Monday, January 9, 2012

Explaining Scott Walker's Catastrophic Decision To Give Tim Russell Those Veterans' Funds

A team of Journal Sentinel reporters tracks the career of Tim Russell, a former aide to Scott Walker and GOP operative who was charged last week with stealing charitable funds for veterans' which had been in independent hands before Walker, as County Executive, put the money under Russell's control.

The team's reporting fills out Russell's resume and long association with Walker, and to some degree illuminates why Walker would give Russell a grab-bag of duties to fulfill.

But it still is not clear why Walker chose to give Russell control over the veterans' charitable money, A) after the county's ethics board recommended that the charity's finances be separated from Walker and county government, and, B) after, in fact, those financial responsibilities had been moved to an American Legion post which District Attorney John Chisholm said in the Russell charging document had performed exemplary management, according to

I offer one possible piece of the puzzle based on my work in both Madison and Milwaukee's city halls, where personality clashes or petty one-upsmanship in a highly-competitive or politicized atmosphere could contribute to decision-making.

First, let's back up a bit.

The veterans' charity, initially created by Walker, came under the eventual control of the Alonzo Cudworth American Legion Post No. 23 after the ethics board's 2006 recommendation that the funds be transferred, as the Journal Sentinel noted in a lengthy story a few days ago that should be read in full:

Walker set up the annual Operation Freedom as a military appreciation day at the zoo for veterans, who got free admission and food. It was run through the county executive's office. Russell was the coordinator of the event and worked on it with Darlene Wink, another former Walker aide at the county who has been under investigation in the John Doe probe.

But the financing setup for the event drew ethics scrutiny in 2006, when two county Ethics Board members questioned the practice of county officials asking private companies for money for public programs, saying it raised conflict-of-interest questions...

Walker said then that he was trying to save taxpayer dollars and that he'd resolve ethics concerns by asking a veterans organization to solicit funds for the event. Walker got legal advice that the fundraising should be handled by a separate charitable entity.

As a result, starting in 2006, Milwaukee Purple Heart Chapter 96 began overseeing the checkbook for Operation Freedom...

Because of concerns about how Operation Freedom's money was being handled, officials turned over control of the funds in 2009 to the Alonzo Cudworth American Legion Post No. 23.

But the group soon lost that responsibility when it was handed over to Russell and the organization he ran, Heritage Guard Preservation Society, in October 2009 - a decision personally signed off on by Walker as county executive.
OK - - now pay attention to this nugget about Milwaukee County Board Supervisor John Weishan, Jr., a Walker nemesis, in a fine analysis by former Milwaukee Journal editor and writer Dom Noth, who now does communication work for the Milwaukee Area Labor Council:
Ignored concerns from Supervisor John Weishan.
When Supervisor John Weishan, a Marine, complained several years ago that Walker was engaged in self-aggrandizement, shutting out the American Legion and the County Board and insisting on creating his own charity effort along with Russell for veterans, Weishan was hooted down as just another liberal politician opposed to Walker’s right-wing vision. So busy were the attackers that they failed to notice what the DA seized on, that Walker created a 501 ( c ) for veterans out of his own elected office, a big warning signal of what could happen to funds from the well-meaning public.

Today, Weishan looks pretty prescient...while Walker?
Weishan is active in the community on Veterans' affairs, has criticized Walker over county budget cuts to veterans' programs, and also had done battle with Walker over appointments Walker sought for Russell that required County Board approval.
Walker also nominated Russell to lead the county's economic development office in late 2004, but county supervisors voted down the Russell appointment the following April on a 12-7 vote amid complaints that Russell was unqualified and a Walker campaign functionary.

Walker took the unusual step at the time of sending a letter beseeching County Board Chairman Lee Holloway to back Russell's appointment, saying he was needed to provide continuity on the county's efforts to market vacant Park East Freeway corridor land.

Supervisor John Weishan Jr., a frequent Walker critic, said Thursday he and others were irritated at Walker repeatedly placing Russell in county posts despite concerns Russell did campaign work on county time.
So it would not surprise me that Walker chose to transfer the veterans' charity management to Russell because Walker saw it as a way to stick it to Weishan.

I can hear Walker saying, 'Weishan thinks he's the veterans' guy in the Courthouse? He thinks he can push me around by making Russell's life difficult? I'll show Weishan who's in charge here: watch me give that veterans' program to Russell just to tick Weishan off.'

That's my theory, and don't think for a moment that scores in government aren't settled just like that when a chief executive wants to teach a lesson to a nettlesome legislator.


Anonymous said...

I'm serious wondering then, if this scenario plays out as you've described, will Walker become a target or not? It seems like Walker himself will not be an actual target if this scenario is true.

Anonymous said...

A few (too lengthy so in 2 parts) observations
First, I assume I am not alone in recently hitting the JSOnline paywall. I have complained elsewhere that I find it irritating that Left-leaners have sent so much blog traffic to the JS, and as I already go on "too long" all the time I did not specify that I meant tit-for-tat (weird expression) opinion pieces. Now that I am familiar w/ the JS I easily see it is a source for news that does not appear elsewhere. I became a constant online reader as a result. I guess I can keep looking at the front page and gleaning info from headlines, but on an emotional level I tend to stay away from paywall sites. I haven't been back to the NYTimes in ages. IMO it's just counter-intuitive behavior re: what the net was originally all about, and the centralizing and commercializing of it is actually killing it IMO at the very time corporate types and political types are still gleeful over the alleged possibilities of the internetz. If the gov't remains complicit in the corporate/colonialist bullshit paradigm that is mutating the net, we all won't recognize it or even like it in a relatively short time. But that's a rant for elsewhere I guess. The point being, it's going to be more important now for people(bloggers) to relay the actual original info as you have here and not just their own ravings. I have a limit of 15 story-views per month, I would have gone thru what - 3 of them or so just on your post here alone. Those 15 will go fast. So I (and others) appreciate your informative way of citing info.
Secondly, I have a gut reaction that this story-line is going to be the "final nail" in the Walker public image coffin. Walker, having played the Christian Card and in fact his whole party being SO virulently anti-gay, can not possibly justify the natures of these close Walker friends to the party image. As an anti-gay, how can Walker have turned a blind eye to a man who is openly gay and SOOO actively forced that man on various orgs. SO actively helped that man's career? And, as I did read in the JS, these men (one of whom is obviously a lot older) are into Father-Son role-play sex, and you have to assume that plays a part in the Russell home-life as his partner is clearly 800 years old and he is quite younger - how is this not turning the stomachs of everyone these dudes meet? How can you be a gay-teach-me-Daddy sex game player and have any cred with Christian right Repubs? How does Tonette 'splain this to her boys? She will have to now. Why is Daddy friends with Those Men?

Anonymous said...

part-ah two-ah ~

And - why IS Scott Walker soooo emotionally attached to this man? LOL where oh WHERE have Scott Walker's boyish looks taken him? How are they so "intimate" that Russell felt okay using Walker04 as his own screen name?
People will not maybe say all that in print because it's "rude" but I guarantee they'll be thinking about those gross questions that have been raised. No one is so naive anymore that we (the public) don't easily begin to wonder what anti-gay politicians are really tap-tap-tapping their feet under restroom doors.
So this issue has a fetid underbelly that too many people have now seen. I do still think partisan loyalty will induce tons of people to defend Walker, but it will be a much more hollow defense, a defense of the position and not the man himself.
Third, a person I talk with asked me, and I don't know, how similar this scenario is to the Sean Hannity veteran's charity scandal of some time back. I guess the Hannity one did not involve gov't orgs, but still - ripping off Veteran's? How does that sit well with Republicans also? Is that a way to treat "our boys"? More underbelly, IMO unless the Dems screw up (and they do so often) or there is some weird weird legal loophole (Waukesha power!) that suddenly saves the Walker bacon - he's done now.
Lastly (i know, blah blah blah) re: political scores etc. You'd have to (and a lot of people do this) go around with blinders on to "not notice" scores of heinous behaviors, I myself have certainly seen a lot of them, As a result my default settings are hate and contempt, however, as I hinted at previously I feel you are doing a fine job of blogging here. Keep up the good work and giving Great Link like the one of yesterday, very enjoyable to watch.
I like the unpolished (therefore more powerful) nature of it, and the genuine and very individual responses as opposed to the usually parsed, echoed talking points we always see. Now THAT was Real Internet, no Zuckerbergs needed thank you - very rare. props dude.

James Rowen said...

@UnicornChaser: I'll be mindful of the paywall issue.

@Anon - - I think it's too early to tell, as I do not think this is all the charging to come out of the John Doe. Remember that the first charges were related to illegal campaign donations.

Bill Lumberg said...

Did Walker keep Russell around because they were very close friends? How many ultraconservative christian men do you know that count openly gay men as their close friends?

Did Walker keep Russell around and on the payroll to keep him from coming forward about anything that would look bad in the newspaper?

If Russell was a woman I think people would assume that they were having a sexual relationship. We have seen it so many times.

Doesn't this explain the apparent rift between Walker and longtime staffer Tom Nardelli? Meaning if Nardelli brought the missing funds issue to light without knowing it was Russell who stole it wouldn't that upset Walker who would probably have rather never it never came out.
Inquiring minds want to know.

James Rowen said...

@Bill - - I think Nardelli, in this case, did exactly what a chief of staff is supposed to do and protected the boss with some CYA work.

About the rest of that? Who knows. My gut feeling is that Walker had a coterie of loyalists - - there are photos on news sites of Russell doing go-fer work, organizing yard signs and photo ops - - and every politician needs a group of worker bees who are willing to do what needs to be done in campaigns.

So Russell got plugged in, here and there, to reward him and keep him available for whatever needed to be done 24/7.

Anonymous said...

Walker and Russell were at Marquette at the same time. I wonder if the were friends in college? Maybe Russell helped with Walker's campaign for student government president in 1988?

Anonymous said...

a key question is whether walker knew russell had been terminated from a state job for personal use of a state credit card before giving him responsibility over the vets' funds.

jimspice said...

Another lefty blog referred to them as "special friends." I think I may have peed a little when I read that.

Anonymous said...

"Secondly, I have a gut reaction that this story-line is going to be the "final nail" in the Walker public image coffin. Walker, having played the Christian Card and in fact his whole party being SO virulently anti-gay, can not possibly justify the natures of these close Walker friends to the party image. As an anti-gay, how can Walker have turned a blind eye to a man who is openly gay and SOOO actively forced that man on various orgs. SO actively helped that man's career?"

How about Walkers relationship with Sue Black and Cynthia Archer?

Never made sense that a "Christian Right Wing Pol" would surround himself with so many openly gay appointments. Liberals yes, Neo Conservatives no...

Reagan's Disciple said...

Walker, having played the Christian Card and in fact his whole party being SO virulently anti-gay, can not possibly justify the natures of these close Walker friends to the party image. As an anti-gay, how can Walker have turned a blind eye to a man who is openly gay and SOOO actively forced that man on various orgs.

Wow, talk about being a bigot! You actually believe that Walker can't justify being friends with someone simply because of their sexual orientation and that there must have been something else?

Do you eliminate Christians as your friends? How about business owners? If not, how do you "justify" these friendships to liberals?

Here is a tip for you: Crawl out from under that rock you have been living under and open your eyes. Conservatives have friends in all walks of life. Gay, Lesbian, non-christian.... and wait, the big one.... even democrats.

Your bigotry is simply astounding coming from the side of "coexist."
Congratulations, and way to cast yourself in such a positive light!

Raven said...

James, Bill, Jim, and the Anonymi: For all that Scott Walker and Tim Russell may have been friends -- or, more to the point, Russell was Walker's loyal supporter and got appointed to jobs accordingly -- this long long while, I do not think the matter can now be portrayed as Walker having supported the gay community in any way whatsoever.

Joe McCarthy's infamous right-hand man, Roy Cohn, was gay. Joe MCarthy, need I say it, never supported the gay community. (Did Roy Cohn himself, even to the end of his days? Does barebacking in bathhouses, when he knew he had HIV, count as such?)

Surely l'affaire Tim Russell-Brian Pierick has done no good for the reputation of the gay community, and will not make it more likely for other Republicans to appoint known gay staffers to responsible positions. There is indeed such a thing as bad publicity.