Wisconsin was riveted the week of September 20 by reports that more of Governor Scott Walker's top aides may be implicated in an ongoing "John Doe" investigation into potentially illegal campaign practices related to Walker's 2010 gubernatorial race. Although the investigation, first reported on by Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has been underway for at least a year, a recent FBI raid on the home of Walker's chief lieutenant, Cynthia "Cindy" Archer, has the state abuzz with speculation about who may be the target of the investigation.
On September 14, about a dozen FBI agents and other law enforcement officers descended upon Archer's home at 6:45 a.m. and seized boxes of materials. Archer's neighbor said FBI agents also confiscated a hard drive he bought from her at a garage sale a few weeks ago.
This was the third Walker aide to have computers seized as part of a "John Doe" investigation led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. Before he was Governor, Walker was the Milwaukee County Executive, and Chisholm has apparently been investigating whether county staffers in Walker's office did unlawful campaign-related work while at their county jobs.
John Doe investigations are secret proceedings, before a single judge, where witnesses can be subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath about potential criminal matters, but are prohibited from speaking publicly about the case. The scope and targets of these investigations are unclear as a result of these gag rules.
One Walker campaign contributor, William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, has already pled guilty to felony violations of Wisconsin campaign law in April of 2011. Gardner tried to convince prosecutors that his $60,000 in illegal contributions, which he funneled through staff and girlfriends, was an innocent mistake, except he had done the same thing the previous year. It is unclear if the lastest probe is related to Gardner case.
It should be noted that Chisholm and his election fraud investigators have demonstrated a bi-partisan zeal for rooting out illegal campaign activity, recently sending two Democratic Milwaukee politicians to jail, Adlerman Michael McGee and Milwaukee County Supervisor Toni Clark.
It is possible that Chisholm had to ask the FBI for forensics help after Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen declined to assist with the John Doe investigation.
In multiple media interviews, Archer has denied any knowledge of the John Doe proceeding, has denied any wrongdoing and has said she is not represented by a lawyer. Similarly, Walker has also denied any knowledge of the investigation telling a local ABC affiliate, "We don't know what exactly is involved there until we know any more." The governor's campaign retained former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic, now at the law firm Michael Best and Friedrich.
Until very recently, Archer was Deputy Secretary of Administration (DOA) under Secretary Mike Huebsch. In Wisconsin, Huebsch is the second most powerful man in state government after the governor. The DOA not only runs the state, it was the chief architect of Scott Walker's budget and "budget repair bill," which stripped state workers of the collective bargaining rights. But even before this key post, Archer was a Walker loyalist and essential sidekick. Archer served as the head of the Milwaukee County Department of Administration when Walker was County Executive. This longstanding relationship set her up as a rare person who never had to knock on the governor's office door before she walked in, according to capitol observers. She has been compared to Susan Goodwin, Governor Jim Doyle's chief of staff who played an outsized role in state politics during his time in office.
In her DOA job, Archer made about $124,000 a year, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that in mid-August she abruptly quit to become a legislative liaison at the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. She is being paid $99,449 a year -- $39,129 more than the $60,320 the last person to hold the job made -- a 65 percent increase. Nice work if you can get it.
Archer has not yet shown up for her new job, and is apparently using some of her 344 hours of banked vacation and sick leave to take some time off. The Wisconsin Administrative Code only allows for the use of sick leave in narrow circumstances. Archer was apparently well enough to do numerous media interviews last week and has been spotted doing yard work and cleaning out her garage.
Archer serves on Walker's "Waste Fraud and Abuse Commission," which was charged with carving $300,000 out of the state budget. It is not yet know if the Commission will study the overpayment of political appointees like Archer, documented recently by the Journal Sentinel.
The Center for Media and Democracy has a number of Archer emails from an open records request to the Walker adminstration earlier in the year. The emails are from the critical week of February 7, 2011. The collective bargaining bill, which sparked massive protests and recall elections for eight Wisconsin Senators, was introduced on Friday, February 11, 2011.
The emails reveal an administration well aware that by introducing the collective bargaining bill they would be "dropping a bomb" in the state. Archer, along with a few key political personnel, was deeply involved with preparing the governor's union-busting policy and organizing the "contingency planning" for protests and other actions. The emails also reveal how important a role Archer played in the administration.
1) EXPLOSION: On February 7, a Department of Corrections warehouse exploded in the Fox Lake area. Keith Gilkes the governor's Chief of Staff, immediately sends an email (pdf) directly to the Governor, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch and Cynthia Archer, illustrating her top role in the Walker administration.
2) POINT PERSON ON CONTINGENCY PLANNING: On February 7, Archer sent an email (pdf) to a list of Cabinet Members and their Deputy Secretaries. Oddly, the subject line reads "Attorney Client Priv – Contingency Planning." Archer is not an attorney. The first paragraph is redacted from CMD's open records request. In the second paragraph, Archer orders cabinet secretaries to prepare to brief the governor on Thursday of their plans. "We have from 9:00 to 11:00 with the Governor. I would like the DOA Swat team to attend these meetings." "You have all done a great job and hopefully it will all be for nothing," she concludes.
3) CLOSING THE DOORS: The improperly redacted language mentioned above is revealed in a later email (pdf) when Keith Gilkes forwards Archer's original email to Brigadier General Donald Dunbar of the Wisconsin National Guard, asking him to attend the meeting. The redaction reads: "We have talked about external building security for employees entering and exiting our buildings. If the situation warrants, you should be prepared to limit the number of entrances and exits you have open in your buildings. In the event you experience problems (unruly picket lines, harassment of incoming employees, blockage of your entrances,) you should call 911. We will rely on local law enforcement to assist us." The DOA's decision to lock down the capitol and limit access for months after the protests is still being litigated in court. Dunbar was recently promoted to Major General by Walker.
4) PREPPING DAMAGING TALKING POINTS: The emails reveal numerous instances where Archer and her team gathered data to prep. talking points for the governor. For instance, on February 10, the day before bill introduction, Archer asked DOA staff (pdf) to dig up "the top three union overtime people – what their annual salary is and what it is after overtime" so that the governor's remarks and talking points could include jabs attacking "overpaid" state workers. Not surprisingly, the list that was produced included nurses at institutions such as correctional facilities and mental health facilities, as well prison guards and officers. High turnover and understaffing at these institutions is a chronic problem.
5) WAITING FOR PROTESTS: On February 10, Keith Gilkes sent a blog post from long-time progressive political candidate and blogger Ed Garvey to Capitol Police Chief Tubbs and Archer. "I wanted to alert you on a possible security issue with respect to a union action." The headline? "The Battle for Wisconsin's Soul Starts Monday." On February 11, AFSCME takes out a capitol grounds permit for a Tuesday press conference, that would become the first large rally in protest of the bill. Within minutes, the information quickly makes its way up the email food chain (pdf) to key players Kevin Gilkes, Mike Huebsch and Archer.
Locked in the Cabinet
In the midst of the Wisconsin protests, Governor Walker took a call from someone he thought was billionaire David Koch, but was actually a blogger from the Buffalo Beast, Ian Murphy. Walker regaled the fake Koch with a story from February 7 dinner at the Governor's Mansion with his entire cabinet. It was "a last hurrah before we dropped the bomb," he said. Walker told "David Koch" he pulled out a picture of Ronald Reagan, and told his team that Reagan's firing of the unionized air traffic controller was the "first crack in the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism because from that moment the communists knew Regan was not a push over." "This is our moment, this is our time to change the course of history," Walker told his group of top lieutenants.
The only person invited besides the governor's cabinet secretaries and top staff on the invite list? (pdf) Cindy Archer.
Today, news broke that the Walker administration lawyers have petitioned the courts to withdraw an affidavit filed by Archer in a lawsuit brought by the unions against the collective bargaining bill. Apparently, Scott Walker no longer agrees with her sworn testimony or no longer has faith in one of his chief lieutenants.