [National Memo]

The scandal has gone largely unremarked outside of Wisconsin in part because the Milwaukee County prosecutors chose to shield Walker under the state's John Doe law. The prosecutors hoped that Walker's office would be more forthcoming if it were shielded from public scrutiny, according to recently released court documents.

While Walker was Milwaukee county executive, thousands of dollars in donations disappeared from Operation Freedom, a veterans' charity underwritten in part by county officials.

Walker has claimed that he initiated the investigation into the missing money and that he cooperated fully with investigators, but a recently unearthed court document appears to partially contradict his story.

In the filing, the assistant district attorney asks permission to launch a secret investigation in the hopes of getting more cooperation from Walker's office. At that point, Walker's office had yet to hand over documents that the DA had requested.

Walker's office alerted the DA about the missing money, but the paper trail suggests they stopped cooperating with the investigation at some point.

The probe of the missing Operation Freedom donations ultimately uncovered wrondgoing far beyond the initial scope of the inquiry. The probe ultimately led to charges against three former Walker aides, an appointee and a major campaign contributor. Walker has set aside at least $160,000 for his legal defense fund.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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