Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

13 Lessons The Guardian Taught Us

Or how Scott Walker corrupted Wisconsin, as the leaked Doe documents reveal.

By - Oct 4th, 2016 11:48 am
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Gov. Scott Walker. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

The more you look at the John Doe documents leaked to The Guardian the more stunning is the story it tells, not just about Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans, but about corporate leaders, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This state has been transformed under Walker and it was a smelly and probably illegal campaign that helped accomplish this. Among the conclusions to be drawn from The Guardian’s review of 1,500 leaked documents:

1. Prosecutors had a strong case against Walker and company. For years, what little we knew about the secret probe left plenty of doubt on this. Now we know the prosecutors had abundant evidence of a pattern of behavior by Walker, who would meet with wealthy people and corporate leaders to get their support and then suggest they give to the #Wisconsin Club for Growth# because the non-profit “can accept Corporate and Personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure,” whereas a donation to Walker’s campaign would require disclosure and limit donations to $43,000. Walker was able to gain donations of as much as $1 million from individuals and the money was then used to support his campaign by R. J. Johnson, who ran both the Club for Growth and Walker’s campaign. As wealthy donor Fred Kasten wrote on his $10,000 check to the Club for Growth, he gave to the group “because Scott Walker asked.” And Johnson then used the $12 million raised to run “a soup to nuts campaign … Polling, focus groups and message development was a collaborative effort,” as he wrote in an email. Under the law at the time, that entire campaign would appear to be illegal.

2. This was anything but a partisan witch hunt. Given the evidence we’ve now seen, it’s hard to imagine how any prosecutors doing their job under the law as it existed in 2012 could decline to investigate this campaign collusion — regardless of which party was involved. That would explain why a group of both Democratic and Republican DAs and judges signed off on the case.

3. Walker has no answer to the charges. “It’s what we often see in media outlets where you get bits and pieces shaped to push their agenda,” Walker told WTMJ radio. They are making conclusions “without the full story,” he claimed. But Walker has had years to tell the full story, to set the record straight as to how he conducted his campaign, and has steadfastly refused.

4. State corporate leaders were very involved in this dirty deal. John Menard, Liz and Dick Uihlein, Ted Kellner, Jon Hammes, Kasten and others surely must have known they were giving money to a front group rather than directly to Walker’s campaign in order to skirt the law. The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s pre-eminent lobbying group, would have known the law as it stood then was being flouted.

5. Most of the money came from out of state. More than $58 million was raised for the recall campaigns of Walker and Senate Republicans, much of it from donors outside the state. This included big national names like Donald Trump (who donated $15,000) and Sheldon Adelson ($200,000), hedge-fund billionaire Stephen Cohen ($1 million), Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone ($25,000) and hedge fund manager and conservative Manhattan Institute chairman Paul Singer ($25,00). Raising money nationally is increasingly common, yes, but in this case it was facilitated through a legally questionable scheme.

6. Some of the money involved direct corporate contributions, which raises legal questions. The Guardian document files show corporate checks were written by Larry Nichols, CEO of the Devon Energy, Harold Simmons and Contran Corporation, the Schneider National trucking company and others. As Matt Rothschild of the liberal Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has written, that presents legal issues: After the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, he notes, “corporations have been allowed to give to outside groups but not in coordination with a candidate.”

7. Walker conducted some of this campaign fundraising on the public dime, the documents show. Yes, it’s likely many politicians sneak and raises money on public time, but again, not with this sort of legally questionable scheme.

8. Walker and Republican senators might not have survived a recall if not for this effort. They could not succeed without winning the vote of independents and as Johnson’s memo noted, a mass of micro-targeted mail-outs and TV advertising that was bought with the donations had the impact that they “moved independent swing voters to the GOP candidate.”

9. Justice David Prosser might not have survived either. His reelection in 2011 by a razor-thin margin was crucial, because his loss would have given the state Supreme Court a liberal majority that might have overturned Act 10 and also upheld the John Doe probe. In what was something of a rehearsal for the 2012 recall election, R.J. Johnson and company raised some $3.5 million, including $1.5 million from Club for Growth and its offshoot Citizens for a Strong America, and $2 million from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, all of it in unaccountable “dark money.” Walker boasted to Republican kingmaker, Karl Rove, that “Club for Growth–Wisconsin was the key to retaining Justice Prosser.” Prosser, in his explanation for not recusing on the John Doe case, said he couldn’t have been elected without this help. He also mentioned an “unnamed petitioner” to the Doe case he later ruled on, whom the Guardian notes was Johnson. Yet Prosser chose to rule in the decision shutting down the Doe probe, which directly benefitted defendants Johnson, the WMC and Club for Growth, and also protected himself from embarrassing legal scrutiny.

10. Now we know why conservatives were so desperate to kill the John Doe case. The evidence was so devastating the Wisconsin Supreme Court took the unprecedented step of demanding all files from the case destroyed, while Republican legislators passed a law ending all John Doe probes (but only of politicians) and scrapped the nationally acclaimed non-partisan Government Accountability Board. At all costs the truth about the recall campaign had to be silenced.

11. Non-profits may have engaged in illegal behavior. Groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the American Federation for Children surely had suspicions about the campaign coordination they were involved in. As a memo by Johnson noted: “Our efforts were run by Wisconsin Club for Growth … who coordinated spending through 12 different groups.” Beyond the suggestion of this illegal campaign coordination, these groups were also working with Club for Growth on a scheme to support a single political party, in violation of the tax code for 501(c)94)4 groups, as a legal complaint by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign now contends.

12. Donors were buying policy from Walker. Prior to Walker’s election, Menard had been repeatedly investigated, more than any state business, for environmental regulations under both Democratic and Republican governors. That’s come to an end under Walker, after he got that $1 million in dark money for his recall election. And Harold Simmons “the billionaire owner of NL Industries, one of America’s leading producers of lead used in paint until the ban, secretly donated $750,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth at a time when Walker and his fellow Republican senators were fighting their recall elections,” the Guardian notes. The company was later the beneficiary of a GOP-passed law signed by Walker that “attempted to grant effective immunity to lead manufacturers from any compensation claims for lead paint poisoning.” As Rothschild notes, there were three other laws passed by Walker and the Republicans, in 2013 and 2015, to benefit the lead paint industry.

13. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has become increasingly irrelevant to the Doe story. For years, Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice was the go-to guy for any stories about the John Doe investigation. He did an excellent job. But after frequent complaints from Republicans about this coverage, Bice seemed to back off from the issue. (As I’ve written, Bice seems to have been pushed by editors to go after Democrats more, though they have almost no power in this state.) Whoever leaked these documents clearly decided the state’s largest newspaper, with the most potential to embarrass Walker and Republicans in Wisconsin, could not be relied on to aggressively report on these damaging documents. That’s just another sign of how successfully Republican leaders have protected themselves from any scrutiny of their actions.

Defenders of the Republicans have suggested that Democrats, if they had the chance, would operate the same way. If true, that would be no defense. But frankly, speaking as someone who has been writing about politics since the early 1980s, I have a hard time imagining past leaders of either party engaging in this level of cronyism and corruption. Neither the Democrats under governors Tony Earl or Jim Doyle, nor the Republicans under Lee Dreyfus, Tommy Thompson or Scott McCallum ever engaged in such wholesale violation of campaign laws or conspired to end all legal investigations of their actions. These files lay bare a state where the democratic process seems broken, corruption rules, and to the victor belongs the spoils.

Categories: Murphy's Law, People

45 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: 13 Lessons The Guardian Taught Us”

  1. tom says:

    Once again proof that Walker is as corrupt as they come. He started his life of political corruption prior to dropping out of college and hasn’t let up since. Kellner, Menard, Hammes, Kasten and the Uihleins are slimy corporate pigs as well. We all pay for their abuse of power. They have no conscience.

  2. AG says:

    Bruce, this is a good summary of what is wrong with our current political environment by highlighting the actions of Walker and friends. I was taken aback though regarding your assumption this wouldn’t happen with the democrats as well, though.

    I am also a proponent that two wrongs do not make a right, but the way things are set up right now with campaign finance laws and these third party groups, it practically begs politicians to do the wrong thing. Why do you think the Democrats would be immune?

    If we see the Potawatomi getting a sweetheart deal after their donations to Doyle and we see national democrats like Clinton doing pay-for-play for state department positions… why couldn’t/wouldn’t this happen if we had a Democrat governor or other state leaders? This is as much a reflection on shady money in politics in general as it is on Walker.

  3. M says:

    I agree that any party or individual can behave corruptly. It’s precisely why laws are enacted to try to limit that corruption or to sniff it out. The difference in the current political climate is that Walker et al, and helped by Citizens United, have deviously worked to eliminate those legal limiting factors. The Supreme Court is completely bought and complicit, the GAB was eliminated, and there are no limits on dark money donations. It’s a heyday for crooks.

    Closer to home, the corrupt GOP controlled state legislature has granted the county exec (a nominal Democrat) power dispose of any and all county property with only sham deal “co-signers” and absolutely no recourse for the public.

    As shown by a proposed dam deal, anything zoned parkland can–and will–be rezoned to suit the desires and whims of those with power. That includes corruptible politicians and unscrupulous developers. Much conserved county land is NOT zoned parkland and never will be. Every bit of what was assembled by those leaders committed to the greater good will be up for grabs. Sanctioned looting will reign.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    In Wisconsin it does seem like more of a Republican issue (and a recent one as Bruce notes that previous GOP governors didn’t do anything like this).

    However, I share some of AG’s concern that dark money plagues both parties. Time’s current issue has a story about the rise of the Mercer family and their influence on GOP politics and Super PACs. The story has a sidebar about the biggest donors in the current election cycle, and 7 out of 10 are rich people donating to Democrats (OK 6 but Bloomberg definitely leans left). I certainly don’t think Democrats are immune and we should decry dark money period.

  5. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    I’ve never read so much whining, in the same place before. The Left has been doing all these things for 75 years and they have never stopped Note how the Clintons and others out raise the GOP?
    They do not raise their money from the Homeless.

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    Yes two wrongs make a right. Just like you learn in kindergarten. WCD try and ignore which party is more deplorable here. Is lots of dark money in politics good or bad?

  7. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    McCain/Feingold invited 527’s.

  8. Vincent Hanna says:

    Thank you for not answering the question. Same crap, different day. It’s like trying to have a serious conversation with a toddler.

  9. Mark Warhus says:

    It is a shame to see what had once been the “heartland” besmirched, slimed, and morally degraded by the one party dominance of the State.

  10. Bruce Thompson says:

    I think it is perfectly consistent–and not evidence of hypocrisy–for a party or candidate to campaign following the existing rules while promising to work to change those rules. The hypocrisy surfaces if the party does not work for the reforms it promised.
    The WI Supreme Court changed existing law to allow coordination between candidates and outside groups. This is a bad thing and will lead to more corruption in state government. For the Democrats to not recognize and take advantage of this change would put them at a disadvantage.

  11. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    I believe that it was court decisions, other than Wi Supreme Court that changed the way things were done. To clean this up we do not need more laws, but go back to the laws before Watergate.

  12. BB says:

    JS editorial board should have come right out of the chute with an editorial decrying this decision and the Walker/GOP corruption. Instead: silence the day after and the day after that. Having endorsed Walker three times for governor (counting the thinly disguised ‘non-endorsement’ editorial in the 2014 race), and having shirked its watchdog role, the newspaper owns a significant share in this corrupt enterprise.

  13. Jay Bullock says:

    Nothing says “free of corruption” quite like “the laws before Watergate,” am I right?

  14. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    water gate was about a dumb burglary. That year about a dozen Apoel financed Gene Mccarthy’s campaign. You could give however much you wanted but just had to report it. So if thepeoel giving were crooks you knew. if it was Koch, Soros you knew. Candidates could rate what ever they could but everyoenkew who was paying up. Less corruption. Now overtime someone turns around they wreck a law and the money gets spent secretly.

  15. AG says:

    Bruce Thompson… that was depressing.

  16. WashCoRepub says:

    It’s interesting how the term ‘corruption’ is now flung about pretty much whenever a politician does anything at the behest of his donors, that someone disagrees with.

    I’ll get with the times, I suppose. For example, if the Democrats win back the state Legislature and the Governorship and repeal ACT 10, I’ll then accuse them of being ‘corrupt’ because they pushed forward legislation that favored public employees, trial attorneys, and others who contributed indirectly to their campaigns through generous giving to 527s.

    I certainly EXPECT the politicians I donate to, directly and through 527s, to push my ideological agenda.
    That’s politics. It’s only ‘corrupt’ because Democrats aren’t winning many state elections (lately).

  17. Jake says:

    I love how the fascists (once known as Republicans) can’t own up to the corruption of their hatchmen.

  18. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Every court has found that to be lie: Dummies

  19. Jay Bullock says:

    @WashCoRepub: I do not believe Bruce (and others, like me, who have written about the Guardian docs) is using “corrupt” to mean “passing laws I do not like.”

    Rather, “corrupt” in this case means violating the black-line letter of the Wisconsin campaign finance statutes as they existed at the time of the behavior, which resulted in
    a) hiding the donations of those who did later receive favorable treatment and
    b) possibly swinging one or more election results because of an unfair advantage–ie., the Democrats were not engaging in this illegal-at-the-time behavior or if they were, it was at such a modest level that no evidence has surfaced, after four years of digging by Charlie Sykes’s Welfare Home For Otherwise Unemployable Bloggers, er, “Right Wisconsin.”

    I do not understand how any of you can deny that Walker and company broke the law as it was written at the time. You can argue–as the Wisconsin Supreme Court (one member of which was implicated in the scheme) did–that the behavior should not have been illegal. But when the Court and, subsequently the state legislature rewrote the laws, that should have been a sign to anyone with a half a brain cell that Walker was breaking the law.

  20. Bill Marsh says:

    I’m shocked! Shocked I tell you! There is money in politics! Give me a break. So the public employee unions, lefty fatcats and others were donating to the lefty campaign advocacy groups during the contentious Walker recall and his other gubernatorial elections for what reasons other than defeating Walker and pushing their agendas? And remember, Act 10 was put in place to stop the corrupt Democrat Party-public employee union scheme of electing Dems to get fat pension and benefit plans not found in the public sector, while the public employees paid the Dems back with campaign contributions, all at the cost of taxpayers. Oh, and don’t forget the WEA Trust insurance scam that overcharged taxpayers across the state possibly hundreds of millions of dollars over the years.

    Next time billionarie Dems, Planned Parenthood, trial lawyers, the Sierra Club, La Raza, SEIU, AFL-CIO, and every other leftist group donates nearly exclusively for the election of democrats either directly or through campaign advocacy groups, please tell us how that is not corrupt by the standards being cried about by Bruce Murphy? Have the democrats ever crossed these groups on any issues? Or do the Dems just happen to follow the desires of their campaign contributors? Doesn’t that mean the Dems are corrupt and bought? And tell us there is no coordination among these groups and Dem politicians. Obama or Clinton speak at a fund raiser for Planned Parenthood and lo and behold! Planned Parenthood donates to the Obama or Clinton campaign, and by they way Planned Parenthood gets hundreds of millions of tax dollars in federal contracts. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise! If you are looking for a pattern, just look at the SEIU and AFL-CIO campaign contributions and National Labor Relations Board decisions under Obama, or the Sierra Club campaign contributions and EPA decisions under Obama.

    Finally, there were no charges for crimes from Chisholm against Walker. The courts refuted Chisholm’s legal theories on campaign contributions. Something we did learn about the John Doe from the Guardian report is that an actual known crime was committed from within John Chisholm’s office by someone that illegally and maliciously violated the privacy rights of several Wisconsin citizens. The criminal that leaked the emails should be investigated, found ,and prosecuted for abusing his/her power. And after being prosecuted, he/she should be personally sued by the citizens that were injured by this persons criminal actions.

    Time to investigate the criminal investigators.

  21. Vincent Hanna says:

    Yes Eric O’Keefe is a criminal for leaking information to the Wall Street Journal and should be prosecuted. I agree Bill.

    Also, are you saying that both parties are corrupt so this is no big deal or that both parties do it so neither one is really corrupt? Your rant isn’t really coherent.

  22. Mark E. Bye says:

    14. A shorthanded Supreme Court is just what the doctor ordered.

  23. Bill Marsh says:

    Sure Vincent, bring charges against all the unlawful leakers. Including O’Keefe if he did violate the law. But you obviously are having trouble admitting that illegal acts were committed within John Chisholm’s office. Come to Jesus Vincent, the truth will set you free. Let the legal system operate as it should and prosecute those in Chisholm’s office that abused their power. The damage done by Chisholm’s office through their illegal acts was more egregious than what was done by O’Keefe. But let the courts decide. And let those people whose privacy was violated sue any unlawful prosecutors personally. That will make persons in power think twice about abusing their power. Now its time to investigate the prosecutors for known criminal acts.

    As to my “rant”- I’m just illustrating the hypocrisy of the pious left. The left is as deep into this system as the right. We all know what the system is and the John Doe investigation was a political act through abuse of prosecutorial power. Apparently you are not refuting my comments regarding the Dems and their campaign contributors. I’m saying this is the system we have. If you want to change it, change the laws.

  24. Vincent Hanna says:

    O’Keefe has admitted wrongdoing. He copped to leaking info to the WSJ. Is there concrete evidence that Chisholm’s office broke the law or are you simply making partisan insinuations? Why isn’t Schimel doing anything about it if Chisholm broke the law? He sure has incentive to act if it’s that cut-and-dry. Makes no sense for him to not do anything, unless of course there is no evidence that Chisholm’s office is guilty of wrongdoing. But feel free to share your proof of illegal acts.

    We don’t all know that. The John Doe resulted in six, count them, six convictions and Bruce lays out what else we now know thanks to the Guardian. Again, you have a severe case of selective partisan outrage syndrome. You ignore facts and evidence and make BS claims that you pretend are concrete truths.

    I think dark money in politics is bad and it definitely influences both parties. Democrats aren’t immune. But the problem in Wisconsin is not the same as it is nationwide. It’s poisoned the GOP in this state. You give them $750,000 and within a day they do your bidding in secret. That’s a fact. You can’t spin that Bill.

  25. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    O’Keefe broke no laws, or Chisholm would have jailed him. The convictions were to to people that Walker turned in. Eric won at all levels of justice, Chisholm lost, now the real lawsuits are coming.

  26. Vincent Hanna says:

    So if Chisholm broke laws, wouldn’t Schimel “jail him?”

  27. RMH says:

    @Vincent – toddlers are smarter

  28. tim haering says:

    Bruce, the men behind the curtain thank you.

  29. AG says:

    Jay Bullock (#19) “But when the Court and, subsequently the state legislature rewrote the laws, that should have been a sign to anyone with a half a brain cell that Walker was breaking the law.” Yes- This is exactly what swayed me. Excellent point.

    Vincent Hanna (#21) “Also, are you saying that both parties are corrupt so this is no big deal or that both parties do it so neither one is really corrupt?” This IS the question. I think boths parties ARE doing this, as we can see with oddly coincidental similarities in strategies plus evidence of special favors… none of which could be absolutely proven but any unbiased observer could come to the conclusion. So now what, do we go after both parties to stop it or do we accept it as part of a new world in politics? I hope the former.

    Bill Marsh (#23) “bring charges against all the unlawful leakers. Including O’Keefe if he did violate the law. But you obviously are having trouble admitting that illegal acts were committed within John Chisholm’s office.” Yes, PLEASE! Despite what the democrat defenders say here… someone in Chisholm’s office leaked info in violation of the law to bolster the case against Walker, just as O’Keefe did to support Walker. BOTH are against the law and should be investigated and prosecuted. If we don’t, the integrity of the John Doe process is compromised and it can no longer be used for it’s original intent and purpose.

  30. Vincent Hanna says:

    I also hope it is the former.

    AG how do you know with 100% certainty that someone in Chisholm’s office leaked info? Is Schimel looking into that? If not, why not? It’s a conservative talking point that’s been repeated so often we have people acting like it’s a fact. Is it though? Could Schimel not be looking into it because if he does he would also have to go after O’Keefe for doing the same thing and he doesn’t want to do that to a Walker buddy?

  31. Thomas Spellman says:

    Where are the other copies of the evidence? I thought there was one set in Milwaukee and why not Eric himself?? Now that at least some more of it is out there people are getting use to dealing with corruption and in the long run for Dark Money that is a good. Peace

  32. Thomas Spellman says:

    Opps But that is a BAD for us.

  33. Barb-West Benb says:

    I hold chicken thieves in higher regard than I do Gov. Walker, or our Republican legislators, or O’Keefe and his Club for More Growth For the Wealthy, or for those Barons of Industry who donate only so they can make the laws that help them get richer. All of them are the users and abusers of the common people. Cowpies to them all.

  34. Charlie's Angel says:

    Bruce, It’s my understanding that more than 1 million pages of evidence were saved from destruction, however only about 1,300-1,500 documents were leaked to the Guardian (some of which DA Chisholm had not even seen, suggesting he was not the source of the leak). My question for you is this: what is preventing more documents, perhaps even more damning to Scott Walker, the WI Republican Party — and to their dark money sources — from being leaked to the Guardian?

  35. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    So if I take theline of logic the WCD uses, the Democrats have been doing what’s illegal all along and now that his team is on power, it’s okay for them to do it as well.

    Wow, I don’t think WCD would no an ethic or principle if it ran into him.

  36. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Seven judges and two Supreme Courts have said that what Walker and the GOP have done, is not illegal but the John Doe is illegal. Cant you dummies understand what they said?

  37. Thomas Spellman says:

    Yes Calling people names is not a solution to the obvious truth that 4 supreme court justices chose politics instead of the law and the Milwaukee Judge what was his name is a known right winger and to put any faith in the Wisconsin Supreme Court is as bad. Yes it is the best court that money can buy but that does not have much to do with what is legal. Peace

  38. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    I luv to hear the Lefites whine.

  39. Bill Kurtz says:

    Comment 19 said it all. What Walker and his paymasters did was illegal at the time. The legislature did change the law last year to legalize their activities, but the state Supreme Court went one step farther and retroactively legalized what was done in 2011 and 2012. Of course it’s just a convenient coincidence that 4 of those justices were supported by the very groups they bailed out, and Gableman and Prosser owed their seats to WMC’s support- as RJ Johnson pointed out.

  40. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Bill, you of all people know tha the Unions, Left groups have been coordinating fro decades. also court decisions made it legal long time ago.

  41. PMD says:

    Small children know that two wrongs don’t make a right but an old man does not. Sad.

  42. Thomas says:

    WCD waves his reactionary flag when he writes that we should “go back to laws before Watergate. He is apparently still in denial about the fact that Nixon corrupted the presidency in the interest of acquiring more power for the sake of power alone – with the addition of the tools useful in the punishment of perceived enemies. The Watergate hearings and some reforms thereafter were cleansing. Yes, WCD, “a dumb burglary” was involved, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.

    No, WCD, two supreme courts have not ruled against John Doe 2. The highest WI court is not supreme these days. The U.S. Supreme chose not to rule on this issue.

    Has anyone else noticed similarities between Richard Nixon and Scott Walker? I suspect that John Gurda could draw some comparisons between RN & SW, but I do not presume to speak for him.

    “Forward!”

  43. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Themas, listenting to you whine makes my day.

  44. PMD says:

    I am so grateful that my grandparents are not around now, may they rest in peace. The thought of one of them going online and calling people names fills me with sadness.

  45. Lynn Thompson says:

    Not ALL conservatives support what our Governor has done, including this one. Now that the documents are available for the public to see, there’s no turning back. While we all suspect there’s corruption in politics, it is really something else to see it all there, in black and white. Mr Walker shall not receive another vote from me and he certainly doesn’t need my money.

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