Weather Forecast


Spinning the spin

Matt Pommer

Republicans are busy trying to downplay the recently released report and documents stemming from an investigation into Scott Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, but it may long linger in both the state and national political arena.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a close ally of the Republican governor, suggested that it largely amounts to “just gossip.”

Walker says the report contained no surprises, suggesting that his critics will try to “over-hype things.” The governor described them as “naysayers who want bad things to happen in Wisconsin so they will be circling again.”

“It’s exactly what’s wrong with the political process that they’re hoping for something bad to happen in Wisconsin,” the governor said.

Walker apparently thinks if something “bad” occurs to him in political terms, it is “bad” for the state of Wisconsin. Walker was Milwaukee County executive when he ran for governor, and the John Doe probe focused on whether taxpayer-paid county employees were doing campaign work for him on government time. That’s illegal.

Last month more than 28,000 documents showed how campaign aides and government workers were in frequent communication and tie Walker to a secret email system. Walker had said he had established a clear policy against county workers from using county resources or work time to be involved in his political campaign.

The attempts to brush aside any importance of the John Doe report drew a sharp rebuke from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the state’s largest newspaper. It urged Walker to sit down at a full-blown press conference.

Walker will answer questions after public appearances but there are no regular sit-down press conferences with the Capitol press corps. Those types of press conferences were held regularly by Wisconsin governors of both political parties in the second half of the 20th Century.

The John Doe probe ended in early 2013 with six convictions. Walker himself was not charged. The emails and transcript of the John Doe hearing were released by an appeals court after the news-gathering organizations filed suit under the state open-records law. Whether Wisconsin newspapers view the affair as “just gossip” or “naysayers” hurting the state remains to be seen.

Subsequent news reports may affect public opinion about the “gossip” and “naysayer” claims. The first test will come later this month when the Marquette Law School poll asks citizens how they view Walker. Walker is running for re-election this November. The Republican Governors Association started an ad campaign against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke just as the John Doe material was being released.

Meanwhile, another investigation run by a bipartisan group of district attorneys is examining the contributions and spending in the 2013 recall election for governor. The question being examined seems to be whether spending by “independent” groups was truly independent of the candidates’ campaigns. Supported by extensive paid advertising on radio and television, Walker handily won campaign against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett .

Two legal attempts have been launched to quash the investigation — one in federal court and the other with the State Supreme Court. The federal court suit contends the investigation violates the freedom of speech of a conservative independent group. Whatever the ruling is, it is likely to be appealed beyond the federal district court.

The state appeal may not be timely because there is no legal record for the high court to examine in making such a decision. A four-justice bloc is the majority on the State Supreme Court. The national media might have a field day if the elected state court prematurely ends an investigation into campaign finance of a Walker election.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson once dabbled in national politics and noted afterward that “running for president is a lot different than running for governor.’’

Matt Pommer, a retired reporter for The Capital Times, writes a column distributed by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.