A Who's-Who of Walker’s Campaign Aides Who Were Calling the Shots

Aug. 15, 2013
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In this week’s Shepherd I wrote about Scott Walker’s inner circle of campaign and county aides that were working together to burnish his image (and do a lot of damage control) while he ran for governor in 2010.

In that article I focused mostly on his county aides—some of whom were prosecuted for committing crimes while working for taxpayers.

But who, exactly, are the politicos who were managing Walker’s image and county responsibilities?

Here’s a quick rundown of the political operatives who were in on the scam:

R.J. Johnson: Here’s a slippery guy for you and he’s copied on a host of sensitive county emails. Johnson, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, “joined” the Walker campaign in April 2009 and he was paid at least $50,000 for “consulting.” But he didn’t really have a title with the campaign. The original press release announcing his arrival just says that he’ll serve as a “general consultant” to the Friends of Scott Walker (FOSW).

There may be a reason why he never formally joined the campaign. R.J. Johnson is known as the “long-time” head of the Club for Growth-Wisconsin, although you won’t find his fingerprints on a lot of their stuff. (Pre-2010 mentions here and here.) Johnson and Deb Jordahl appear with more enthusiasm, in 2011, after Walker is in office and the Club was spending gobs of money on ads in support of Walker’s collective bargaining bill and his recall defense. The press release announcing Johnson’s work with FOSW mentions nothing about his Club for Growth affiliation. And I couldn’t find the Club for Growth mentioning that he’s stepping down or separating himself from the group.

So, my question to you is, was Johnson still affiliated with the Club for Growth when he was working for Scott Walker? And, if so, isn’t this illegal coordination? According to state law, candidates’ campaigns cannot coordinate with outside groups. The indispensable Cory Liebmann at Eye on Wisconsin raised these questions during the campaign. I think we need to get some answers now.

Keith Gilkes: Gilkes seized control of the situation immediately after the concrete fell on Jared Kellner, his mom and friend. Gilkes is another unlikable guy who lost his temper with me and stormed off when I dared to ask him about Walker’s campaign-county coordination. Gilkes became Walker’s chief of staff as governor, likely because he knew where the bodies were buried. He resigned on Oct. 8, 2011, as the John Doe was heating up. Do you think he took the governor’s (hypothetical) private Internet router with him? Politico gave him breathless coverage earlier this year and reports that he is serving “as a senior adviser to Walker’s 2014 re-election effort.” Think he’s getting copied on state emails as we speak? Yup.

Jill Bader: Walker’s campaign spokeswoman didn’t weigh in a lot in the emails that were released to the public, but she was certainly copied on a lot of them. She’s not a Wisconsin gal and left after Walker became governor. She’s currently working as the communications director of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

Jim Villa: Villa is a longtime associate/aide of Walker’s, but in 2010 he was working in the private sector. At the time of the O’Donnell Park tragedy, Villa was working as the president of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin. He also ran a lobbying firm called the Markesan Group, which was involved in the messed-up bid to house county workers in 2005 and 2010 and also ran Walker’s 2004 county executive re-election campaign. He was Walker’s chief of staff (apparently on and off) from 2002 to 2007, which overlaps with his Markesan Group work. Does this stink to you? And why is the Realtors’ lobbyist being copied on the O’Donnell Park emails?

Others making cameo appearances in the emails are Ashlee Moore, the world’s most embarrassing Tweeter; Joe Fadness, now executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin; political consultant and real estate developer John Hiller, Walker’s campaign treasurer; Patrick Hogan, who ran Romney’s Wisconsin campaign (err—maybe not something to brag about) who filed a complaint about Mary Burke’s phone survey in June; longtime Walker fundraiser Mary Stitt; Republican Party poo-bah Stephan Thompson; and Brian Pierick, Tim Russell’s ethically challenged boyfriend.




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