Sunday, January 22, 2012

Walkergate: Caucus Scandal Redux

Note: The following was done with the assistance of the research crew at

As the gentle reader might remember, all those months ago, I wrote An Introduction to Walkergate. In that piece, I wrote about Darlene Wink and Tim Russell, two GOP operatives who were also working for Scott Walker when he was Milwaukee County Executive. I also pointed out how they were accused of campaigning on county time and with county equipment.

More recently, in an article I wrote for the Shepherd Express, I did an overview of the Walkergate investigation, again with everything coming back to indicate that there was a high level of illegal campaigning going on in the Walker administration and possible collusion with his campaign.

Over the course of the last few days, I've learned more things, things which might or might not be part of the official investigation being conducted by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, which is starting to make this whole stinking mess seem more like a redux of the caucus scandals which rocked the state ten years ago, when Walker was still a state legislator himself. The caucus scandals involved dirty politics at its dirtiest, done by both the Republicans and Democrats. The scandal, if I may oversimplify it, involved staff doing extensive politicking on the taxpayers' dime and collusion with third party groups.

Zach Wisnewski started things off by questioning why Cullen Werwie, former Walker campaign staff and current gubernatorial spokesman, was given immunity in the Walkergate investigation. Wisnewski gave us the first clue when he wrote this (emphasis mine):
During the 2010 Republican Lt. Governor race, Werwie worked for the campaign of former Republican State Rep. Brett Davis. After Davis was defeated in the September 2010 Republican Lt. Governor primary, Werwie went to work as the traveling press person for Scott Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. In that role, Werwie would have traveled everywhere Scott Walker went, working in close proximity to Walker, no doubt leaving Werwie privy to most – if not all – of Scott Walker’s communications while on the campaign trail.
I then received a tip from a friend of Cog Dis, who pointed out that there was another connection between Walker's campaign and that of Brett Davis.

That connection is a woman named Kelly Rindfleisch.

My tipster indicated that Rindfleisch had done consulting and fund raising work for Davis while she was employed by Milwaukee County as Walker's Deputy Chief of Staff, replacing Tim Russell, whom Walker had made his Director of Housing. A few weeks ago, Russell was arrested and charged with embezzling more than $10,000 from a veterans fund.

Rindfleisch's Linked-In profile does indeed indicated that she was Walker's Deputy Chief of Staff from January 2010 through November 2010. Further research indicated that Rindfleisch was the registered agent for a group called JVS Consulting. Davis' campaign finance reports show that he paid this agency $3,000 in his failed bid for Lieutenant Governor.

Now, none of this indicates that Rindfleisch, Werwie or Davis did anything illegal.  However, there are other facts that have surfaced in researching this angle that, well, I will just present them and let the gentle reader draw their own conclusions.

One of the things that stands out is that Davis appeared to be the candidate of choice for the WISGOP machine.  The Republican Party of Waukesha County, one of the reddest counties in the state, sent out mailers which endorsed Davis for Lt. Governor.  Davis was also endorsed by the Republican Party of Milwaukee County (home of Darlene Wink, Tim Russell and other names that have been popping up in the Walkergate investigation), Tommy Thompson, WMC and MMAC.

As a point of interest, and to further cement the ties that bind, Davis' campaign treasurer was Jason T. Thompson, son of Tommy Thompson, and currently an attorney at Walker's favorite law firm, Michael Best & Friedich.

Davis looked like someone who would fit in well with Walker's extremist agenda.  He supported slashing school funding, which was in line with what education profiteers want and what Walker's attempting to do.  The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign shows that groups like All Children Matter, Wisconsin Club for Growth and Coalition for American's Families put in undisclosed amounts of money to run issue ads. One Wisconsin Now reported that the financial backers of All Children Matter gave Davis $13,000.

After failing to win in the primary, Walker eventually appointed Davis to be the Wisconsin Medicaid Director, to work with Dennis Smith.  Davis and Smith had previously worked together in Washington, D.C., for then Secretary of Health Tommy Thompson.  We all know how things are working out for people dependent on Medicaid services.

Now on to Kelly Rindfleisch.

Rindfleisch was named in the complaint filed against Tim Russell.  Russell apparently listed her as Secretary/Treasurer and as a Director of Heritage Guard Preservation Society, Inc. (HGPS).  HGPS was the group that Walker personally assigned to handle the finances for Operation Freedom.  She denied being aware of this.  But she sure was aware of Operation Freedom.

On the Facebook page for Operation Freedom, Rindfleisch put in three entries (all of which one might assume was during work hours).  

As an oddity, it was also found that Rindfleisch had once submitted a picture of a "ghost" to International Ghost Hunters Society.  Putting one's beliefs and feelings regarding the paranormal aside for a moment, it should be noted that she submitted her picture and accompanying description via her state legislative email address.

Again, I would emphasize that none of this proves that Davis, Werwie, or Rindfleisch have done anything illegal or are necessarily part of the Walkergate investigation, with the exception of Werwie's immunity.  But they are things that I found interesting.

What I also found interesting, and I would hope the gentle reader also finds interesting as they come to their own conclusions, was this passage from an article from the Wisconsin State Journal, which I came across in my research:
In late January, three months before Gardner was charged, the head of a nonpartisan group that tracks political contributions was interviewed by an FBI agent who was interested in not only the Gardner contributions but also how legislative staffers hid illegal campaign activities in the caucus scandal 10 years ago. 
In that case, staffers of four partisan legislative caucuses were found to have been campaigning illegally on state time for both Republicans and Democrats. A John Doe probe, sparked by a Wisconsin State Journal investigation, resulted in criminal charges and fines against five lawmakers and four legislative aides, including the Legislature's top leaders, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, D-Madison, and Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, R-Brookfield.  
When he was interviewed by the FBI, Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said he was unaware that the discussion was part of an ongoing investigation.  
In addition to discussing he Gardner donations, "The agent also wanted to talk about the caucus scandal: how it worked, how they covered stuff up, that sort of thing," McCabe said. "He never mentioned Milwaukee County."
If the authorities are indeed looking at Walkergate with the caucus scandals in mind, this could eventually turn into a bigger affair than even I imagined, with ramifications reaching not only around the state but around the country.

The other thing that I question is, if Davis was indeed the first choice for Lt. Gov by Walker and WISGOP, I wonder how Walker's relationship with Rebecca Kleefisch really is.  Is she aware that Walker apparently had his people working for Davis?  If so, does she trust Walker?  What is her relationship with the party like?

Kleefisch sure hasn't done much publicly, either as Lt. Governor or as a politician..  To me, this could indicate a possible trust issue going in either direction, or even both directions, between her and Walker and her and the WISGOP machinery.

This could get very interesting very fast.  Make sure you're stocked up on popcorn.


  1. Great reporting.

  2. Is there any reason to believe that Gardner's decision to criminally launder campaign contributions through his employees was not a lone act of a lone, overzealous supporter, and was not an idea that he came up with all by his lonesome self?

  3. Incredible job on this piece. Just incredible. Any idea why Gardner's first illegal donations (to Walker's 2005 campaign)and their conversation at the time are not considered a part of all this? Again, great job investigating and connecting all the dots. Hopefully, the other dots will come soon...

  4. I couldn't tell you why the 2005 stuff wasn't included.

    As for the other dots, I'm hearing this is going to be a busy week.

  5. So appreciate your writing and explanations....thanks!