After the Wisconsin Supreme Court stopped speech regulators in the Badger State dead in their tracks, a new report from the state’s Department of Justice is setting the table for those individuals involved to be punished for their corrupt activities.
These events offer a preview of the accountability that is coming to Texans who have similarly abused government authority for political gain.
In the report, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel concludes that the so-called “John Doe Investigation” which culminated in pre-dawn paramilitary-style raids on the homes of prominent Wisconsin Republicans, was a far-reaching investigation into virtually all Wisconsin Republicans.
Schimel blames the corruption on the malfeasance and incompetence of staff at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, one of the model organizations for ethics commissions across the county, including the Texas Ethics Commission. The report exposes the political agenda of GAB staff, as they complained about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and “dark money” benefitting Republican campaigns.
The report details how the GAB mishandled personal data and how staff at the agency deliberately and criminally leaked subpoenaed information to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper.
Working in conjunction with special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, the GAB used dozens of subpoenas to sweep-up the private data of Wisconsin Republicans. Amongst the hundreds of thousands of emails collected by the GAB, the DOJ found the following examples:

  • Over 1,000 emails between a private bible study group called a “Life Group” at Blackhawk Church in Middleton, Wisconsin. The emails covered such subjects as “LG- He is risen,” “LG- helping out Mom,” “LG- Game Night,” “LG- Spiritual Formation,” “LG-The Spirit and Scripture,” “LG-New Sermon Series=Rainbows and Sugarplums,” and “[Redacted] Requests Prayer.”
  • Pictures of a woman who was purchasing a new dress, asking the email recipient how the dress looked on her.
  • Pictures of a different woman who was considering purchasing some new shoes, asking the email recipient how the shoes looked on her.
  • One email was entitled, “Invites for bachelorette party [redacted].”
  • A string of 20 emails referencing a “Kenmore Mini Fridge” negotiation over Craigslist.
  • An application for an Anchor Bank mortgage, including references to tax forms and information.
  • An email thanking the recipient for advice concerning the purchase of a Benelli over/under shotgun at Dick’s.
  • An email between parents discussing a daughter’s need for an OB-GYN.
  • An email regarding prescription medications needed.
  • A series of Google Chat logs between friends covering a variety of private topics, including whether the writer needs “to lose 20 lbs asap.”
  • 31 separate emails discussing a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter.
  • Several emails between family members circulating drafts and corrections to a Christmas letter.
  • Hundreds of emails about fantasy sports leagues.
  • Reviewing just the emails starting with the letter “L,” GAB held and reviewed emails concerning a “labor day booze cruise,” a “landlord’s furniture” issue,” a “lawn care issue,” an invitation to “let’s get together for a drink,” a “ladies golf league at Muskego Lake,” and a “Ladies Night!”
  • Dozens of emails sent to, received from, or regarding radio talk show hosts Mark Belling, Vicki McKenna, and Charlie Sykes.
  • Multiple emails containing passwords apparently saved in the senders’ inboxes as a way to remember passwords.

Schimel’s report notes that in the few examples where the DOJ found emails relevant to the investigation, they tended to exonerate the accused. For example, the report cites one email from a Republican staffer to his father asking him to send personal emails to his personal account and not his state account because he was very intentional about not commingling personal, campaign, and state resources.
The report concludes by recommending that GAB staff attorney Shane Falk be referred to the Office of Lawyer Regulation for punishment, and that contempt proceedings be initiated against Falk, GAB Director Kevin Kennedy, Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz and six others.
Schimel also praises the Wisconsin Legislature for abolishing the Government Accountability Board and instituting other reforms designed to protect free speech and freedom of association in the state.
Wisconsin made the right choice in doing away with its speech regulators. Evidence shows the Texas Ethics Commission is engaged in the same misbehavior and participating in the same international efforts to suppress conservative speech. It is time for Texas to follow the Badger State and abolish the Texas Ethics Commission, and hold its staff accountable for their corruption.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.