Matt Pommer: Is political cloud hovering over Gov. Walker?

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Matt Pommer
Sunday, June 15, 2014

The explosion of civil lawsuits stemming from the on-going John Doe investigation might have put a cloud over Gov. Scott Walker.

It is somewhat akin to the ever-present cloud of dust that hangs over Pig-Pen, the lovable character from The Peanuts comics and television cartoons. It’s unclear why creator Charles Schulz put the dust over Pig-Pen, but it doesn’t hurt the character.

The dust over Walker’s head might have little effect in Wisconsin, where he is seeking a second term in the November election. But it could affect his apparent ambitions to be president or vice president of the United States.

A word about the John Doe investigation. This John Doe investigation is examining the assorted campaign activities including those by some conservative “independent” groups, particularly those linked to helping Walker, during the 2012 recall elections. The probe was approved by the Government Accountability Board, a panel of six retired judges that oversees election law in Wisconsin.

Central to all John Doe investigations are secrecy requirements, something aimed at helping obtain evidence while protecting the innocent. The prosecutors and investigators met the secrecy requirement, but one of the conservative groups that aided Walker went public by talking to the editorial page staffers of the Wall Street Journal.

That newspaper hailed Walker, helping build suggestions among political pundits that Walker should be considered for national office. But then the tone of the editorial page later turned sour amid unconfirmed reports the governor was trying to reach some sort of a settlement with John Doe prosecutors.

A settlement could remove any Pig-Pen type cloud hanging over the governor’s larger political aspirations.

This hint of a settlement came after related lawsuits sprouted like spring dandelions. The lawsuits kept the John Doe on the front pages of most Wisconsin newspapers. It was difficult for the news stories to keep all the legal threads in sight.

Legal experts said they didn’t know where it all was going or how the legal tussle might be resolved. By early June, more than $300,000 in attorney fees had been put into the confused legal picture.

In America everyone is assumed to be innocent, and that applies to organizations and people who were supporting Walker in the recall election. It’s proper to assume, then, that Walker’s allies did nothing wrong. But why then were they anxious to take the John Doe to the media and try to close down the investigation?

One legal action contends the John Doe will violate a group’s freedom of speech. News about the investigation might hinder fundraising, but that’s different than taking away a First Amendment right to discuss political issues.

Walker and his allies will have plenty of outside money to help him win re-election. News accounts indicate Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, recently made a $900,000 television ad buy to promote the concept that things are going quite well in Wisconsin.

The TV ad buy came shortly after a Marquette University Law School poll in late May showed Walker was in a virtual dead heat with Mary Burke, the front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The poll showed Burke and Walker at 47 percent. The poll also will help Burke’s allies raise money for her campaign.

That’s great news—if you own a TV station or run a radio station in Wisconsin. Lots of money, including substantial amounts from out of state, will finance political commercials in Wisconsin as the campaign speeds up.

That’s a lot more certain than knowing when the dust will settle.

Matt Pommer writes this Wisconsin Newspaper Association weekly state government newsletter. He is dean of the state Capitol correspondents, having covered government action in Madison for 36 years. Readers can contact Pommer at mpommer@sbcglobal.net.


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