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OPINION - Distorting the John Doe emails

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) So far Governor Walker's response to the John Doe emails has been this: It's old news. The governor says the media fails to point out that the allegations are two years old, and that two judges have sided against prosecutors in the case.

The governor is swimming into the strong currents of media bias. Most news stories on the subject lead with the allegations of prosecutors, and only mention much further down in the story that -- oh, by the way -- the most recent court ruling on the matter was to shut the case down. Scanning most headlines, uninformed people would be misled into thinking the allegations are new (they aren't), or that the investigation is active (it isn't).

But Walker has not addressed the actual substance of the emails and he should. The email to Carl Rove says "Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state." I'm unclear what "9" means. My first thought was that Walker was referring to the number of state senators facing recall. (The 10 th would have been State Senator Dan Kapanke, who the GOP was distancing themselves from because of a secret tape- recording that made the race toxic. He was one of two GOP senators who was eventually recalled.) If Walker was referring to state senate races, the conversation and coordination is completely legal . The governor is not allowed to coordinate with outside political action groups in his race. He's free to do anything he wants in other races. Others think "9" refers to media markets. I'm not sure of that. Wisconsin has 5, not 9, television markets. And if Walker was referring to the state's largest cities, he'd be leaving out LaCrosse, Sheboygan, and the combined Central Wisconsin-media market.

The other point that the governor isn't making -- but should be -- is that the special interest groups that he's accused of coordinating with did not run direct advocacy ads. They ran issue ads; the kinds of ads that are exempt from coordination rules . It was on those grounds Judge Rudolph Randa shut down the case. And it's a point that prosecutors have conceded in their earlier court filings. If you recall, an ad that says "...the economy is getting better because of Scott Walker's policies" is an issue ad (the issue being the economy). It's exempt. An ad that says "...vote for Scott Walker in next Tuesday's recall." is direct advocacy. It's not exempt. All of the political groups named in the prosecution court filings were meticulous not to use the phrase "vote for".

Still, the email dump is problematic for Scott Walker; having to fight lies and distortions with the truth usually is.

Chris Conley

Image: Scott Walker, courtesy of Wisconsin Radio Network