ICYMI: "Emails reveal seamy campaign operation"

Nov 20, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial

Scott Walker’s hired guns for his 2010 gubernatorial campaign exerted heavy influence over Milwaukee County government as Walker, then county executive, ran for governor, according to an assistant district attorney who spoke this week during the sentencing of a former Walker aide.

Bruce Landgraf displayed email after email between Kelly M. Rindfleisch and top members of the Walker campaign staff that exposed a seamy underbelly of the Walker campaign and raised as many questions as it answers. The governor should explain why he thought the behavior Landgraf exposed was acceptable.

Among the unanswered questions: Has the 2½-year-old John Doe investigation run its course? If not, where might it go from here? The district attorney isn’t saying. So far, four people have been convicted.

While there may be nothing illegal about any of what Landgraf says happened, the alleged activities inside the courthouse are the antithesis of good government. And they appear to violate Walker’s pledge to separate his work as county executive from the campaign.

Asked about it Tuesday, Walker’s campaign spokesman reissued a statement given to the media earlier:

“It is not unusual for campaign staff and an elected official’s staff to routinely discuss the appropriate way to schedule meetings, determine a point of contact for emergencies, or how to address media inquiries directed at both the official office and the campaign office.”

But based on Landgraf’s presentation, Walker’s “Campaign Group” went well beyond scheduling niceties.

This “Campaign Group” was composed of Walker; Keith Gilkes, campaign chief of staff at the time; campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader; and campaign adviser R.J. Johnson. It also included top county aides to Walker: Cindy Archer, who was county administration director; county chief of staff Tom Nardelli; spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin; housing director Timothy Russell; and Rindfleisch.

Five members of the group spoke by phone every day at 8 a.m. to keep the county executive’s office “in sync” with the “image” the campaign was pushing as Walker ran against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

The Campaign Group vetted news releases issued by Walker’s county office, including how the county responded to the June 24, 2010, death of Jared Kellner, a 15-year-old killed when a concrete panel fell from the O’Donnell Park parking structure.

In an email written the day of the accident, Gilkes told county staff to “make sure there is not a piece of paper anywhere that details any problem at all.”

In another email, Rindfleisch acknowledged to Gilkes, “You guys are in the driver’s seat.”

The group also was involved in responding to news reports in the Journal Sentinel in August 2010 about patient sexual assaults at the county Mental Health Complex. At one point, Gilkes chided Walker’s county staff for not being more forceful on the patient abuse issue.

“Tell (county Deputy Corporation Counsel Timothy) Schoewe we’re getting the crap kicked out of us. I would like him to stop being a lawyer and think political,” Gilkes wrote.

We have no idea if there is more here than meets the eye. But what’s clear from the emails is that Walker’s campaign staff was helping to manage county government for the benefit of only one citizen – Scott Walker. How is that acceptable conduct?

Read this online here.