Updated 10:01 a.m.: MILWAUKEE -- Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday declined to answer specific questions about why he helped his campaign treasurer in an ultimately unsuccessful bid in 2010 to provide office space for Milwaukee County, where Walker was the county executive.
But Walker noted that no one was charged by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm in connection with the assistance given to John Hiller, a real-estate broker and Walker’s former long-time campaign treasurer.
“A Democratic district attorney who’s looked at this issue for two years 20 months ago this weekend … closed that case because he didn’t find any reason to go forward. I think that speaks volumes,” said Walker, appearing before a firefighters’ group and two Milwaukee Police organizations to accept their endorsements Wednesday.
“You’ve got the biggest district attorney’s office in the state led by a Democrat who’s been more than able and willing to look into other areas looked at that and realized in the end, in that particular case, I opted to go with county property,” the governor continued. “None of the bidders that ultimately bid on it got the bid because we felt the best deal for the taxpayers of the county at that time was to go with county property.”
Walker also reiterated Wednesday that his administration was not conducting any state business by private email. Among the 16,000 emails released Tuesday from the closed John Doe investigation were thousands of messages between Walker and his top aides and campaign officials discussing Milwaukee County business on their private email accounts.
“There is not and has not been any state business conducted that way,” Walker said.
A message left Tuesday with Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, who handled the John Doe investigation, was not returned.
The campaign treasurer for Gov. Scott Walker got detailed financial information from a top Walker aide around the time he was bidding on a real estate deal involving Milwaukee County, according to correspondence released Tuesday as part of a now-closed investigation into Walker’s office while he was county executive.
The John Doe probe, which began when Walker was serving as the Milwaukee County executive, showed real estate broker John Hiller lobbied for the county to sell its City Campus building and then got detailed information from a top Walker aide around the time bids were being evaluated to provide office space for workers to be displaced by the sale.
The county never consummated a deal for the building, and no charges were filed in relation to the aborted real estate deal.
The emails show that Hiller, Walker’s campaign treasurer, was given information by Cindy Archer, director of the Department of Administration. Hiller also repeatedly lobbied Walker — both before and after the July 2010 deadline for proposals.
“Sorry to be a pain on this one,” Hiller wrote to Walker in an Aug. 18, 2010, email. “I really think that our proposal saves the county about $3 million over 5 years. If I didn’t think it wasn’t good for the county, I would (sic) push it.”
Hiller told Walker he had talked to Archer and “she was getting some info for me and she and I may meet.”
On Aug. 21, 2010, Archer wrote to Walker and county housing director Tim Russell, that the numbers in Hiller’s proposal didn’t match her earlier conversations with him — and she suggested a selling price for City Campus, a former hospital converted into county office space.
“Hiller’s original rent rate was far lower than what he included in the RFP. ... He should look at how much cushion he has in his current $12.44 rate and use that cushion to buy city campus for say $300,000,” Archer wrote to Russell and Walker. “Given it looks like he has wiggle room in his rate, he would probably make the $300k back in five years. He could give it to the City and take a write off.
“The three vendors have been told to come back with a final and best offer by Wednesday. ... The rubber is meeting the road on this issue. If you can help Hiller, now is the time,” Archer wrote.
Walker’s campaign declined comment on that email Tuesday. Archer and Hiller could not be reached Tuesday.
Hiller was representing a real estate trust that owns the Reuss Federal Plaza in Milwaukee. That company sought to increase the amount of space rented in the building by Milwaukee County.
Walker requested rejection
In another series of email exchanges, Walker asked Hiller in June 2010 to have the broker for the Reuss building reject Milwaukee County’s request for a six-month lease extension on the building, setting up the need for the later deal that Reuss bid on.
In another email to Archer on Aug. 20, 2010, Hiller said he thought officials involved with the request for proposals were unaware of his involvement. “I am very sensitive to the situation and I work pretty hard not to leave finger prints,” Hiller wrote.
Hiller resigned as Walker’s campaign treasurer in May 2011. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in 2012 that the John Doe investigation was probing a county real estate deal possibly involving Hiller.
Months before Hiller was lobbying for his proposal, another Walker county aide was dropping Walker’s name as he tipped off a developer about the potential deal.
“Not very many people know about this yet,” Greg Reiman, of the county aging department, said in an April 15, 2010, email to real estate broker Scott J. Revolinski of RFP Commercial Inc. “I believe they have only talked to the City of Milwaukee Dept of Development and possibly David Boerke (who manages Federal Plaza). I am also telling one other developer I know about this opportunity. I told Scott Walker that I would mention this opportunity to you and see if RFP might be interested in this building. If you are interested I will put you in touch with Scott’s Chief of Staff, Tom Nardelli.”
The emails related to the sale and lease deal were included in roughly 16,000 emails released by the office of current Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.
They are the third round of records released by the county in response to Reserve Judge Neal Nettesheim’s order to make public documents from the secret John Doe investigation.
That probe concluded in early 2013 with theft, campaign finance and misconduct in public office and other charges against six people, including former aides, associates and a donor to Walker — Russell among them — but the governor himself was never charged.
In a statement issued by his campaign, Walker said the release before the Nov. 4 election by Abele’s office was an effort to damage his re-election bid.
“Clearly, the highly partisan Milwaukee County executive, who has given $63,000 to my opponent, released four-year-old emails two weeks before the election to distract voters from my opponent’s failed record,” Walker said. “This case was closed nearly two years ago. Voters see through the political motives of my opponents to stop our successful reforms which are moving Wisconsin forward.”
The Republican Party of Wisconsin said it filed an open-records request with Abele’s office Tuesday, calling the release a “slimy political stunt” involving “directly coordinating messaging” between Abele’s office and the campaign of Democrat Mary Burke. It also accused Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Paul Bargren of having partisan motives, noting that he signed a petition to recall Walker as governor.
But Abele spokesman Brendan Conway said neither the county executive nor Burke had anything to do with the timing of Tuesday’s release.
“From the time the judge ordered these emails to be released, County Executive Abele put himself at arm’s length and had the county’s attorneys, not politicians, fully handle the vetting and release of these public records,” Conway said in an email. “As has happened in the previous two releases of these documents, corporation counsel has determined what will be released and when.”
The release was prompted by media requests under the state’s open records law, and Bargren said the timing was determined by his office. “No one else has been involved,” Bargren said, “including the county executive.”
He added that the task of sifting through the information is “enormous” and that his staff was attempting to follow state law, which requires that public records be produced “’as soon as practicable and without delay.”
“As material was ready for release, I chose to make it available rather than hold on to it,” Bargren said.
Walker’s campaign is now at the center of a second John Doe investigation, currently stalled because of court challenges. That probe is examining secret coordination between Walker’s campaign and more than two dozen ostensibly independent conservative and Republican groups during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections.
The emails released Tuesday also further illustrated the coordination between Walker’s campaign and county staff.
Burke airs commercials
Meanwhile Tuesday, Burke began airing a commercial referencing the two John Doe investigations. Burke denied there was any coordination between the release of the documents and the newly released ad.
Asked if she discussed the release of the records with Abele, Burke said, “absolutely not.”
“The timing (of the ad) wasn’t determined based on that,” Burke told reporters outside the City-County Building in Madison before casting an early ballot. “The timing is about when people go to the polls they need to consider Governor Walker’s entire record over the last four years ... (including) the scandal around this administration.”