MADISON, Wis. — In early February, Gov. Scott Walker announced he had “lawyered-up” in the ongoing criminal investigation of his administration, retaining two high profile criminal defense attorneys. His continuing refusal to disclose how he is paying for his lawyers, whose billing rates could approach $1,000 per-hour, raises troubling ethical concerns, according to One Wisconsin Now Deputy Director Mike Browne.
Browne commented, “Gov. Walker could very well be using the unlimited mega-donor contributions he’s gotten on his cross country cash grab to pay for his high powered criminal defense lawyers. Or maybe he has a ‘Gableman plan’ so he’ll never pay a dime for lawyers in the ongoing criminal investigation of his administration and associates.”
He continued, “The point is, Gov Walker’s refusal to come clean means we don’t know who’s paying his bills, or what they might be getting in return.”
Under state ethics and campaign finance laws, elected officials may set up a legal defense fund. With the consent of donors, most campaign donations may also be transferred to the defense fund, but campaign finance reports will not show which donors agreed to a transfer. Donations to a legal defense fund in excess of $50 must be reported on a statement of economic interest. But Gov. Walker’s statement for 2012 will not be filed for over a year, in April of 2013.
Browne noted that Gov. Walker could even have a billing scheme like State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who essentially received tens of thousands of dollars in free legal work from the law firm defending him in an ethics case. Under the terms of that controversial agreement, the law firm said it would seek reimbursement from the state for the cost of their work, but if the state did not pay, the firm would not seek payment from Justice Gableman.
“The continuing criminal investigation of Gov. Walker’s administration has already resulted in sixteen criminal charges against five aides and associates, an FBI raid of a top aide’s home, and convictions for illegal campaign donations. The veil of secrecy around how Gov. Walker is paying for his defense lawyers adds yet another chapter to the sad saga of this ethically challenged administration,” Browne concluded.