A couple of things about the charges emerging from the John Doe yesterday.
First, it is harder to make the type of legal objections (due process, fair notice, vagueness) to allegations grounded in fundraising activity. The statutory prohibition of fundraising is clear and the line between fundraising as political work and other activities such as developing policy or engaging in certain forms of outreach and advocacy. The one thing that Wink and Rindfleisch should have been clear on is not raising political money on government time.
Second, as with the caucus scandal, I continue to dislike dealing with this type as a criminal matter. I understand the theory - you don't want to give incumbents the advantage of having people campaign on taxpayer time. But it seems to me that to ask political appointees to stop being political is like expecting a dog to give up a bone. Of all the advantages that incumbents have, a few political appointees doing political work from the office would seem to be pretty far down the list. Even if criminal charges are appropriate, charging these things as felonies and exposing people to a potential of fourteen years in prison strikes me as overkill.
More fundamentally, it leads to the threat of partisan use of the prosecutorial process. If you spend eighteen months scouring through the activities of any elected official with substantial appointed staff, you are probably going to find a few Winks and Rindfleischs. Who gets tagged with scandal is largely a function of whose opponents are willing to invest (public) resources to find one.
What would you find if you subjected the offices of Tom Barrett, Jim Doyle or Kathleen Falk to this kind of scrutiny?
Third, the timing (and, to a lesser degree, the composition) of the the complaints have a partisan tinge. There could be an explanation for the fact that the DA spend eighteen months to produce what really are two relatively simple complaints, but the timing - on the eve of a recall election - prompts one to raise the question. What took so long? Why now?
I also find it odd that the complaint goes to substantial length to suggest that the candidate that Rindfleisch raised money for - Brett Davis and not Scott Walker - was "preferred" by certain people in Walker's campaign. Why does that matter? The implication that some will draw is that she was doing this "for" Walker. While I may be overly sensitive, it is, strictly speaking, unnecessary to support the charges - if she was obtaining a dishonest advantage for Davis it doesn't matter who else supported Davis - and one would ordinarily not place extraneous matter in a criminal complaint.
If an implication was intended (or if others draw it), was it fair? If the DA could link Walker to this activity, he would have charged him. If, as apparently is the case, he cannot, then perhaps he should stick to knitting. This would have been particularly prudent given the outsized resources devoted to a John Doe that has thus far produced very little, the foregoing questions about timing and the extraordinary leakiness of the entire operation. Why appear to be partisan when you don't need to?
Fourth, as suggested by the last point, there is still nothing that implicates the Governor in anything. Walker's only appearance in this complaint is to tell his people to cut out anything that might look like political activity. To be sure, partisans are going to use that to suggest that he "just didn't want to get caught" or that he "knew" what was going on, but here's the bottom line. After eighteen months and God knows how many tax dollars, we have precisely no wrongdoing by Governor Walker - only two people who worked for him.
Fifth, as scandals go, this is small ball. If Wink and Rindfleisch raised money on county time in county facilities, they acted foolishly but there are a lot of fools in the politics. It is not clear from a perusal of the complaint, for example, whether they spend more time fundraising than a lefty blogger spent "weblogging" or reading blogs or doing whatever it was he was doing instead of his job.
Sixth, the allegations regarding a "secret e-mail" system are interesting although a bit of a misnomer. Apparently certain people were using laptops for political work and the accessing the internet through means other than the county's ISP provider to communicate with each other. According to the complaint, some of these communications were related to county business.
I wonder how many public officials use this or other tactics in an attempt to engage in communications that won't be subject to open records requests. How many of these officials do these things in an attempt to comply with the law, i.e., to keep political and government business separate?I also wonder how many even stop to think about whether there are other reasons not to do it?
Finally, while I don't think it's necessarily illegal to create such a system, I also don't think that the records created on it - if they relate to official business - are immune from open records requests.