Wisconsin's Republican Party files official complaint alleging coordination over union organizer's comments

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September 21, 2010

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, the Republican nominee for Governor of Wisconsin

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin: John-David Morgan probably wishes he'd asked a few more questions about the polite young man who was so keen to discuss politics. And he's almost certainly ruining the choice to spend a quarter of an hour boasting of questionable political activities to a stranger. His audience, Michael Brickman, happens to be a campaign staffer for Republican gubernatorial nominee Scott Walker and he recorded the entire conversation on his cell phone. First revealed on Sunday, September 19th, the story quickly went national yesterday.

Today, Wisconsin's Republican Party (dead link) is filing a formal complaint with the state's Government Accountability Board and with the Milwaukee County Ethics Board alleging illegal coordination.[1] John-David Morgan, who works full time for SEIU Local #1, has been active in support of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's gubernatorial campaign, but he may have crossed the line. While Mr. Morgan's comments on the recording are full of potentially damaging words, the Republican Party's complaint is initially focusing on two specific assertions.

According to the complaint, Morgan wrongly claimed to be a lobbyist for purposes of engaging in coordination on behalf of Tom Barrett's campaign. The complaint also alleges that John Weishan, a Milwaukee County Supervisor who was specifically mentioned by Morgan as an ally in attack on Scott Walker, improperly used his office to support Tom Barrett.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Mr. Barrett's campaign, and the union that employs Mr. Morgan are all keeping quiet. Tom Barrett has made a single comment in which he writes off Morgan's comments as bar talk, painting a picture of a man intentionally inflating his political influence; "Am I surprised that people in bars on Friday nights are talking about how much influence they have over people? No, I'm not surprised by that at all. I would imagine you could go into any number of bars and have people saying they're running the Walker campaign, the Barrett campaign, the United Nations."[2]

Mr. Morgan's comments focused on plans to use the June 24, 2010 accident at Milwaukee's O'Donnell Parking Garage, which killed one and injured two more, against Scott Walker. In his role as a County Executive, Mr. Walker was involved in oversight of county owned building and has been part of investigations since the accident. Long-time political foes of Walker who are also part of Milwaukee's County government have been at odds with him on how to proceed with the aftermath of O'Donnell Park. According to comments that Mr. Morgan made, he has been working with those individuals to attack Walker and to allege that it was Walker's actions that delayed maintenance which would have prevented the accident.

Yesterday, George Dunst and Rick Esenberg, both attorneys and experts on election law, weighed in on what laws Morgan may have broken.[3] Both men agreed that, even if everything on the tape is true, John-David Morgan may not have done anything expressly illegal. Still, Morgan's comments, by showing that the Barrett campaign and a PAC discussed how to use the O'Donnell Parking Garage tragedy in debates and attack ads, may have effectively handcuffed Barrett's campaign from raising O'Donnell Park at all for the remainder of the campaign.

That opinion notwithstanding, the Wisconsin Republicans are still proceeding with their complaint. The party's executive director, Mark Jefferson, added, “this coordinated plot runs completely counter to any standard of open and fair elections, and everyone involved needs to come clean.” Addressing what state Republicans expect to achieve with the complaint, Jefferson said, “Wisconsin deserves to know how deep this scandal really goes, and Tom Barrett owes it to the voters to put a stop to this kind of campaign.”

All investigations conducted by the Government Accountability Board are confidential. Compliance with lobbying regulations is governed under Sections 13.61 - 13.65 of the Wisconsin Statutes. State Public Officials are bound by the Ethics Code outlined in Sections 19.41 - 19.58 of state statute.

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