Sunday, January 20, 2013

Opposition Research AND Open Records Oversight?

On Tuesday longtime Walker crony, Tim Russell is scheduled for a sentencing hearing.  Last week, in preparation for the hearing, the prosecution filed a sentencing memo.  One part of the memo that stood out to me is that Russell was working for Walker's Milwaukee County administration while at the same time working in a formal capacity to benefit Scott Walker's campaign for governor.  Jake and Capper have both highlighted this point already but I have a few very specific questions about it.

The sentencing memo specifically says that Tim Russell started an entity named Strategic Outsourcing and Research Center Inc. (Source).  It also specifically states that this Russell operation was doing opposition research to benefit Friends of Scott Walker.  It goes on to list three people that Russell brought on to help him conduct this research.

I have many questions about this but I'll just focus on one thread for now:
  • Did any of  Tim Russell's research include the filing of open records requests with Scott Walker's county office? 
  • If Russell and/or his operatives did file such a request(s) was it done under their own names?
  • Tim Russell was on a committee to oversee open records requests sent to Walker's office. Did that committee ever take up a request sent from Russell and/or his research operation? 
  • If so did he disclose that potential conflict to the open records committee? (Mostly rhetorical since he apparently didn't disclose the secret router or the private email usage to the committee)

Tim Russell's criminal complaint listed domain names that he apparently purchased.  Several of those listed are related to an infamous Walker shill blog. The blog was eventually deleted after Darlene Wink was first caught doing campaign work on county time. Given that Tim Russell apparently paid for the domains, it is perfectly reasonable to ask how far his involvement might have gone with the blog.  Was he personally writing for it? Were his hired researchers writing for it?

As I've pointed out in the past, someone from that blog submitted what was essentially an anonymous open records request to Scott Walker's office. The request was turned around for free and with lightning fast speed.  But that was not the only request because at least one author at that blog later touted other open records requests.  For example this item (scroll down to "Neumann slithering around for dirt") shows us one such later example.  It is even more relevant given that Tim Russell's operation mostly focused on Mark Neumann research.  

On the Scott Walker shill blog, they took a shot at me for past open records requests that I've made.  Admittedly I've filed some open records requests in the past that were fairly broad but then again I wasn't being paid by a campaign to file them WHILE being paid by the taxpayers to respond to them.   Was this the normal dynamic in Scott Walker's Milwaukee County administration?  The fact that I could reasonably ask that question is an absolute disgrace.  Then again that seems to be a theme of Scott Walker's ethically/legally challenged Milwaukee County administration.

Afterthought: I suppose I could better tolerate a county employee having a side political job that sometimes intersected directly with their official duties. But in this case it seemed to be a practice to infuse official duties and those that were strictly political. In addition, it is not as if we are starting with a blank slate here where everyone gets the benefit of the doubt. We have actual criminal complaints detailing alleged open record game playing among other things.


John Foust said...

Wis. Stat. 19.35 1(i) says no request "may be refused because the person making the request is unwilling to be identified or to state the purpose of the request."

We might still wonder whether an anonymous or pseudonymous request was still known to have come from a Walker supporter. This delivers a certain amount of cover and plausible deniability, of course.

If anonymity is allowed, where would the committee conflict be?

Cory Liebmann said...

I'm aware of the fact that anonymous records requests are allowed and I wasn't trying to dispute that here.

I was simply trying to draw attention to the possibility of Russell being paid by the campaign to send ORRs that he was then paid by taxpayers to process.

If the word "conflict" is a problem, then I'm happy to say that this arrangement simply doesn't pass my own smell test. Especially in the context of the open records game playing described in the criminal complaints.