GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Gov. Walker calls the John Doe process over, presiding Judge hasn't said the same
Governor Scott Walker says the John Doe probe into his and other recall elections is over -- even though prosecutors and the presiding judge have not declared an end to it yet. The Republican Walker told Fox News this morning that the investigation has "been resolved" by two judges, who made individual decisions that went his way during the course of the probe. State reserve judge Gregory Peterson squashed subpoenas late last year against potential targets, saying he found no probable cause of wrongdoing. Last month, Federal Judge Rudolph Randa at least temporarily halted the probe. He said the Wisconsin Club for Growth had its free speech rights violated by being ordered by prosecutors to remain silent during this active election year. According to court records released yesterday, prosecutors said Walker and two Republican operatives broke election laws by coordinating campaigns and fund-raising, using candidates and a dozen outside conservative groups. On the "Fox and Friends" show, Walker declared "No charges, case over." A federal appeals court in Chicago is still considering a request by prosecutors to get the investigation going again. Walker says it's all a "prime example of what happens when you take on the big government interests," referring to his Act-10 law that virtually eliminated collective bargaining by most public unions. Walker -- a potential G-O-P presidential candidate in 2016 -- also said he'd have to rely on "a lot of grassroots support" to win his tight re-election battle this fall against Democrat Mary Burke.
Yesterday's major release of court records might not be the last in the Walker John Doe investigation. Milwaukee Federal Judge Rudolph Randa turned down the release of all documents connected with the probe, as sought by five media groups in Wisconsin. However, Randa ordered state prosecutors to work with one of the targets of the John Doe -- the Wisconsin Club for Growth -- and decide which documents should be kept under wraps. The judge is giving them two weeks to get that done. Randa's order came after the release of 250 documents, in which prosecutors alleged that Governor Scott Walker and two G-O-P strategists headed an illegal coordination effort with a dozen conservative groups. It reportedly sought to help the governor and Republican senators survive recall challenges against them in 2011-and-'12. Jay Heck of the watchdog group Common Cause calls it a "game-changing development," although there have been no charges.
Governor Scott Walker's campaign launched a T-V attack ad against Democrat Mary Burke today, less than a day after allegations surfaced that he broke campaign laws. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the 30-second ad is due to run through July first in every state T-V market except Duluth-Superior and the nearby Twin Cities. It again ties Burke -- the former Trek Bicycle executive and former state commerce secretary -- to former Governor Jim Doyle. The ad said they "gambled taxpayer money on dreadful policies." Walker campaign spokesman Tom Evenson said Doyle's people brought tax hikes, job losses, and budget deficits to Wisconsin -- and the state cannot afford to let Burke take the state backward. Burke spokesman Joe Zepecki said Walker launched "false, negative attacks on a proven job creator." The paper said the 245-thousand-dollar ad buy was arranged before yesterday's release of court documents, in which prosecutors allege that Walker and two G-O-P operatives head an illegal coordination between candidates and outside conservative groups on their campaigns during the 2011-and-'12 recall votes. Those allegations are part of a John Doe investigation in which Walker told a national T-V audience was "resolved." A request by prosecutors to revive the probe is pending before a federal appeals court in Chicago.
The two main candidates for governor each blamed the other, after yesterday's report that Wisconsin had the nation's 14th-slowest job growth last year. However, economists warned us not to take the political spin. They said the state's problems are much deeper than the magic wand that any state politician can wave. The federal report said Wisconsin increased its private sector job base by one-point-two percent last year, nine-tenths lower than the national average. U-W Milwaukee labor analyst John Heywood says a government's tax and infra-structure policies can help -- but it's still "notoriously difficult" to re-invent a state's industrial climate. U-W Whitewater professor Russell Kashian said government can foster an environment for creating jobs beyond what already exists -- but he says the vast majority of jobs are not created through government action. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says business leaders and economists have pointed a host of reasons of why the state's job picture is so slow to change. They include Wisconsin's aging industries like printing plants, paper mills, and century-old foundries. They point to a lack of entrepreneurship and venture capital for new high-tech industries compared to other states. Also, they say Wisconsin produces fewer students with college educations.
For now at least, Governor Scott Walker's main election opponent is taking a quiet high-road concerning the allegations that Walker broke campaign laws in 2012. Democrat Mary Burke's chief spokesman would only say that "Wisconsinites deserve a governor they can trust." Over 200 pages of court documents were released yesterday from a temporarily-halted John Doe probe. Prosecutors alleged that Walker and two G-O-P strategists headed a "criminal scheme" to illegally coordinate campaign fundraising between a dozen conservative groups and the recall election campaigns of Walker and G-O-P state senators. Special prosecutor Francis Schmitz said multiple laws were broken, including the filing of false campaign finance reports. No charges have been filed, and Walker said two federal and state judges vindicated him. Instead of hammering her opponent on the John Doe, Burke chose to highlight the state's relatively slow progress in creating jobs. A federal report yesterday showed that Wisconsin had the nation's 37th slowest job growth percentage during 2013.
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville was among Republicans who grilled the I-R-S commissioner today about a former agency official's missing e-mails. John Koskinen appeared before the House Ways-and-Means Committee. He refused to apologize for the loss of I-R-S e-mails concerning the allegations that the nation's tax agency unfairly investigated tea party groups. A week ago, the I-R-S confirmed it could not produce some e-mails from the central figure in the matter -- former agency official Lois Lerner -- because her computer had crashed in 2011. Koskinen told lawmakers the hard drive was recycled, and presumably, it was destroyed. He told the House panel today he would not give Congress any more details about the lost e-mails until his agency's review is finished. He cited media statements from Republicans as inaccurate -- and as he put it, "We're not going to dribble out the information and have it played out in the press." Ryan said he didn't believe Koskinen's version of the story. Koskinen said it was the first time anyone alleged that they didn't believe him during his long government career.
Dane County officials have tallied more than 15-million dollars in damage from tornadoes early Tuesday, and a second round of thunderstorms Wednesday. County Executive Joe Parisi reports almost eleven-million dollars in damage to homes and four-million to public facilities -- mostly to the Country View Elementary School in Verona. More than 150 homes and a dozen businesses were damaged in Dane County, mostly in Verona and Madison. At least two homes were destroyed. To the south in Green County, officials said 80 homes were damaged, with losses of 150-thousand dollars. At Platteville, three people were still in a Red Cross-Salvation Army shelter yesterday in the wake of two tornadoes which hit that community. A tornado relief fund has been set up at Platteville's Mound City Bank as the damage cleanups continue. Once all the estimates are in, state officials expect to consider whether it's enough to seek federal disaster aid. Governor Scott Walker has promised that uninsured residents will get some type of federal or state relief. Meanwhile, more rain and thunderstorms hit Wisconsin yesterday. Trees fell in parts of Grant County. Parts of Crawford County had street flooding.