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Friday, June 24, 2022

Walker’s unethical staff under scrutiny

Two weeks ago, Gov. Scott Walker quietly announced the creation of a legal defense fund in response to a John Doe investigation that has resulted in the arrest of several formal Walker staff members.  The probe started with allegations of misconduct among his staff while he was the Milwaukee County Executive and has since expanded to investigating his gubernatorial campaign. Because of the probe’s secrecy—hence,“John Doe”—the full extent of its inquiries aren’t known. But the charges already levied against Walker’s former staffers expose the morally vacuous environment that has followed Walker from Milwaukee to the state house.  

Charges resulting from the investigation include misconduct, embezzlement of funds and illegal campaign contributions. But, the patterns of the investigation hint at more serious charges like corruption and pay-for-play agreements with campaign contributors.

One of the probe’s more interesting actions has been the arrest of commercial real estate mogul Andrew Jensen. He was arrested for not cooperating with the probe, specifically its inquiries into the Milwaukee county bidding process while Walker was Milwaukee county executive. The bidding process determines what companies are awarded government contracts. The process is central to combating corruption in local government. The investigations into Walker’s bidding practices go hand in hand with the larger allegations of pay-for-play corruption that have floated around his tenure in Milwaukee County and as governor.

One of the more serious convictions to come out of the John Doe probe is William Gardner’s, the president and CEO of Wisconsin and Southern railroads. The courts  fined him $166,000 for illegally channeling $56,000 to Walker’s campaigns. Democrats have linked Gardner’s contributions to the sale of the Wisconsin and Southern to Watco Transportation, and fought to halt the sale, but failed. Wisconsin and Southern is now owned by Watco, which lists Koch Industries as its largest customer. The Department of Transportation maintains that its oversight of the sale was not influenced by Walker’s office. Wisconsin and Southern has also been the recipient of massive state grants on the order of $14 million for upkeep and repair. Considering Walker killed the high-speed rail, approved massive grants for Wisconsin and Southern, rubber-stamped its sale and accepted Gardner’s illegal campaign contributions, the conspiracy and corruption rallying call is certainly louder than ever. And the cries must be starting to echo in Walker’s ears.

The legal defense fund Walker has established indicates the probe’s focus might be closer to Walker than previously expected. The Government Accountability Board has specific guidelines for establishing this type of fund. It’s permitted when an official “is being investigated for or charged with a violation of campaign finance laws or prohibited election practices.”

So what does the fund’s inception mean? Certainly, Walker is more tied to the John Doe investigation than he would like. The embattled governor is now between the rock of the probe and the hard place of his impending recall election. The pattern of the investigation, which has given several of Walker’s aides immunity in exchange for their cooperation, seems to indicate that the probe is trying to climb up the hierarchy. Whether Walker is on top of that dissolute ladder is yet to be seen. It is easy to imagine that one of his top aides is behind all of the misconduct, or at least will be willing to take the fall for it. However, any appearance of Walker as squeaky-clean should already be shattered.

After an early development in the John Doe probe, Walker sent out an email to his staff that seems...sketchy. It reads, “We cannot afford another story like this one. No one can give them any reason to do another story. That means no laptops, no websites.” Walker, at a minimum, was tangentially aware of the misconduct that his staff was perpetrating.  

The probe has already exposed Walker and his staff as unethical, secretive and possibly corrupt. If we judge a leader by the environment he cultivates around him, there is no way to consider Walker’s stay in Milwaukee successful.

David is a senior majoring in English. Please send all feedback to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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