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Release Of John Doe Emails Points To Unethical And Possibly Illegal Attempts By The Walker Team To Use County Government Resources To Aid His Gubernatorial Campaign

Feb. 26, 2014
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Reporters have just started digging through the 27,000 pages of documents released in the long-running John Doe investigation that yielded six convictions of Gov. Scott Walker’s county aides and a big donor.

But the ones unearthed thus far confirm suspicions that Walker was at the center of a well-organized and constant attempt to use his taxpayer-funded county executive office to aid his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

Throughout the documents, Walker participated in group emails linking his county and campaign aides; county staffers—including Walker himself—routinely used their private email accounts to thwart public records requests; county staffers deferred to campaign staff direction on governmental matters; and county aides provided insider information to campaign operatives.

Walker is refusing to comment on the emails’ revelations. But here’s what we know so far:


Walker Ordered the Daily Campaign/County Conference Calls To Be Held in His County Executive Office: According to an email sent by Walker Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli, “The County Executive has asked that we conduct a conference call daily at 8:00 a.m. to review the events of the day or of a previous or future day, so we can better coordinate sound, timely responses, so we all know what the others are doing.” Later, he writes, “When possible, these calls will be conducted for staff in the County Executive’s office.”

The problem? Nardelli sent the email from his yahoo.com account during the regular workday. He sent them to county staffer Kelly Rindfleisch, Administration Director Cindy Archer, spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin, deputy spokesman Jonathan Myhre and Deputy Chief of Staff Tim Russell. Also copied were Walker campaign manager Keith Gilkes, campaign advisor R.J. Johnson and campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader.

Two days later, campaign manager Gilkes replied with a conference call number and access code.


County Executive Staff Provided Campaign with Inside Information: The Walker campaign had no problem getting information about goings-on at the county. Campaign staffers also had early access to Walker’s final budget briefing and other administration documents before they were made public.

Via her personal email in April 2010, for example, Archer tipped off Walker, Rindfleisch, Nardelli and McLaughlin and campaign aides Gilkes, Johnson and Bader on her department’s forthcoming report about a potential $8-$9 million surplus, along with suggestions on how to “spin” it so that the unions wouldn’t use the surplus to refuse to make concessions. Walker, emailing from his campaign account, responded to the group about his media strategy for releasing the report. Archer replied, confirming his suggestions.

Archer also added: “I am not telling [Walker budget director Steve] Kreklow I am sharing a draft with any of you because if asked, I want him to be able to say he did not give advanced copy to CEX Office.”


Political Strategy Guided County Agenda: Throughout the emails, Walker’s political ambitions seem to trump his concern for the county. County staffers McLaughlin and Rindfleisch proofread campaign materials; Walker’s campaign aides had a hand in official county press releases and responses to reporters.

And in one series of emails—conducted, of course, on their personal accounts—in May 2010, Archer and Nardelli included Walker, Rindfleisch, Russell, Gilkes Johnson, and Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin (CARW) chief Jim Villa in their discussion about the 2011 budget, concessions they were trying to get out of the county’s unions, layoffs, furloughs and outsourcing. “We are in a campaign,” Nardelli wrote, adding later, “If all we propose are cuts it will hurt us at the ballot box, in my view. We are never going to get DC 48, so I would furlough the hell out of them. Find the most senior members and burn them a new one!”

Later, Walker replied to everyone in the group email: “We should not assume that they do not settle (or that we win). If we are in arbitration, we can’t show that we have the budget covered. And politically, I don’t want to make huge layoffs to cover something the board already approved in 2009.”

Walker’s campaign had frequent input on his official decisions. For example, Walker’s campaign manager had strong words about a veto message Walker would issue over the county board’s opposition to privatizing service contracts, concluding, “I agree with Tim on a strong rebuttal is a good political opportunity for you.”


Campaign Manager Wanted County Attorney to “Think Political”: A major source of anxiety for Walker’s campaign and county aides was the ongoing troubles within the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division (BHD). After reports of violence surfaced, Walker drafted a press response, copying both his campaign and county staffers on it. Rindfleisch then said she’d run it past one of the county’s attorneys, Tim Schoewe, for his approval.

Campaign manager Keith Gilkes replied: “Just do me a favor and tell him that we are getting the crap kicked out of us by the County Board—at some point, I would like him to stop being a lawyer and think political for [a] change and let us fight back.”

Rindfleisch responded, “He’s pretty good about that. This is just a total mess.”


County Aides Notified Campaign of Open Records Requests: Long before anyone had heard of the John Doe investigation, reporters and bloggers complained about the Walker administration’s lack of cooperation on open records requests. Now we know that they were deep-sixed to aid Walker’s campaign and passed on to campaign staffers, and that county aides used their private emails and a separate router so that their messages wouldn’t need to be collected for these requests. County aides immediately passed on open records requests from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, liberal watchdog group One Wisconsin Now, the campaign of Mark Neumann, Walker’s rival for the GOP nomination, and a private individual county aides deemed to be working for the Neumann campaign.

Walker’s campaign used open records requests against its political enemies. After then Supervisor Lynne DeBruin spoke out about troubles at the BHD, Walker wrote to his campaign and county aides: “I also think that someone should make an open records request of DeBruin on all emails, etc. related to this topic.”

In May 2010, an administration aide provided Rindfleisch with information for a Freedom of Information Act request; Rindfleisch forwarded it to campaign manager Gilkes so that someone could ask for information about the state-run Mendota Mental Health Institute.


County Staffers Freaked Out After Darlene Wink Was Busted: After county aide Darlene Wink resigned in May 2010 for posting political messages on the taxpayers’ dime, the inner circle of Walker advisors was frantic. After all, these county aides were using a private router and in constant communication with Walker’s campaign staffers.

“In light of recent events, I will no longer be checking this email account during the work day,” Archer wrote. “Already broken down and put away. Laptop is packed,” Rindfleisch emailed to Realtors chief Villa. Campaign manager Gilkes wrote, “We are going to cancel the breakfast meeting in the morning.” Campaign and county aides conferred about the official statement about Wink’s political work while working at the county.


Prosecutors Were Looking at Courthouse Cleaning Outsourcing: Buried at the end of a 127-page request for search warrants of Walker’s county aides and the Friends of Scott Walker, prosecutors asked for a search warrant for documents relating to the privatization of custodial services at the Milwaukee County courthouse. In mid-2009, Walker requested bids on the service; his administration awarded the $1.2 million contract to MidAmerican Building Services, run by a major Walker backer, Ed Aprahamian.

Something about that bidding process didn’t seem legitimate to the District Attorney’s office, however. The day before Walker was elected governor, Chief Investigator David Budde testified: “We—in our examination of the e-mails thus far, we have seen e-mails that involve non County employees with the cleaning contract that is—exists between the county and Mid America Cleaning. In particular, we’ve seen e-mails that reference the bidding—the bidding process for this contract. We’ve seen e-mails that reference the—certain information that was provided to the County that these non County employees wished to keep confidential. And we think that there—it is relevant as far as whether or not violations of County ordinances or the County ethics policy has occurred in regard to sharing information outside of the County’s normal chain of doing business.”


Rindfleisch and Walker Fundraisers Shared Information: Prosecutors found evidence that Rindfleisch, working for the county and as a fundraiser for lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis, was working with fundraisers for Walker’s campaign, Joe Fadness (now the head of the state Republican Party) and Dan Morse. On Feb. 11, 2010, Fadness sent Rindfleisch an email with a spreadsheet of maxed-out donors. In July 2010, Rindfleisch reduced her monthly retainer for the Davis campaign because Morse was doing work for Davis as well. Davis didn’t pay Morse for his work, though, but Walker did.


Rindfleisch and Walker Had Close Ties to Commercial Realtors Group: Rindfleisch split her time at her home in Columbia County and in West Allis as the roommate of Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin (CARW) chief—and longtime Walker friend and advisor—Jim Villa. But their alliance seemed to go further. On March 31, 2010, Villa emailed Rindfleisch, apparently about her work for CARW. “We are not two silos on our own it is one organization and given our size its [sic] imperative that we work in concert. I am going to want more detailed planning goals set by you—for the month, week and even day so that you can articulate what your plans/goals for any time frame are. We need to have a more formal discussion at least twice a month about this and continue to use written calendars and deadlines to guide our progress.” Villa also mentioned Rindfleisch’s request to take Fridays off and said that if she did so “we will need to go back to an hourly wage procedure.”

Villa didn’t respond to the Shepherd’s request to clarify his email. (The full text of it can be found on the Daily Dose blog at expressmilwaukee.com.)

Villa was frequently copied on Walker’s county-campaign emails and often provided commentary on them. As a registered lobbyist and head of a nonprofit trade association, it’s unclear whether Villa should have been so closely tied to the Walker campaign.


Allegations About County Workers’ Office Space Unresolved: In January 2012, the Journal Sentinel reported that the John Doe investigators were looking into bids in 2005 and 2010 for county workers’ office space. One of the potential sites was the Reuss Federal Plaza. Walker’s campaign advisor Jim Hiller and Villa’s Markesan Group lobbied on the deal in 2005. Allegations of bid-rigging surfaced, and one uncooperative witness was jailed briefly, but no charges were filed in the matter.

The office space bid was mentioned in one of Cindy Archer’s private emails to Nardelli, Walker and Rindfleisch: “Re-upping the lease would be a huge political fire storm and may result in open records requests and some meeting notes with folks that makes me nervous.”


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