Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is pleading ignorance and his press aides are refusing to answer questions about a “John Doe” investigation that has already resulted in the conviction of one of his top donors on felony campaign finance and money laundering charges and that has now seen FBI agents raid the home of one of the governor’s longest-serving aides.
The agents seized records from the home of Cynthia Archer, who was one of Walker’s top aides when he was Milwaukee County executive and then became one of the new governor’s highest-level political appointees as the deputy secretary of the Department of Administration. That agency developed Walker’s controversial “budget repair bill,” with its attacks on labor rights and local democracy. The DOA led the effort to close the Capitol after hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin citizens came to Madison to protest. Archer played a coordinating role in the DOA’s initiative and served as a link to other state agencies before and during the struggle, which drew international attention.
The FBI agents and other law enforcement officers have obtained a computer hard drive that belonged to Archer, who is telling reporters that she does not believe she did anything wrong “on the job.” Authorities have also seized the computers of two other aides who worked with Walker in the county executive office while he was seeking the governorship in 2010.
Archer abruptly quit her $125,000-a-year Department of Administration post in August, with no explanation. Days after her departure from the DOA post—which drew attention because of rumors regarding the “John Doe” probe—it was revealed that she had been hired into a $99,449-a-year job by a key Walker aide, Eloise Anderson, who serves as secretary of the Department of Children and Families. As part of a broader initiative by Walker to create more political posts in state government, the position Archer now holds was shifted from civil-service status to a new status where the person filling it is a political appointee accountable to the governor. Archer is being paid $39,000 more than her predecessor, a 64 percent salary spike. But she has not been working. Despite the fact that she has been making media appearances, Archer says she is on paid “medical leave.”
The rapidly expanding “John Doe” investigation±reportedly sought by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm—has already led to the conviction of one of the governor’s confidants. William Gardner, the president of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., was sentenced to two years’ probation after he admitted to felony violations of state campaign finance and money laundering rules.
News reports of the FBI raid are the talk of the state. But Walker says he only knows what he is reading in the papers—even though his campaign has spent more than $60,000 to retain a former US Attorney with broad experience dealing with the FBI and federal investigations.
Walker’s press secretary has been instructing reporters not to bring the investigation up at public events.
The governor’s reticence is understandable. After all, the question is now being asked in Wisconsin is the one that investigators wanted to ask of Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal: “What did you know and when did you know it?”
Walker can stonewall for a while more.
But with the FBI raid, with a Walker donor admitting to felonies and with evidence mounting that the governor and his appointees have been busy finding political jobs for the targets of a “John Doe” investigation, this is not the sort of scandal that can be swept under the rug.
It is, as well, precisely the sort of scandal that scares investors away from a state—especially when concerns about money laundering and pay-to-play politics have been raised.
Walker may not want to answer questions now, but he is going to have to answer eventually.
Becase of Archer’s central role in the anti-labor push by the Walker administration, this scandal cannot be separated from the broader issue of the governor’s assaults on collective bargaining rights, local democracy and open government. Those assaults have led almost 200,000 Wisconsinites to pledge their support for recalling Walker and removing the governor from office. The “John Doe” investigation into his aides, the FBI raid and the governor’s stonewalling will only increase the sense—especially among swing voters—that Walker must be held to account.