Friday, August 10, 2012

Caucus Scandal: The 2011 Edition

A little more than a decade ago, Wisconsin was rocked with the caucus scandals, where it was found that both Republicans and Democrats were found to be having their caucus staff doing illegal politicking while working on state time and using state equipment.

The caucus scandals again rose in prominence in the past year as Walkergate, the John Doe investigation into Scott Walker, his campaign and his staff at Milwaukee County, revealed that they were also partaking in illegal politicking while on the taxpayers dime.

While many in the state, including myself, thought that Walkergate was the be all end all of scandals, it appears that it might have been just the tip of the iceberg.

Let me explain.

Recently, when the Democrats finally reclaimed the majority in the state senate, many people, mostly Republicans, thought it was a meaningless gesture and a waste of everyone's time and money. Their rationale for this feeling was that, thanks to their gerrymandering, the Republicans were ensured to regain the majority in the fall. Furthermore, because the legislature is out of session until next year, the Democrats would be unable to get anything done before they lost control of the senate again.

However, it just may be that gerrymandering that they were so proud of which might prove to be a major problem for them.

We saw some of the corruption that went on behind the gerrymandering when it was revealed that the lawmakers had done such things as signed secrecy pacts. It was then learned that at least two Republican aides, Tad Ottman and Adam Foltz, were working out of the Michael Best & Friedrich law offices while they were supposed to be doing the state's work.

When the Democrats regained control of the senate, one of things that did happen is that they were able to get their hands on all the documents regarding the gerrymandering. When these became available, most of the media focused on the partisanship of the gerrymandering and how it was obviously meant to infringe on voters' rights. While this is undeniably true, it is also only part of the story.

For example, there is one email from Andy Speth, who is Paul Ryan's Chief of Staff:
Thank you for being available to participate in the call this afternoon with the Speaker, the Majority Leader and Congressman Ryan. The purpose of the call is to get everyone on the same page as far as the process and timing of the congressional redistricting map is concerned.
What a nice, polite email showing a team working together, right?

Well, not exactly.

Take a look at the whole email.

First note the names of the people to whom Speth is emailing:

  • Tad Ottman - Staffer for Senator Scott Fitzgerald and one of the two working in the law firm while being paid by the taxpayers.
  • Adam Foltz - Staffer for Representative Jeff Fitzgerald and one of the two working in the law firm while being paid by the taxpayers.
  • Andy Gustofson - Another staffer for Jeff Fitzgerald.
  • Judith Rhodes-Engels - Now this is where it starts to get interesting. Rhodes-Engels works for WISGOP and his the main fundraiser for Scott Fitzgerald.

So what is a fundraiser for WISGOP doing on this email list?

Scott Fitzgerald and Judith Rhodes-Engels
Well, that might be answered in part by the next revelation. Look at the email addresses that Speth sent his missive to. They are all the private emails of the people involved.

This would indicate that they were doing government work using their private emails, except for Rhodes-Engels. For that, Speth used her WISGOP address. You don't suppose they were doing this to avoid open record requests, do you?

Now look at the time of the email: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 9:53 am.

I find it unlikely that they all were off on that day. And even if they were, that still doesn't explain why they were discussing government business on private emails or why a political operative was involved in the discussion.

I also find it curious why the Fitzgerald boys and Ryan were having their staffers and political aides involved in a process that was so super secret that they had to have all the legislators sign secrecy pacts. Was it secret to give them an advantage or was it secret to hide the fact that they were practicing illegal politics?

Now let's take a look at a second email:

Look at the first line of this missive:
To keep all of us in the loop at the staff level, I want to share with you the feedback I received from Congressman Ryan regarding the conversation he had this morning with the Speaker and the Majority Leader.
Well, that clarifies that they are doing this as staffers. But it also highlights the fact that they are doing so on private emails and with a political operative, Rhodes-Engels, in their midst.

Keep in mind that Rhodes-Engels has been discussed here before. She was first introduced when she pretended to be just a normal Milwaukee County-residing, Harley-riding woman who supported Scott Walker and went along for his campaign motorcycle ride. Her name also came up in Walkergate in that she shared Scott Fitzgerald's campaign donor database with Kelly Rindfleisch so that Rindfleisch could help raise funds for Walker and Brett Davis, Walker's choice for Lieutenant Governor.

I have also become aware of the fact that she has often been witnessed to be in Scott Fitzgerald's office in the Capitol, which is a distinct no-no.

Now we find her involved with the gerrymandering scheme.

Was she involved in order to glean information to be used in fundraising for the inevitable court fights? Was she there to give insight on the possible political ramifications? Or is she simply a Jill-of-all-trades and used interchangeably between legislative and political business?

What makes this even more ridiculous is that Rhodes-Engels was involved in the first caucus scandal (p. 16):
[DCI Special Agent] Strauss reports that she has participated in interviews with Judith Rhodes Engels (“Engels"), who has stated in part the following. Engels was state-employed in the Ladwig Capitol office November 1996 - March 2001. Sherry Schultz was in charge of fundraising for individual Republican members of the Assembly, including completing their campaign finance reports and assisting in fundraisers. After the 1998 elections, Engels and Ladwig discussed the fact that Schultz was “creating a monster” in that legislators were becoming too dependent on Schultz and her campaign finance related services. Engels worked with Schultz on fundraising issues. Schultz did not appear to have any duties other than fundraising. Engel's job was to keep track of contributions from legislators to RACC, which are referred to as "assessments." Schultz's duties included keeping track of where this money went for the individual campaigns. On occasion Engels received checks for individual campaigns and provided them to Schultz. Schultz created various documents regarding fundraising at RACC meetings held in Jensen's Capitol office. In a RACC meeting after the 2000 election in Jensen’s Capitol office, Jensen thanked Schultz for all she did for members of the “team” in connection with the money that had been raised.
It does make one wonder if Rhodes-Engels is just stupid, so arrogant she thinks she is above the law or so sleazy she just doesn't care.

But what this does show us is that the Republicans didn't learn one damn thing from the first caucus scandal. It also shows us that our previous estimates of the spread and depth of corruption in the Republican Party were grossly short of the mark.

WISGOP is nothing more than a vast criminal syndicate.  They need to have their crimes brought to the light of day and to the halls of justice.

I certainly hope that someone has brought this to the attention of Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne. Not that the John Doe investigations into Walker and his crew aren't keeping him busy enough.


  1. Big Fitz looks like Boss Hogg in that picture, by the way.

  2. Sounds like this will never end! Can we just get a court order to get rid of the whole bunch? :)

  3. Capper, great work!

  4. Keep it. Informed Wisconsinites owe you a debt which can never be repaid.

  5. Thank you for all your work.You will be rewarded when all this comes to light.Remember all good things come to those who wait. The wait will be so worth it when Walker and company all go down.

  6. Ok, so, you got this info from the emails released after the Dems got the Senate, correct?
    Also, why is it illegal or a big "no-no" for this Rhodes person to be seen in Fitzgerald's office? Also, why can't staffers use their private emails? Finally, while I find it irritating that the staffers knew about the redistricting and we, the citizens didn't, is that really illegal?
    Thank you for reporting on these emails. I would disagree that the GOP didn't learn anything from the caucus scandals. It appears that they learned a lot, just not what was hoped for.

    1. Anon let me answer...

      1. yes these are a small part of those emails, the ones that the republicans HAD a COURT ORDER to release and did not anyway.

      2. She can be seen in fitz office anytime she wants too, however she had NO business getting these emails. Do you really think its more important that a GOP fundraiser is involved in the process or the democratic members of the government who were democratically elected.

      3. They are more than welcome to yuse their private emails but when they do use them for government business they need to turn them all over also when asked. Anything done by the government needs to have transparency.

      4. as for if they are illegal, we will see. However they are incredibly unethical, and dishonest!

      5. I agree it appears what they learned is they can get away with anything and no rules pertain to them!

    2. Unethical yes, but so are the bankers and they seem to have gotten away with a lot. I remain pessimistic than anything will come of this, although hope springs eternal. Thank you for the detailed answer to my questions.

      As for your number 2 question, No, I don't think the GOP fundraiser should be involved at all, but the GOP is not asking me for what they should do, if they were they wouldn't be so busy destroying the public education system or turning down train money, etc., etc.

    3. Actually, she can't be in Fitz' office at all. There is strict laws concerning doing any politics in a government building. If she was doing anything more than taking a tour of the Capitol, odds are she was breaking the law.

  7. Wow. Just wow. Ryan implicated.

    1. And nominated? Mitt rMONEY is that unlucky.

      They worship at the throne of saint ronnie RayGun, I think Ryan may be the pick.

  8. Ryan was the pick of the litter for Mitt. So I think we will get to see Mitt's ship sink in a very slow and painful way.

  9. Well done. There's a lot of smoke around this fire. Good luck at cleaning up the mess the GOP leaves behind.

  10. Well, you know what? Sarah Palin, her unelected husband, and her entire gubernatorial staff did the same thing -- conduct state business on personal private secret e-mail accounts for most of her aborted 2+ years as governor.

    Mother Jones and David Corn requested her official government e-mails as a FOIA request in September 2008, and about 75% of them were released in early 2011, albeit heavily redacted.

    None of the secret e-mails are available for review.

    The reaction of the so-called "liberal" mainstream media? Yawn, nothing to see here, moving right along. (if it were liberal, you can bet that wouldn't be the reaction)

    In other words, IOKIYAR. I don't see anything happening to Walker, the Fitzgeralds, or Paul Ryan, either, for the same reason.

  11. You might want to share this with Huff Post or Rachel Maddow. Cuz it ain't gonna show up in the mainstream news until someone MAKE it news.

  12. @KaJo- You said, "The reaction of the so-called "liberal" mainstream media? Yawn, nothing to see here, moving right along. (if it were liberal, you can bet that wouldn't be the reaction)"

    So what is your reaction? Liberal or not, wouldn't YOU like to know what is in those emails? If so, why was there no reaction from the right wing media, ala Fox news, H=Journal Times, etc.? Same reaction- Move along, nothing here.......