Sunday, October 16, 2011

Walkergate: Pension Promises Prove Perpetual Problems

While running for their respective offices, Scott "Walkergate" Walker and Rebecca Kleefisch - who thinks an IKEA catalog is the equivalent of the Kama Sutra - made a promise to pay the full cost of their pension, starting immediately, if they were to be elected.

Scott Bauer, a reporter for Associated Press and one of the better reporters out there, did a blatant act of journalism and checked up on that promise.

Guess what.

Walker and Kleefisch both lied:
Walker's pay stubs provided Friday in response to the AP's open records request made in September had details about his pension payments redacted. But Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor did not start paying the full cost until August, when the state law he pushed required elected officials and other state employees to contribute more.

The requirement that state workers pay their 5.8 percent contribution was part of Walker's bill that also took away nearly all collective bargaining rights from most public employees. The fight over that measure resulted in protests as large as 100,000 people, led to all 14 Democratic state senators fleeing to Illinois to block the bill, and made Wisconsin the center of the fight over union rights.

If Walker had fulfilled his campaign promise, he would have been paying his pension costs during that fight in February and March.

Werwie did not have an explanation for why Walker didn't pay until the law forced him to. The law required Walker and other elected officials to make payments of 6.65 percent of their salary starting in August. That goes up to 7.05 next year.
Bauer points out that Walker has had pension promise problems in the past:
This isn't the first time Walker has run into trouble fulfilling promises related to his pension.

Immediately after winning election as Milwaukee County executive in 2002, Walker promised that any staff under his control would waive all salary and benefit increases enacted after 2000. But his opponent in 2004 revealed that Walker's staff had been taking a higher pension benefit for two years. Walker then asked the county board to reduce it
Walker also promised to return $60,000 of his $130,000 annual salary as county executive, which he did every year until winning re-election in 2008 when he dropped it to $10,000 a year. Democrats said that amounted to a broken promise, but when Walker made his original pledge he never said how many years he would return $60,000 annually.

Walker also collected pension benefits based on his higher salary for two years before having it calculated based on the lower amount.
Not bad reporting by Mr. Bauer. But, unfortunately, it's not complete either, at least in my humble opinion.

While Bauer touches on the issue of 2004, he misses one of the most significant aspects to that sordid tale.

I've written about this a few times before, most recently in another Walkergate post:
When Walker was whisked into the Milwaukee County executive's chair in 2002, he did so on the wave of hatred due to the pension scandal created by his predecessor, Tom Ament. One of his promises that he made was to have all of his staff sign waivers forgoing the pension enhancements that Ament had created.

In 2004, when Walker ran for his first re-election against challenger David Riemer, the issue of those waivers came up during the campaign. Walker said that he had all those promised waiver signed, but refused to produce them. So push came to shove and Riemer's strategist, Bill Christofferson, filed a formal request for the waivers.

The thing is, Walker didn't have them. He never followed through with his promise. When Christofferson filed the request, he and his top people spent the next ten days rushing around coercing people to sign the waivers. Then at the end of the ten day, Walker supplied a list of people who signed, but did not include the dates they signed, much less the requested waivers themselves.

This fraudulent behavior was brought before the state's Department of Justice. While they did not rule whether Walker's behavior was criminal, they did have this to say:
"In sum, this episode evinces a case of how government officials ought not to do business...

"Whether they violated the public records law is a question largely mooted by the later production of the waivers and the nearly inconceivable notion that a repeat of this inglorious set of circumstances might be forestalled by a judicial pronouncement on the matter.

"Nobody honored to serve in public office ought to manipulate public records in this fashion -- that is the opinion of this office."
However, there is another pension-related story from Walker's past that is even more telling of what kind of politician Walker is.*

In 2000, former Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament and his crew came up with the pension scheme that eventually had him forced out of office and paved the way for Scott Walker to be swept into office.

In 2005, the Milwaukee County Board held a conference that they planned to file a lawsuit regarding this pension scandal. The defendants were to be Mercer, an actuarial firm who allegedly gave them false and faulty information regarding the true cost of the pension scheme, and the law firm of Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren, who also had a hand in crafting and vouching for the scheme. The Board intended to file this lawsuit over the objections of Walker.

Walker then reversed himself (something he does frequently - Walker watchers such as myself have seen more flip-flops than Bradford Beach). He said he would go along with the lawsuit against Mercer but absolutely refused to allow a lawsuit against Reinhart to proceed. The Board, apparently figuring half a loaf is better than none, agreed to Walker's stipulation that Reinhart was off limits.

Not coincidentally, at the time that this decision was made, the head of the law firm was Rick Graber, who was at that time also the Chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party. Walker, who was gearing up for his first attempt at a gubernatorial run, wanted Graber's blessing. Furthermore, Graber had donated a lot of money to Walker's campaign.

Milwaukee County eventually settled with Mercer for a fraction of what they lost. One cannot help but wonder what the outcome would be if Walker had any ethics and allowed Reinhart to be sued as well.

But we will never know, since Walker's only ethic is that if it's good for him and/or his campaign, then it's good period.

*For a very clear, plain-spoken accounting of the pension scandal and how Walker, talk radio and the right-wing Milwaukee Journal Sentinel conspired to make this a partisan witch hunt, I strongly encourage the reader to take a few minutes for this piece by former county supervisor Jim McGuigan.