Thursday, January 26, 2012

Key Questions for Scott Walker

Over the last few weeks I've been openly asking questions related to recent developments in the John Doe investigation of Scott Walker aides. First were the questions related to the arrest of longtime Walker campaign/county aide Tim Russell. Next came the questions about open records and Walker staff involvement with the shill ScottforGov blog. Now more charges have been issued on more Walker aides and naturally that brings an entirely new set of questions. Those include some serious questions for Scott Walker directly. First lets quickly review some of the recently reported findings.

Quick Review:

Yesterday the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office announced charges against longtime Walker aide Darlene Wink and former county/campaign aide Kelly Rindfleisch. Wink had already admitted to leaving political comments on blogs when she was on county time. She resigned in May 2010 when it was discovered. But these charges allege that she was also doing extensive planning for Walker fundraisers and communicating regularly and directly with Walker's campaign and others.

Kelly Rindfleisch was hired at the beginning of 2010, the same year that Walker hoped to win the race for governor. In the communications revealed in her criminal complaint she admits to a friend that "half of what I'm doing is policy for the campaign." Indeed the complaint reveals that she had more than 1,000 emails to top Walker campaign staffers on county time. Those contacts included Keith Gilkes, Stephan Thompson and Jill Bader. There were also communications longtime Walker friend and county/campaign aide Jim Villa, who had an unofficial advisory role with Walker's 2010 campaign.

The complaint for Rindfleisch actually includes an email from Scott Walker to Tim Russell. It is his reaction to the Dan Bice story about Darlene Wink posting political comments on county time. In the email Walker said the following to Russell:
"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, no time away during the work day, etc."

Perhaps the most remarkable thing that was revealed in the criminal complaint is that selected high level Walker administration officials were using a "secret email system" and network to communicate with each other and with the Walker and Brett Davis campaigns. Not only were they using this secret network for campaign related communications but according to the complaint they were also using it for official county business.

Key Questions for Scott Walker:

  1. When Scott Walker emailed Tim Russell with the above listed message, why did he use his campaign email account? This was at the very least a county personnel issue and it was county business. Why would Walker use his campaign email to conduct what was clearly county business?
  2. Scott Walker's email to Russell specifically mentions "no laptops", so that shows us that he knew that his top staff were busy using such laptops on county time. How and when did he find that out? It was obviously important to him so why didn't he follow up on that order? Remember that according to the complaint, Kelly Rindfleisch continued doing campaign work on county time after that incident.
  3. Could someone please explain the employment dates of Kelly Rindfleisch because the timeline looks pretty damning? She had an extensive political and fundraising background including for the infamous Republican legislative caucus. She was hired at the beginning of a big election year to do what she described at least partially as "policy work for the campaign". Then she left the county job only weeks after Walker won the 2010 election. She was doing work for/with the Walker campaign until only days ago. Again, the timing of her employment stinks to high heaven. What is the story on that?
  4. What is up with Walker's top past/present campaign staffers? What? Didn't a single one of them wonder why county employees were communicating with them on a regular basis during work hours? Reading the extensive communications, you certainly get the idea that it didn't bother them one single bit.
  5. How many open records requests were thwarted by the existence of the Walker administration's secret network?
The taxpayers of Milwaukee County and the people of Wisconsin should demand some answers and it should be Scott Walker that directly gives them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Underreported Victims of a Gun Happy Society

When we have a collective debate on gun issues, sometimes we lose sight of the often underreported victims of careless gun policy. We often get bogged down in political grandstanding, legislative victories or false bravado and lose sight of important real world consequences. All-too-often the larger media follows us in that pattern and doesn't spend as much time on the many different victims of gun violence in our country.

For example, we don't see nearly enough reported about how gun violence disproportionately impacts women. The data over the years has repeatedly confirmed this disturbing reality.
  • In 2008 7,451 women were treated in emergency rooms for gunshot wounds. A disturbing 66 percent of those incidents were assault related.
  • 16 in every 1,000 women in the U.S. have been threatened with a firearm.
  • Based on data from 16 states, 73 percent of female murder victims are killed in the home. That is compared to 45 percent of male murder victims.
  • U.S. women's firearm death rate is 12 times higher than the combined rate of 22 other populous, high-income countries.
  • Gun owners are 7.8 times more likely than non-gun owners to have threatened their partners with guns.
  • Firearms appear to be more common in homes where battering has occurred (36.7 percent) than in the general population (16.7 percent)

This kind of troubling data is certainly why advocates against domestic violence stand against legislation like the so-called Castle Doctrine recently passed in Wisconsin. It essentially gives people a free pass from prosecution if they (even wrongfully) kill a person believed to be an intruder in their home. At the time the legislation was being considered, Tony Gibart, policy coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition against Domestic Violence made the following case against it:

We're concerned that the bill might be used in ways that shield domestic abusers and people who perpetrate domestic violence homicide from accountability.

In addition there is the tragic and uncomfortable subject of suicide and the role that easy access to guns plays in that horrible problem. Again, the facts and reality show that we pay a heavy price in this area.

  • 17,352 U.S. residents killed themselves with a firearm in 2007.
  • Seventy percent of suicide attempters decide to kill themselves on an impulse - less than an hour before their attempt.
  • More than 90 percent of suicide attempts with a gun are fatal only 3 percent of attempts with drugs or cutting are fatal.
  • States with high household gun ownership have more suicides than states with low household gun ownership.
  • Eighty-five percent of youths under age 18 who died by firearm suicide used a family member's gun, usually a parent's .

In an ideal world even the gun lobby would more often consider some of these underreported victims of gun violence before insisting on their broad and often radical policies. In an ideal world the larger media would do a better job of reporting all of the ugly realities of gun violence. In an ideal world the public would become more aware of all victims of gun violence and push for long lasting and life saving changes rather than feeding an increasingly gun happy society.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

ScottforGov Open Records and Timing

Scott Walker's longtime campaign & county aide Tim Russell was arrested on January 5th and charged in Milwaukee County Court. Many people have speculated about this event and about the ongoing John Doe investigation. Just last week I asked a number of questions myself . However there was one particular thread that I didn't list at that time, so I'd like to submit it for consideration now.

On pages 19 and 20 of Tim Russell's criminal complaint it states that he paid for some of the following Walker-related domain names: variations of "scottforgov", "scott4gov", and "MilwaukeeCountyExecutiveScottWalkerForGovernor". As most online observers know, those are domains related to the former Walker shill blog. The anonymous people on that shill blog spent all of their time publicly worshiping at Walker's feet or attacking anyone that they perceived as an opponent.

While the ScottforGov blog was still active there was much speculation about the anonymous authors and exactly who was behind it. Tim Russell's criminal complaint now seems to suggest that he was involved in at least some way. We also know that shortly after Walker aide Darlene Wink admitted to posting political comments to blogs on county time that she resigned from her longtime position in Walker's administration. Very shortly after that resignation the ScottforGov blog was taken down. The timing of that event caused many to openly wonder if Wink and other administration officials were involved with the Walker blog. As far as I know, that suspicion was never totally confirmed but you certainly can't blame people for wondering given the timing and circumstances.

Although the administrator of the ScottforGov blog took down the site, here is a screen cap sampling of its content. Notice that a number of these blog postings appear to have happened during normal work hours.

Now scroll down to the entry entitled "Neumann slithering around for dirt". This posting from what seems to be the administrator of the site bemoans the fact that Walker critics filed open records requests (ORR's) with his office. They specifically name One Wisconsin Now, yours truly and several others. The ScottforGov blogger states that they know about some of these other ORR's because they submitted an ORR for all other ORR's.

I don't have a copy of the above cited records request from the ScottforGov blog but I do have an earlier records request that they sent to Walker directly. It was originally sent from "" on 9/28/09 at 10:34 a.m. The request was initially handled by Darlene Wink and the request was fulfilled in less than two hours. Based on these email records it appears that the Walker administration not only responded quickly to the request but that they also provided the records at no cost. Compare that to how they have handled requests from critics.

The important questions:
  1. If Tim Russell paid for the domains that pointed to this blog, did he also provide content for it? Did anyone else in the Walker administration?
  2. Some of these blog postings happened during normal work hours. Were any of them done by Walker administration officials on county time?
  3. Were Walker administration officials essentially requesting records from other Walker administration officials? If so, who knew what?
  4. Did the records requester at "" receive extra fast, free and otherwise special service?

I have enough information to ask these important questions but I'm hoping that someone can find the actual answers and then make them public.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Badger Guns has new name, subject of a new study

Badger Guns, the West Milwaukee gun shop, has a long and disturbing record of selling guns that are eventually used in crimes. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has done an excellent job of detailing many of those issues. Some of the sales from Badger Guns were even used to injure 6 Milwaukee police officers in recent years. The shop's license was revoked for breaking federal laws and it stopped selling guns on December 31st. However this isn't the first time that they have run into this kind of trouble. The last time that they faced such an obstacle they simply transferred the business from father to son and successfully reapplied for a license.

It was recently announced that Badger Guns will be doing something similar. It is being sold from the previous owner to his brother and the name of the shop will be changed to Brew City Shooter's Supply. Once again the new owner is promising to do a better job of preventing sales of guns that are used in crimes but we have heard this story before. In fact Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn is understandably sceptical of the new arrangement because of the shop's long pattern. In the past he accused the store of having a business plan that involves selling guns to criminals. His recent observations about the new changes to the controversial gun shop are equally as blunt.

Generally, the best predicator of future behavior is past behavior, and every time Badger has been in trouble and surrendered a license, it's turned around and reissued the license and gone right back in the same business it was.

Badger Guns wasn't only in the news recently because of its change in ownership and name. It was also the subject of a new study released by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

The study found that the number of guns that were subsequently linked to crime sold by Badger Guns increased dramatically after Congress adopted measures (known as the Tiahrt amendments)likely to reduce the risks gun dealers face if they divert guns to criminals. The study is the first to examine the impact of these amendments on the diversion of guns to criminals and was recently published online in the peer-reviewed Journal of Urban Health.

The new study provides the following description of the Tiahrt Amendments:

The Tiahrt amendments are a series of amendments to appropriations bills and became law in 2003 and prohibit the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) from releasing data from crime gun traces. In 2004, the Tiahrt amendments further restricted crime gun-trace data by limiting access to government officials and prohibiting the use of these data in firearm dealer license revocations and civil law suits.

The study found that after the Tiahrt amendments went into effect, guns diverted to criminals soon after being sold by Badger Guns actually increased by 203 percent. The lead study author Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH, concluded the following from their rather shocking analysis:
Our findings suggest that changes to federal gun policy prompted a dramatic increase in the flow of guns to criminals from a gun dealer whose practices have frequently been of concern to law enforcement and public safety advocates.

This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters' mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism, the fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Latest John Doe News and Things to Consider

People all over the state have been talking about the latest John Doe news that broke last week. Many people are speculating about many different things but in the end there are only a handful of people that actually know what is really happening. I certainly don't claim to have any special insight into the status and direction of the John Doe but I do have my share of questions. I also think that there are several important things to at least consider. So permit me to think out loud for a moment.

General John Doe

  1. The investigation is ongoing: I know that Walker fanatics want to believe that the John Doe is over but there is nothing besides their own wishful thinking that indicates it. The beginning of Tim Russell's criminal complaint says as much, even if indirectly. It explains that a John Doe is a secret proceeding but that the responsible judge has allowed the details from last week to come out so that charges could be filed. Further, the district attorney continues to refer to the John Doe as an "ongoing" investigation. And he refuses to answer questions regarding the larger investigation for that very reason.
  2. The other involved parties: If this John Doe were only about the charges that were issued last week, then how do we explain some of the other involved parties thus far? There are several that don't' appear to have anything to do with the Operation Freedom funds or any of the other charges issued last week. What about Cullen Werwie and others getting immunity? What about Jensen, the real estate big wig, getting arrested? What about Cynthia Archer's home being searched by the FBI? What do any of them have to do with the charges from last week? I can't think of anything, so what other elements of the investigation are they connected to?
  3. The other conviction: Remember that there has already been a conviction in the John Doe and it had nothing to do with the charges that were filed last week. That again indicates that this investigation is very broad and not solely about one specific issue.
  4. Still no Walker interview? Am I the only one that finds it odd that Scott Walker has still not been interviewed in this John Doe investigation? Given what we already know it would only make sense that he would have been interviewed by now. But he insists that has not happened and I'm wondering why?
  5. What's up with the legal bills? The Walker campaign's last filing shows a large burst of spending on lawyers toward the end of the filing period. They paid nearly $60,000 to the firm that was hired late in 2010 to respond to questions raised by a John Doe. Money speaks and this large stash of money tells me that Walker's campaign is concerned about the John Doe regardless of what they say in a press conference.

Specific to Operation Freedom Funds

  1. Kevin Kavanaugh Questions: Some members of the Walker administration apparently became suspicious about Operation Freedom funds sometime in 2008. One of them didn't report anything to the district attorney until mid-2009. If they were suspicious enough to actually report it in 2009, why would Walker go on to put Kavanaugh on his "Veterans for Walker" leadership team in 2010? We know that Walker appointed Kavanaugh to the Milwaukee County Veteran's Service Board but how long did he allow him to serve? Did he allow him to continue serving even after financial questions arose? Why?
  2. Tim Russell Questions: I still don't think that we have received an adequate answer for exactly why Walker moved the bookkeeping for Operation Freedom from an American Legion post that did an "exemplary" job to that of his longtime political crony Tim Russell. Furthermore, if he was going to make that move why didn't Walker require at least some level of oversight over Russell? If the board for Russell's org was made up of fake members then clearly Walker didn't require even basic oversight measures.
  3. Point of Order: Remember, someone from the Walker admin reported problems before they moved the money to Russell. There is no indication that Walker's administration had anything to do with the detection of the issues with Russell's handling of funds. So kindly stop giving him credit for something that he apparently didn't do.

More Reading: John Doe rips open Walker’s ugly patterns