When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker discussed strategies to lay off state employees for political purposes, to coordinate supposedly “independent” political expenditures to aid legislatures who support his budget repair bill and to place agent provocateurs on the streets of Madison in order to disrupt peaceful demonstrations, he committed what the former attorney general of Wisconsin says could turn out to be serious ethics, election law and labor violations.
While much of the attention to the “prank” call that the governor took from a blogger who identified himself as billionaire David Koch has focused on the bizarre, at times comic, character of the discussion between a blogger posing as a powerful political player on the right and a governor whose budget repaid bill has sparked mass demonstrations in Wisconsin communities and a national outcry, the state’s former chief law-enforcement officer described the governor’s statements as “deeply troubling” and suggested that they would require inquiry and investigation by watchdog agencies.
“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 US 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 govermor, 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.”