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February 19, 2014 12:05 PM Scott Walker and Campaigning on the Public’s Dime

By Ed Kilgore

The esteemed Charles Pierce of Esquire seems quite sure that corruption investigations will eventually bring down WI Gov. Scott Walker, particularly if he has the temerity to run for president.

WaPo’s Rosalind Henderson has a report on the two particular investigations that have Walker allies worried. One, already concluded, involves misappropriation of public funds via staffers doing campaign work on the public’s time and dime when he was Milwaukee county executive. It’s already led to the conviction of six former Walker aides. The second involves alleged coordination of Walker’s 2012 anti-recall campaign with “independent” conservative groups.

Documents leaking out from the first investigation are the big problem right now, as Walker is in the middle of a re-election campaign and may soon be gearing up for a presidential run:

The e-mails being released Wednesday come from the files of Kelly Rindfleisch, a former Walker deputy chief of staff who in 2012 pleaded guilty to a felony for performing political work for a Walker-backed lieutenant governor candidate during hours she was being paid by taxpayers to do county business. The e-mails are being unsealed as part of her appeal.
Prosecutors said she sent 1,400 e-mails on county time related to political fundraising. More than 2,200 e-mails, they said, went to Walker campaign officials.
Many were sent using a private e-mail address and an Internet router installed in the county executive office suite with the intention of shielding the work from public access, prosecutors said.
Walker was copied on a handful of e-mails, released by prosecutors during Rindfleisch’s sentencing, that showed county workers and campaign aides jointly coordinating strategy.

Like some of the antics of Chris Christie’s staff, what these disclosure lack in actionable criminal violations they certainly supply as an indication of clumsiness and arrogance. Separating official and campaign activities for elected officials and their taxpayer-funded staffs is an ancient but essential challenge central to any effort to avoid the appearance of influence-peddling or extortion. Even back in the late 1980s when I worked in the U.S. Senate, it was common to pay a portion of the salaries of Senate staffers whose duties invariably involved campaign-related work (schedulers, field representatives, or in my case, speechwriters) out of campaign funds to avoid public subsides for campaign work. In 1994 when I worked for Gov. Zell Miller of GA when he was in a tough re-election campaign, our rules against regular communication between official and campaign staff were so strict that those of us on the official side referred to the campaign as “Angka,” the term used by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge for the shadowy junta to whom ultimate decisions about the country were attributed.

So by the time Scott Walker became county executive and was looking for higher office, the pitfalls involved in letting your publicly paid staff do campaign work were extremely well known. Whether they show criminal activity by Walker or not, those thousands of emails are embarrassing, and a living warning to potential supporters of a Walker presidential run that he may not run the tightest ship.

UPDATE: Note to commenter pamelabrown53: Yes, as I have repeatedly disclosed here, I worked for Zell Miller from the fall of 1992 until the end of 1994, long before he was doing things like attacking the patriotism of John Kerry or endorsing Republicans for office. I’ve repeatedly torn him new ones (viz: here) for all these apostasies.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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