The following editorial was published by the Madison Capital Times on September 28, 2011.
It is no secret that Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen regularly chooses to serve his political masters rather than the public interest.
In 2008, after attending a Republican National Convention session with White House political czar Karl Rove, Van Hollen returned with a grand plan to erect barriers to voting in Wisconsin. The courts rejected this last-ditch effort to avert defeat for the GOP that year.
But Van Hollen was back the next year, refusing for political reasons to defend the state’s domestic partnership registry.
Then he steered state resources into a fight against health care reform that was ginned up by the American Legislative Exchange Council and other right-wing groups.
This spring Van Hollen decided not to prosecute former Calumet County District Attorney Ken Kratz, a fellow Republican, on criminal charges of sexual assault and abuse of the public trust after Kratz reportedly sent 30 text messages trying to strike up an affair with a domestic abuse victim while he prosecuted her ex-boyfriend on a strangulation charge. Kratz was forced to resign, but he was not held to account by Van Hollen, whose campaign Kratz backed in 2006.
Around the same time, Van Hollen decided — despite the opinion of the legal counsel for the Legislative Reference Bureau, the advice of county and city prosecutors from around the state, and the assessments of leading law professors — that the state constitution and statutes did not need to be respected in the debate over whether Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union power grab (Act 10) could be unilaterally declared to be in force. The Legislative Reference Bureau made moves to prepare for publication of the legislation, but Secretary of State Doug La Follette used his authority to put the law’s publication on hold after a judge issued a temporary restraining order barring publication until questions could be reviewed about whether the legislation had been legally enacted. Van Hollen ignored the constitution, the statutes and the judge’s order and simply issued a press release declaring: “Act 10 is now law.”
Try as Wisconsinites might, they will have a hard time finding examples of Van Hollen placing duty above party and ideology.
Even when issues of corruption arise.
That has become clear with the revelation that the attorney general refused to assist the burgeoning investigation into wrongdoing by Walker aides. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report published last week, Van Hollen “was asked months ago to assist in a growing secret investigation of former and current aides to Gov. Scott Walker, but Van Hollen’s office declined, sources familiar with the request said Tuesday.”
Why are taxpayers paying Van Hollen if he will not support law enforcement in Wisconsin?
That’s the question Scot Ross, director of One Wisconsin Now, is asking. And it’s a good one.
“J.B. Van Hollen owes the people of Wisconsin answers immediately as to why he would not investigate these potential crimes,” said Ross. “Van Hollen’s refusal to investigate Scott Walker’s ‘cronygate’ raises serious questions about his integrity and fitness to continue to serve as our state’s attorney general.”
Any serious lawman would recognize the significance of recent developments.
The official and personal computers of aides to Walker when he served as Milwaukee County executive (a position he held until this year) have been seized as part of a John Doe investigation, which reportedly is focusing on whether Walker aides ran his campaign out of a public office. It appears that the probe, which is being conducted by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, involves several aides who are now part of the governor’s administration.
Top officials in the Walker administration have abruptly stepped down or been moved out of key positions as the probe has expanded. The governor’s press secretary has been granted immunity.
This is a serious and expanding scandal.
So why has Van Hollen refused to help?
Not because he does not assist John Doe probes in Milwaukee County. He has done so in the past.
And not because the Department of Justice was unneeded. It now appears that the FBI was called in at least in part to provide the sort of technical assistance that Van Hollen refused to deliver.
“It’s now clear Van Hollen only investigates cases that further his partisan agenda,” said Ross. “But when his political allies like Walker are in trouble, he sits on his hands.”
That’s a harsh assessment.
We once held out hope that Van Hollen would maintain Wisconsin’s tradition of independent and ethical law enforcement by attorneys general who place principle above party. But his record of extreme partisanship suggests that the criticisms are credible.
They also raise a core question: If it is not politics, then what is the explanation for why Wisconsin’s top law enforcement officer is refusing to help prosecutors enforce the law?