The caucus scandals again rose in prominence in the past year as Walkergate, the John Doe investigation into Scott Walker, his campaign and his staff at Milwaukee County, revealed that they were also partaking in illegal politicking while on the taxpayers dime.
While many in the state, including myself, thought that Walkergate was the be all end all of scandals, it appears that it might have been just the tip of the iceberg.
Let me explain.
Recently, when the Democrats finally reclaimed the majority in the state senate, many people, mostly Republicans, thought it was a meaningless gesture and a waste of everyone's time and money. Their rationale for this feeling was that, thanks to their gerrymandering, the Republicans were ensured to regain the majority in the fall. Furthermore, because the legislature is out of session until next year, the Democrats would be unable to get anything done before they lost control of the senate again.
However, it just may be that gerrymandering that they were so proud of which might prove to be a major problem for them.
We saw some of the corruption that went on behind the gerrymandering when it was revealed that the lawmakers had done such things as signed secrecy pacts. It was then learned that at least two Republican aides, Tad Ottman and Adam Foltz, were working out of the Michael Best & Friedrich law offices while they were supposed to be doing the state's work.
When the Democrats regained control of the senate, one of things that did happen is that they were able to get their hands on all the documents regarding the gerrymandering. When these became available, most of the media focused on the partisanship of the gerrymandering and how it was obviously meant to infringe on voters' rights. While this is undeniably true, it is also only part of the story.
For example, there is one email from Andy Speth, who is Paul Ryan's Chief of Staff:
Thank you for being available to participate in the call this afternoon with the Speaker, the Majority Leader and Congressman Ryan. The purpose of the call is to get everyone on the same page as far as the process and timing of the congressional redistricting map is concerned.What a nice, polite email showing a team working together, right?
Well, not exactly.
Take a look at the whole email.
First note the names of the people to whom Speth is emailing:
- Tad Ottman - Staffer for Senator Scott Fitzgerald and one of the two working in the law firm while being paid by the taxpayers.
- Adam Foltz - Staffer for Representative Jeff Fitzgerald and one of the two working in the law firm while being paid by the taxpayers.
- Andy Gustofson - Another staffer for Jeff Fitzgerald.
- Judith Rhodes-Engels - Now this is where it starts to get interesting. Rhodes-Engels works for WISGOP and his the main fundraiser for Scott Fitzgerald.
So what is a fundraiser for WISGOP doing on this email list?
|Scott Fitzgerald and Judith Rhodes-Engels|
This would indicate that they were doing government work using their private emails, except for Rhodes-Engels. For that, Speth used her WISGOP address. You don't suppose they were doing this to avoid open record requests, do you?
Now look at the time of the email: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 9:53 am.
I find it unlikely that they all were off on that day. And even if they were, that still doesn't explain why they were discussing government business on private emails or why a political operative was involved in the discussion.
I also find it curious why the Fitzgerald boys and Ryan were having their staffers and political aides involved in a process that was so super secret that they had to have all the legislators sign secrecy pacts. Was it secret to give them an advantage or was it secret to hide the fact that they were practicing illegal politics?
Now let's take a look at a second email:
Look at the first line of this missive:
To keep all of us in the loop at the staff level, I want to share with you the feedback I received from Congressman Ryan regarding the conversation he had this morning with the Speaker and the Majority Leader.Well, that clarifies that they are doing this as staffers. But it also highlights the fact that they are doing so on private emails and with a political operative, Rhodes-Engels, in their midst.
Keep in mind that Rhodes-Engels has been discussed here before. She was first introduced when she pretended to be just a normal Milwaukee County-residing, Harley-riding woman who supported Scott Walker and went along for his campaign motorcycle ride. Her name also came up in Walkergate in that she shared Scott Fitzgerald's campaign donor database with Kelly Rindfleisch so that Rindfleisch could help raise funds for Walker and Brett Davis, Walker's choice for Lieutenant Governor.
I have also become aware of the fact that she has often been witnessed to be in Scott Fitzgerald's office in the Capitol, which is a distinct no-no.
Now we find her involved with the gerrymandering scheme.
Was she involved in order to glean information to be used in fundraising for the inevitable court fights? Was she there to give insight on the possible political ramifications? Or is she simply a Jill-of-all-trades and used interchangeably between legislative and political business?
What makes this even more ridiculous is that Rhodes-Engels was involved in the first caucus scandal (p. 16):
[DCI Special Agent] Strauss reports that she has participated in interviews with Judith Rhodes Engels (“Engels"), who has stated in part the following. Engels was state-employed in the Ladwig Capitol office November 1996 - March 2001. Sherry Schultz was in charge of fundraising for individual Republican members of the Assembly, including completing their campaign finance reports and assisting in fundraisers. After the 1998 elections, Engels and Ladwig discussed the fact that Schultz was “creating a monster” in that legislators were becoming too dependent on Schultz and her campaign finance related services. Engels worked with Schultz on fundraising issues. Schultz did not appear to have any duties other than fundraising. Engel's job was to keep track of contributions from legislators to RACC, which are referred to as "assessments." Schultz's duties included keeping track of where this money went for the individual campaigns. On occasion Engels received checks for individual campaigns and provided them to Schultz. Schultz created various documents regarding fundraising at RACC meetings held in Jensen's Capitol office. In a RACC meeting after the 2000 election in Jensen’s Capitol office, Jensen thanked Schultz for all she did for members of the “team” in connection with the money that had been raised.It does make one wonder if Rhodes-Engels is just stupid, so arrogant she thinks she is above the law or so sleazy she just doesn't care.
But what this does show us is that the Republicans didn't learn one damn thing from the first caucus scandal. It also shows us that our previous estimates of the spread and depth of corruption in the Republican Party were grossly short of the mark.
WISGOP is nothing more than a vast criminal syndicate. They need to have their crimes brought to the light of day and to the halls of justice.
I certainly hope that someone has brought this to the attention of Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. Not that the John Doe investigations into Walker and his crew aren't keeping him busy enough.