Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Nobody Knows "Illegal Activity" Like Progressive Majority Wisconsin

Every election cycle, we have shady third party groups crawl out from under a rock, smear candidates that they oppose, and slink away until the next campaign cycle. This phenomenon is nothing new, and it's happening here in Wisconsin in 2006.

One example during this election cycle, however, is far more interesting than the rest. Progressive Majority Wisconsin is an unregulated independent group working to overcome large Republican majorities in both houses of the State Legislature. In doing so, they attempt to smear Republican candidates through their website and puerile blog. If a false charge doesn't stick, they just move on until one does.

For instance, Progressive Majority is pushing a bogus charge of "illegal activity" against Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds, who is looking to replace retiring Republican Cathy Stepp in the 21st Senate District. A few years ago, when he served as Racine County Sheriff, McReynolds set out to find a better deal on squad car bumpers for Racine taxpayers. He bought into a California company that sold such bumpers, and made all the required ethics statements and filings. As it turned out, it was too good of a deal for taxpayers, so the company went belly up and McReynolds lost his initial investment.

Now, years later, there's been a bogus complaint alleging illegal activity filed, based on info dug up by Progressive Majority. McReynolds has already been cleared by the Racine County corporation counsel, and of course nothing will ever come of the complaint - it was filed solely so they could say McReynolds was "under investigation" or some such nonsense.

The real irony here is that Progressive Majority Wisconsin is run by Doug Burnett, who was convicted in perhaps the largest corruption scandal in state history. You may recall Burnett as Chuck Chvala's Chief of Staff for eight years (a fact he conveniently leaves out in his website bio) during the years Chvala was extorting money from lobbyists, laundering money through groups like Burnett runs now, filing false campaign finance reports, and on and on.

While Burnett was charged with two campaign finance violations (he plead guilty to one), one wonders what his charge would have been had he not been so willing to squeal like a pig when asked to drop the dime on Chvala. The official complaint against Chvala paints Burnett as his bag man, and the architect of much of the criminal activity alleged (I'll run a couple of "Burnett's Greatest Hits from the complaint at the end of this post). Burnett's name appears 180 times in the 69 page criminal complaint.

So what we have here is a shady independent group alleging bogus illegal activity from an elected official, while the leader of that group has been convicted of running an illegal shady independent group. The hypocrisy truly makes one's head spin. The fact that this is the best the Democrats could do to come up with someone to smear Republicans doesn't speak well of their effort.

Let's take a trip back in the time machine to the Chvala complaint and learn how Burnett became so acquainted with the ins and outs of the criminal justice system, shall we?

48. Mr. Bright indicated that he had a similar experience with the defendant’s chief of Staff, Mr. Burnett. Mr. Bright stated that he was retained by Midwest Express Airlines to attempt to change that law on how airplanes stored in the state of Wisconsin were taxed. During his lobbying efforts on the tax provision Mr. Bright met several times with the defendant. The provision had been supported by the Assembly, but was having trouble getting through the Senate. During these meetings, the defendant continually told Mr. Bright that he had no relationship with Midwest Express. Mr. Bright believed that what the defendant meant was that Midwest Express had not made campaign contributions to the defendant or other Democratic
Senators.


49. Mr. Bright said this conclusion was strengthened by a meeting that he had with Mr. Burnett to discuss the issue. Mr. Bright indicated that within the Capitol it is well known that the defendant works very closely with Mr. Burnett and talking to Mr. Burnett is the same as talking to the defendant. Mr. Burnett indicated that there was opposition to the bill from smaller airports and that was delaying the bill. Mr. Bright corrected him, pointing out that a compromise had been reached on that issue. Mr. Burnett then told him that Midwest Express needed to make a $10,000 contribution. Mr. Bright told Mr. Burnett that the airline couldn’t do that and that the request was inappropriate. Mr. Burnett told Mr. Bright that he was not doing his job and would have to help Midwest Express understand that they had to be a part of the political process. Mr. Burnett then turned red and insisted that the demand was not a quid pro quo. Your complaining witness states that Mr. Burnett appeared before the John Doe and acknowledged making the request for a $10,000 campaign contribution during a discussion of the Midwest Express tax issue, but insisted that this was not a quid pro quo.

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Ms. Richard stated that in 1998 the main democratic independent expenditure group used by the defendant as run by an individual named Tom Boeder. She stated that Tom Boeder was placed in this position because he was a close friend of the defendant’s chief of staff, Mr. Burnett. It was her belief that Mr. Burnett was giving Boeder information regarding campaigns and, therefore, she did not want to have anything to do with Mr. Burnett. She stated that she believed that Mr. Burnett was giving Boeder information because Mr. Burnett was very involved with the campaigns and kept a close eye on what was happening. Mr. Burnett would regularly ask her for detailed information on the candidates and for campaign brochures. The types of details he was asking for were things that would not be necessary for him to know if he was simply overseeing the campaign. She stated that Mr. Burnett had access to all of the Senate Democratic Caucus polling information.

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Complainant was present when Scott McCormick testified before a John Doe hearing in Dane County Case No. 01-JD-6. Mr. McCormick stated as follows. Both Tom Boeder and Mr. Burnett asked Mr. McCormick to assist with Independent Citizens for Democracy (PAC). Mr. Burnett indicated Independent Citizens for Democracy (PAC) would work to elect Democrats to the Wisconsin State Senate. Mr. Burnett and Mr. McCormick agreed that Mr. McCormick would serve as a figurehead treasurer on behalf of the organization. Mr. McCormick knows Mr. Burnett serves as chief of staff for the defendant's legislative office.

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Here's the acknowledgement of Burnett's light charges (p. 62), given his willingness to rat on Chvala:

234. Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorneys David Feiss and Kurt Benkley have advised complainant as follows. In their capacity as Special Prosecutors for Dane County, and acting on behalf of the State of Wisconsin, they have reached an agreement with Douglas Burnett to cooperate with the investigation and prosecution of the matters set forth in this criminal complaint. Under this agreement, Mr. Burnett must honestly reveal any and all information he possesses relevant to the present investigation and prosecution. He has further agreed to testify truthfully to such matters in any prosecution brought by the State of Wisconsin. In exchange for his cooperation, the State of Wisconsin has agreed to limit the charges against Mr. Burnett to two misdemeanors for unlawful coordinated campaigning with the understanding that Mr. Burnett shall plead guilty to those offenses.

Thanks to Fred at RealDebate Wisconsin, who has also been covering this topic.