Did Scott Walker Violate Ethics Laws in “Koch” Call?

A former Democratic state attorney general thinks Wisconsin's Republican governor may have violated state ethics laws while on a prank phone call.

A former Democratic state attorney general thinks Wisconsin’s Republican governor may have violated state ethics laws while on a prank phone call.

Capital Times (“Ex-AG sees violations by Walker in stunt call“):

“There clearly are potential ethics violations, and there are potential election law violations and there are a lot of what look to me like labor law violations,” said Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat who served as Wisconsin’s attorney general after serving for many years as a U.S. attorney. “I think that the ethics violations are something the (state) Government Accountability Board should look into because they are considerable. He is on tape talking with someone who he thinks is the funder of an independent political action committee to purchase advertising to benefit Republican legislators who are nervous about taking votes on legislation he sees as critical to his political success.”

Lautenschlager, a former legislator who has known Walker for many years and who has worked with many of the unions involved in the current dispute, says: “One of the things I find most problematic in all of this is the governor’s casual talk about using outside troublemakers to stir up trouble on the streets, and the fact that he only dismissed the idea because it might cause a political problem for him.”

On the tape, Walker is asked about “planting some troublemakers” to incite the crowds at what have been peaceful protests. “(We) thought about that,” replied the governor, who added: “My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems.”

“I think there’s a serious issue there,” Lautenschlager explained. “That’s a public safety issue. And I think that is really troublesome: a governor with an obligation to maintain public safety says he’s going to plant people to make trouble. That screams out to me. For a governor even to consider a strategy that could unnecessarily threaten the safety of peaceful demonstrators — which the governor acknowledged he did — is something that simply amazes me.”

I’d certainly have preferred that Walker dismiss the suggestion as outrageous. But he’s clearly trying to schmooze “Koch” by explaining why his suggestion doesn’t even make political — leaving aside legal and moral — sense. There’s no evidence that Walker actually planned to insert “troublemakers” into the protests. My guess is that it had never occurred to him.

Lautenschlager reviewed the tape of the phone call and the transcript at the request of The Capital Times. She noted a pattern of instances where the governor seemed to put his personal political agenda ahead of his duties as the state’s chief executive.

Lautenschlager noted, in particular, the governor’s reference to displaying a photo of former President Ronald Reagan at the dinner where he explained plans for his budget repair bill — which seeks to strip state, county and municipal employees of their collective bargaining rights, restructure state government in a manner that dramatically extends the power of the governor, undermine the BadgerCare and SeniorCare programs, and sell off publicly owned power plants to private firms like Koch Industries.

“He essentially parallels what he’s going to do to organized labor with what Ronald Reagan did to the air traffic controllers,” said Lautenschlager, referencing the former president’s firing of striking controllers in 1981. “By doing that at this time, when the contracts for state employees are still in effect, it looks as if he’s signaling a willingness to commit an unfair labor practice violation by refusing to negotiate.”

Lautenschlager noted a body of labor law that prevents employers from using threats of layoffs as a negotiating tactic with unionized workers.

Some of this — the privatization using no-bid contracts, in particular — is bad public policy. But fantasizing about firing union workers that he can’t actually fire doesn’t amount to an unfair trade practice.

Regarding another part of the conversation, where the caller posing as David Koch promises to bring the governor to California as a reward when and if the budget repair bill passes, the former attorney general noted the tenor of the conversation.

“Scott: Once you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time,” says the caller identified as David Koch.  Walker replies: “All right, that would be outstanding.”

“When an elected official in Wisconsin is offered a trip somewhere to have a good time, and he responds by saying ‘that would be outstanding,’ ” said Lautenchlager, “it certainly sounds like something ethics investigators should look into.”

Again, this strikes me as schmoozing rather than some conspiracy to accept a bribe. “Koch” promised him “a good time” out of the blue and Walker said “that would be outstanding.” I can’t imagine this is actionable.

The prank phone call showed the extent to which politicians are beholden to campaign money. It’s unseemly. But there’s no clear alternative, either.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Horizon3 says:

    Interesting that, an EX AG (Dem) would come out spewing inaccuracies about a Republican Governor, NOT!.

    This would last about 2 minutes in court, because the stunt they pulled is entrapment, and not only that their tape is inadmissible as evidence because a) an evidence custody chain was not maintained, b) it was not made with the permission, and under supervision of Law Enforcement, or a licensed PI. Also saying that something is “outstanding” is not a verbal agreement or an indicator of acceptance, it simply conveys that it looks good.

    She would be well advised to keep her yap shut, lest she bring a counter investigation of the Dem Senators, who are by the way hiding in Illinois on the Unions dime, which they have admitted to On Camera and in print.

    I am just guessing but did this EX AG go to the same school as Eric Holder?
    They both exhibit the same ignorance of the law, and function of government.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    But there’s no clear alternative, either.

    But of course there is, it’s a little something called public financing of elections…

  3. James Joyner says:

    @An Interested Party

    But public financing creates more problems than it solves. Who’s eligible to get financing — any Schmoe or only legit candidates? As determined how? By whom?

    More importantly, public financing — assuming it comes with a ban on outside spending — is an incumbent protection plan. If the playing field is level, the person who 1) everyone has already heard of and 2) is spending taxpayer money to “buy” votes has an overwhelming advantage.

    Of course, SCOTUS has ruled limitations on outside spending a free speech issue, so it’s all moot.

  4. Moosebreath says:

    “There’s no evidence that Walker actually planned to insert “troublemakers” into the protests. My guess is that it had never occurred to him.”

    Even though he said “”(We) thought about that,” replied the governor, who added: “My only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle to avoid all these problems.””, you think it had not occurred to him. Do you think the governor was making up the idea that they had actually done some thinking about it to impress the person he thought was a billionnaire donor?

  5. Alex Knapp says:

    I think it’d be difficult to prove that he violated any ethics laws.

    That he violated ethical principles, though, is pretty clear.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath

    Do you think the governor was making up the idea that they had actually done some thinking about it to impress the person he thought was a billionnaire donor?

    I think he was engaging in byplay. “Koch” brought up the idea and he did the old — “brilliant idea but there are some minor problems” response.

    @Alex:

    That he violated ethical principles, though, is pretty clear.

    Unfortunately, the whole game is now played on the margins of the rulebook and outside the spirit of the rules.

  7. Ben Wolf says:

    Unfortunately, the whole game is now played on the margins of the rulebook and outside the spirit of the rules.

    This is symptomatic of a nation in serious social decline, and I’m not aware of any historical precedent for reversing it.

  8. Stan says:

    When Walker gets his bill, what young teacher in his right mind would want to work in Wisconsin? The pay will be crappy (as it is now), the benefits will be so-so, and you’ll have no say in your working conditions. In my high school years in a small Wisconsin town during the early 50’s, the only economically secure teachers were women married to local businessmen. Wisconsin is headed in that direction again, and I’d be astonished if there weren’t a serious decline in its educational standards as a result. But hey, Governor Scotty will keep taxes low, and that’s all that counts, isn’t it?

  9. mantis says:

    In my high school years in a small Wisconsin town during the early 50′s, the only economically secure teachers were women married to local businessmen.

    Yeah, well, these jackasses want to go back to the time when women couldn’t support themselves (or make any decisions for themselves). I’m surprised they haven’t starting talking about repealing the 19th Amendment. Yet.

  10. Dustin says:

    As someone against this bill, I do agree with James about the troublemaker bit, though most people don’t agree with me. I think the suggestion actually made Walker uncomfortable. In the audio, he hesitates, and then stumbles around for a bit, before finding a way to make a point against it, without appearing to directly challenge someone he believed he wouldn’t want to offend.

  11. D Koch says:

    “a serious decline in its educational standards as a result.”

    And a serious increase in Real Americans. Who says the southern strategy has to be confined to the south?

  12. Alex Knapp says:

    without appearing to directly challenge someone he believed he wouldn’t want to offend.

    That, in itself, while not violating any laws, shows some serious lack of spine on Walker’s part.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    As with military contracting, the problem with the relationship between politicians and donors is not the illegal actions, the scandal is in what’s legal.

  14. cian says:

    James is probably right- offensive yes, but not actionable. This guy walker is obviously a bit of a scumbag so I’m pretty sure he and his pals did consider such an action.

    There are of course many ways to respond to such a suggestion without offending the ‘big’ guy. Pretend its a joke and move on swiftly would be the simplest, but only someone who thought packing a protest with trouble makers was a joke would think to act so.

    The role of unions in public service is a discussion worth having, but not with Walker and his ilk, liars and braggarts one and all.

  15. jwest says:

    Speaking of scumbags, let’s look at Ian Murphy, the person who made the “prank” call.

    http://minx.cc/?post=312530

  16. wr says:

    Good old jwest, rushing to the defense of sleazy politicians and attacking journalists.

  17. Alex Knapp says:

    @jwest,

    Okay, so Ian Murphy holds an opinion you disagree with. What does that have to do with Walker?

  18. Herb says:

    “That, in itself, while not violating any laws, shows some serious lack of spine on Walker’s part.”

    Spine? I’d say he’s got plenty of spine. Character, professionalism, and common decency is what he’s missing.

    The thing that infuriates me most about Walker’s methods, which he talked about in the call, is this lay-off notice thing. Hey, I understand they may have to lay-off some people.

    Here’s how you do that. You hold those cards close to your chest and you don’t say anything until the decision is made and then you only tell the people affected. But Walker’s sending out lay-off notices to people he knows he won’t be laying off, and doing it as a kind of threat. (He admits as much in the call.)

    Amateur hour, man. Amateur hour.

  19. mantis says:

    Okay, so Ian Murphy holds an opinion you disagree with. What does that have to do with Walker?

    ::Hands waving:: “Look over here, look over here!”

    That’s it.

  20. Dustin says:

    I’ve been familiar with Scott Walker for most of his political career, and one thing I wouldn’t say he lacks, is spine.

  21. TG Chicago says:

    I agree that it would be difficult to prosecute him on anything based on this call.

    However, I find it quite amusing that Walker can say “We thought about that”, and Joyner can choose to interpret that to mean that it never occurred to Walker. Not to mention that — right off the top of his head — Walker can explain why it could be politically damaging. Just the way someone would if they had thought about it. Like he said he did.

    Joyner shows off his black belt in mental gymkata!

  22. SKI says:

    I think James missed the actual potential ethics violation.

    It wasn’t the troublemakers, it was the improper message coordination. Walker was telling “Koch” that what he wanted to see the koch’s PAC “purchase advertising to benefit Republican legislators who are nervous about taking votes on legislation [Walker] sees as critical to his political success.””

  23. James Joyner says:

    @TG Chicago

    People do that sort of thing all the same when dealing with stupid suggestions from people they don’t want to offend. As a professor, for example, it was common to reply to a dumb answer from a student with some variant of “Good answer, but . . . . ” The best manage to find some kernel of wisdom in the answer — or to extrapolate a good answer and frame it as if that’s what the student meant all along.

    @SKI:

    I’m responding to a specific set of allegations. I don’t know where the bright lines are on PAC coordination. I know it happens routinely but there’s an art to doing it.

  24. ponce says:

    I’ve been trying to come up with a name for the army of fringe right “grassroots” activists and politicians owned by the brothers.

    So far I’ve got:

    1. Koch Whores
    2. Koch Suckers

    Any ideas?

  25. michael reynolds says:

    Ponce takes the thread.

  26. mpw280 says:

    Yes ponce takes the thread with the usual leftist civility that they demand of everyone but themselves, so if you want to talk kochsuckers there is probably a mirror two left in your houses. mpw

  27. mantis says:

    Yes ponce takes the thread with the usual leftist civility that they demand of everyone but themselves, so if you want to talk kochsuckers there is probably a mirror two left in your houses.

    Nope. Can’t find a “mirror two” anywhere. What does one look like?

  28. Wiley Stoner says:

    Prank answers to a prank phone call. If Walker had ever spoken with Koch, he would recognize he was not speaking with the person represented on the phone. There is no way to present facts to prove intent.

  29. Honestly, some of you really are sleazy anti-kochsuckers. What, not clever enough to work teabaggers into your gratuitous insults?

  30. Loviatar says:

    Charles,

    Do you think most Koch-whores are also Teabaggers or are the only Koch-suckers?

    I really want to know as I’m thinking of hiring a few for this job I have in mind.

  31. TG Chicago says:

    Did you guys not go to the Buffalo Beast link? (i.e., the original site for the prank call) It answers the question for you.

  32. TG Chicago says:

    @Joyner: you’re really bending over backwards to explain why it’s impossible that that he actually did what he said he did. At least we can be assured that as you twist yourself into these contortions, you won’t accidentally cut yourself with Occam’s Razor.

  33. SonofMog says:

    Hey Joyner, read Walker’s own words in response to questions about the “troublemakers” bit:

    “The fact of the matter is, people have brought up all sorts of different options. And as you saw, if you’ve listened to the tape, we put that down. We
    said, we’ve had a civil discourse. My greatest fear over the weekend was that somehow when we had the abundance of people on either side of the issue both for and against the bill that that might somehow lead to a disturbance. For us that doesn’t benefit the debate. We’ve had a civil debate in Wisconsin, it is a very midwestern trait. That’s something while others have brought up as a consideration, and we’ve had all sorts of options brought to us by staff, by the lawmakers, by people from all across the state, but as you’ve heard on the tape, we dismissed that and said that wasn’t a good idea.”

    http://www.todaystmj4.com/news/local/116767654.html?video=pop&t=a&bctid=CLIP_ID_1244851

    ===============

    GRETA: But you thought about it.
    WALKER: Well, we did, we had people contact–I had people–I even had lawmakers and others suggesting riling things up. What I pointed out increasingly, and I’ve said it all over the media and I’ve said it in all my interviews, is that we’ve had a civil discourse here in the state of Wisconsin.

    http://video.foxnews.com/v/4554135/wis-governor-no-wrongdoing-during-prank-call/

    —————-

    So, do you still “guess” it never crossed his mind? You make me sad.

  34. matt says:

    The fact that it crossed his mind and he said no means he deserves some credit 😛

  35. James Joyner says:

    @SonofMog :

    The post was based on my interpretation of the phone call. Reasoning from life experience with awkward situations involving people you don’t want to offend, I offered my best guess as to what was going through Walker’s mind. I haven’t watched an episode of GVS’s show in years and therefore did not factor these remarks into my analysis.

    From the bits you’ve provided — and your own boldface highlights — I gather that unspecified “people,” possibly including Republican allies in the legislature, suggested doing something to “rile things up.” And these suggestions were not acted upon.

  36. SonofMog says:

    Joyner:

    The riling up was suggested “….by staff, by the lawmakers,” AND unspecified people. And it was considered and rejected not based on any moral objection, but because it was deemed STRATEGICALLY disadvantageous.

    To me, that’s kind of a big deal.

  37. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    Would have never even known about these dudes if not for the Glenn Beck like conspiracy theories of the lean forward crowd around here.

  38. Barry says:

    Stan says:
    “When Walker gets his bill, what young teacher in his right mind would want to work in Wisconsin? The pay will be crappy (as it is now), the benefits will be so-so, and you’ll have no say in your working conditions. In my high school years in a small Wisconsin town during the early 50′s, the only economically secure teachers were women married to local businessmen. Wisconsin is headed in that direction again, and I’d be astonished if there weren’t a serious decline in its educational standards as a result. But hey, Governor Scotty will keep taxes low, and that’s all that counts, isn’t it?”

    From the viewpoint of the Tea Party wing of the GOP, everything that you’ve said is a plus – worse public school teachers => public schools are bad, so home-school or evangelical-school. No say in working conditions is a pure plus in their eyes. Women teachers needing to be married to well-off men is good. Lousy education is something that the core of the GOP (i.e., the Confederate States) have ‘excelled’ in for many decades, and the GOP would really love to make that the situation for all Real America. Besides, educated people are frequently liberal.