WI Dems: Walker's Frank Luntz Visit Broke the Law

| Thu Mar. 17, 2011 8:09 AM EDT
Flickr/WisPolitics.com

The day after he got punked by a prank caller pretending to be right-wing billionaire David Koch, Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker met with prominent GOP pollster Frank Luntz in his Capitol office. The Feb. 23 meeting with Luntz was a secret to the public and press until this week, after a Milwaukee newspaper obtained Walker's calendars and revealed the meeting. Today, the Wisconsin Democratic Party will announce that it believes Walker broke the law by meeting with Luntz, a party rep tells Mother Jones.

The party plans to file a complaint today with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board alleging that the advice Walker got from Luntz, the right's political messaging guru, amounted to something of value as defined by Wisconsin state statute and thus violated state ethics and political contributions laws. The Democrats point to state law that prohibits requesting political contributions in state-owned buildings, and bans any state officials from obtaining "financial gain or anything of substantial value" for their private benefit, their immediate family's benefit, or for an organization with which they're associated. "Scott Walker is using public buildings as cloisters to plot partisan gain," says Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Democratic Party. "Wisconsin cries for better."

Luntz, who reportedly paid his way to Madison, met with Walker and the governor's chief of staff, and had not done any polling for the governor, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Walker's spokesman said the governor and Luntz had never met before.

On the right, Luntz is the man behind the message. He described last year's much-needed financial reform bill as "a permanent bailout fund." (Which it wasn't.) He urged GOPers to paint President Obama's health care reform bill as a "Washington takeover." (Wrong again.) He also coined the phrase "death tax" to replace estate tax. In their fights against Democrats, Republicans have eagerly latched onto each of these Luntz-isms and more. And he likely offered Scott Walker, whose public support had begun to erode at the time of their meeting, some tips on how he, too, could rework his message.

The Democratic Party's latest complaint comes as Walker and his allies in the Wisconsin legislature face multiple challenges to the legality of their "budget repair bill," the controversial legislation passed last week that cut collective bargaining rights for most public-sector unions. On March 11, a local county executive filed a complaint alleging that the bill "contains substantive fiscal items within it, and the Wisconsin Senate did not have the required three-fifths of its members to vote." The state Senate's 14 Democrats fled Wisconsin on Feb. 17 to block a vote on the bill, denying GOPers the necessary quorum, but instead Republicans used a constitutional end-run to vote on their own—a move now being challenged.

And on Wednesday, Dane County Attorney Ismael Ozanne filed a suit alleging that the Senate's vote on the "repair" bill violated state open records law by not giving sufficient notice before the vote. Ozanne wants an injunction preventing the publishing of the law and, ultimately, the law itself overturned.