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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Issue of the Week: Scott Walker's Legal Defense Fund

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On Friday afternoon, Gov. Scott Walker's campaign quietly announced that it had set up a legal defense fund to pay for the governor's attorneys' ongoing work in the John Doe investigation.

The fund has the Orwellian name "The Scott Walker Trust."

If Walker was hoping that the announcement would end the matter, it didn't. In fact, it raises more questions than answers.

A spokeswoman for Walker didn't return the Shepherd's call to sort out fact from misinformation.

That's unfortunate, because Walker should come clean with the people of Wisconsin about his legal troubles and campaign donors.

Wisconsin voters have a right to know why Scott Walker is the state's first sitting governor to set up a legal defense fund.

We also need to know who is paying Walker's legal bills now and who has paid them in the past few months.

According to state statute, a candidate or elected official can set up a legal defense fund if that official "is being investigated for, charged with or convicted of a criminal violation" stemming from illegal campaign or election practices. But the statute also appears to state that the candidate or elected official can also set up a legal defense fund if that person's "agent" is being investigated, charged or convicted of a criminal violation. "Agent" isn't defined.

His supporters are trying to spin the fund as a way for Walker to pay his multiple, high-priced criminal defense attorneys because his "agent"—say, a campaign worker—is in legal trouble, not Walker himself.

If that's the case, then Walker should say so and clear up this confusion.

And while he's at it, Walker should explain what information he used to justify the creation of this special "legal defense fund" where he or his "agent" is being investigated or charged or was convicted of a political crime. Did Walker receive a subpoena to appear before the John Doe judge? Did Walker ask Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm to call the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and vouch for him? Or is Walker trying to claim that those who have been charged—county staffers, a staffer's partner, a campaign donor and a veterans' board member—are somehow "agents" of his campaign? Thus far, none of the existing criminal complaints indicates that Walker's gubernatorial campaign did anything wrong. His supporters would have you believe that Walker's "agent" is in serious trouble but that Walker himself is squeaky-clean, despite needing multiple, high-priced criminal defense attorneys for a campaign matter.

Then there are the questions about the money being channeled into Walker's legal defense fund. Walker cannot use the unlimited funds he's raising for his recall campaign for a criminal defense involving allegations of illegal activity that occurred when he was Milwaukee County executive. He has to use the donations above the normal legal limit for his recall, period.

In addition, state statute requires Walker to get his donors' permission to use their contributions for his criminal defense fund. However, the GAB doesn't require Walker to get that permission in writing, nor must Walker submit anything to the board proving that he has gotten their permission. We'll just have to take it on faith, apparently, that Walker is acting ethically.

Walker will have to disclose which donations have been transferred to his legal defense fund this summer. But he won't have to disclose the defense fund's expenditures until next year. So Wisconsin will be in the dark about which attorneys are on his payroll. Are they limited to his own attorneys? Or will Walker pay for the legal fees for his "agent" and others?

Wisconsin is in uncharted territory. Walker is the state's first sitting governor to face a recall; he's also Wisconsin's first sitting governor to need a legal defense fund. That these events are happening at the same time makes the situation even more complex. Walker shouldn't be able to exploit loopholes in state law to conceal important information from the public.

Will Wisconsin hold him accountable?

Hero of the Week
: Rose Daitsman

"Tireless advocate" would be an apt descriptor for Rose Daitsman, who has spent the greater part of her 80-plus years working to tear down barriers and level the playing field of opportunity for women and minorities. A former administrator at UW-Milwaukee, Daitsman has worked for gender equality and the elimination of racial discrimination in engineering education. She has been involved in Milwaukee's cooperative housing programs and reform work for the W-2 "Wisconsin Works" program. Daitsman, who remains very active within the community, has received the World Federalist Peace Award, as well as recognition from the U.S. Department of Energy and Community Shares of Greater Milwaukee.

On Saturday, March 17, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin will present Daitsman with a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of its annual "Bill of Rights Celebration." For more information, visit www.aclu-wi.org
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