New Ethics Complaint Filed With Focus on Koch Money in State

Monday morning, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint with the state's Government Accountability Board against Gov. Scott Walker, citing comments Walker made during a prank call phoned in by a Buffalo, NY blogger Ian Murphy masquerading as David Koch, one of the billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries and a top contributor to Walker's gubernatorial campaign.

Koch money - Get used to this look - it will be yours, too!The Democratic Party complaint sites multiple issues summarized by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The complaint charges that Walker:

  1. Asked the impostor posing as Koch to run ads in the districts of Republican incumbents in swing districts. That would constitute an illegal, third-party coordination to initiate an independent expenditure.
  2. Spoke to the impostor from his office in the State Capitol. The law prohibits requesting a political contribution inside any state-owned building.
  3. Asked the attorney general's office to look into strategies to force the Democratic senators to return. According to the complaint, "this constitutes a misuse of the independently elected office of the attorney general for primarily political motivations."
  4. Conspired with others about the idea of planting troublemakers to "incite violence in the peaceful crowds," as that "would scare the public into thinking that maybe the governor has to settle to avoid all of these problems." The complaint alleges that such activity constitutes a conspiracy to recklessly endanger safety.
  5. Disclosed that he would send out layoff notices to working people to exert political pressure on his political opponents in the Senate. According to the complaint, "this use of threat against, and intimidation of, public sector employees for political purposes constitutes an unfair labor practice."
  6. Accepted the invitation to be flown out to California by the impostor posing as Koch. According to the complaint, state public officials may not use his or her public position to obtain financial gain or anything of substantial value for the private benefit of himself or herself.

This is not the first call in recent weeks for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) to look into possible legal or ethical violations stemming from Walker's admissions on the call. Former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager said, as early as Feb. 24, 2011 (the day after the call) that Walker's statements raised potential ethics, election law, and labor law violations. Madison attorney Marilyn Townsend filed a complaint with the GAB Tuesday, March 1, 2011, citing Walker's admission on the call and in subsequent press interviews that he considered planting "troublemakers" in the crowds of families demonstrating, his collaboration with third parties to promote messages in favor of his political agenda, and his openness to the offer to fly him out to California for a vacation once he finishes crushing the unions.

"Governor Walker said, 'Well, I didn't say anything in that call that I didn't say in public.' Well, I beg to differ with him on that," Townsend told the Center for Media and Democracy. "He said a lot in that call that he didn't say in public. He talked about planting troublemakers. He had not said that in public before. He indicated he'd be open to a trip to California from a very important contributor. He had not said that in public. He also said in that call that the Republican Senators are 'freaking out' ... about the protesters. He did not say that in public."

In the prank call Walker requested the fake "Koch" to send "messages" "over and over" to Wisconsin's "swing" districts "reinforcing why this was a good thing to do for the economy and a good thing to do for the state." Some have interpreted this to be a solicitation on a big dollar ad campaign in defense of his political allies who would face difficult re-election bids if they voted with him.

Townsend noted that the Koch-funded group, Americans for Prosperity started a "very expensive [$320,000] advertising campaign supporting Walker" days after the prank call, activities that are consistent with his desires as expressed to the Koch impostor.

Mike Tate, head of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin, put a finer point on the same complaint. "This is not political posturing. The governor has broken the law," Tate said, responding to questions. According to Tate, engaging in third-party coordination of independent expenditures—provided by Americans for Prosperity and used to promote a pro-Walker agenda—is a Class 1 Felony. "This is stuff that requires major financial and civil penalties and substantial jail time."

What's more, both Tate and Townsend noted, Walker's layoff threats of unionized and public workers may qualify as unfair labor practices in violation of the contractual law in the state. Last week, Wisconsin AFSCME filed an unfair labor practices complaint on similar grounds.

The GAB can decide whether Walker's words and actions violate the ethical rules under its jurisdiction. "If the GAB sees this not as ethics violations, then perhaps we should review and modify our ethics guidelines," Townsend said. Both Tate and Townsend believe Walker's admissions violate basic ethics and the ethical standards for Wisconsin public officials.