Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Walker Campaign “Scandal”

Something went wrong. And everyone’s blaming campaign manager Rick Wiley. Why?

By - Oct 6th, 2015 10:26 am
Rick Wiley. Photo from Mercury Public Affairs.

Rick Wiley. Photo from Mercury Public Affairs.

No sooner had Scott Walker shut down his presidential campaign than Republican media strategist Liz Mair, who briefly worked for Walker’s campaign before being dumped, wrote this on Twitter: “Walker’s timing is good. Word is he just avoided getting tied to a very bad story that could well have been coming.”

So what is that very bad story?

The initial explanation for Walker’s withdrawal, announced on September 21, was the campaign had simply run out of money. But by day two, the finger of blame was being pointed at Walker’s campaign manager Rick Wiley. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, Walker had met with his wife Tonette Walker, campaign chairman and longtime backer Mike Grebe, pollster Ed Goeas; adman Bill Eisner; and Jim Villa, Walker’s former chief of staff when he served as Milwaukee County executive, to discuss the state of the campaign.

“The advisers detailed how Walker’s campaign had blown through cash with a staff of about 90 people and payroll in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a month,” the story noted. “Rick Wiley, the campaign manager who had presided over the rapid spending rise, was not present.” Leaving us to assume Wiley was at fault for overspending.

Jumping on the issue, Politico soon ran a story raising questions about his decisions, but also got comments from Wiley, who unloaded on Walker, saying “We built the machine that we needed to get a governor in just phenomenal shape to take a stage in a presidential debate. I think sometimes it’s lost on people the largeness of the job. I think people just look at it and say, ‘Wow! Yeah, you know, it’s like he’s a governor and he was in a recall’ and blah, blah, blah — he’s ready.”

But Walker wasn’t always ready, said Wiley, who noted how the campaign lost momentum as Walker faltered on the campaign trail.

Which soon brought forth a hailstorm of outrage directed at Wiley, who met with “withering criticism from conservative bloggers, talk show hosts and publications,” wrote Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice.

Such as this from Matthew Continetti in the National Review: “One reason Republicans hate political consultants is that so many of them seem to have absolutely no conception of loyalty or reticence or even self-awareness. Like a true Washingtonian, (Wiley) absolves himself of responsibility for the [Walker] collapse while explaining to the press — and to his future clients — that it was entirely the governor’s fault.”

Conservative radio talker and Walker cheerleader-in-chief Charlie Sykes piled on, in a column suggesting Wiley was trying to excuse his “own flaming disaster,” and “the free-spending, over-grown frat boy at the controls…”

With his bald head and bizarre little fuzz of white beard, Wiley looks more like a Wyoming survivalist than a frat boy, but Sykes means to let us know Wiley was over-indulging in personal recreation of some kind: “Never one to let a good time get in the way of a presidential campaign, Wiley became a legend on the campaign trail,” Sykes writes. “Even if many of the tales turned out to be exaggerated, he became a walking distraction… At the key moments when the campaign and his candidate most needed some direction, Wiley was, well, apparently otherwise occupied.”

A “whisper campaign” had been launched against Good Time Wiley a few days before Walker shut down the campaign, “apparently aimed at discrediting him and bringing about a shakeup in the organization, according to two Republican sources,” Buzzfeed reported.

The story went on to note that “The influential conservative talk radio host and blogger Erick Erickson appeared to allude to the whisper campaign… on Twitter: “Lots of different people all sending me the same rumor about a particular campaign manager caught indecently at the Ohio debate.” decided to lay bare the story: “Several GOP operatives within the Walker campaign and in Republican establishment circles have been spreading a rumor that Scott Walker’s campaign manager was receiving post-GOP debate oral sex in the lady’s bathroom of a downtown Cleveland bar…The rumor is that Katie Packer Gage, a former Romney campaign consultant, walked in on Wiley and a woman not his wife…Wiley is married with children.”

But the article noted that Gage, when contacted, repeatedly denied this tale. It also noted the rumor “has been pushed by none other than Brad Dayspring, a controversial GOP operative with a history of fabrications.”

Certainly, there’s been a ton of discussion about Wiley among Republican politicos, all of it way off the record, much of it shared with various media outlets. I’ve been told by one Republican that the campaign staff working for Wiley was in turmoil over his handling of employees. Politico referred to “warring staff” working on the campaign.

But whatever turmoil there was among the campaign staff, and whatever the reason, the fact is that Walker’s campaign had run out of money and was going to get shut down either way. As for heaping blame on Wiley and his alleged lack of party loyalty, isn’t it a bit late in the game to be making this discovery? Wiley worked on two other presidential campaigns, George W. Bush’s 2004 presidential re-election and Rudy Giuliani‘s 2008 presidential bid. He also worked as the executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party and as political director of the Republican National Committee. The idea that Wiley is some sort of craven careerist who doesn’t care about the party — if true — raises more questions about the Republicans who keep hiring him.

That includes Walker. Ultimately, all those scurrilous stories about Wiley raise questions about Walker’s judgement in hiring people. And not for the first time.

Three key aides of County Executive Walker were accused of campaigning on government time and all were convicted. One was Tim Russell, who pleaded guilty to stealing $21,000 from a veterans fund, and was long viewed by some Republicans as ethically challenged and someone to avoid. Russell, had been fired in 1993 from a job with the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority for improperly charging the agency for his stay at a hotel, yet he was a longtime Walker confidante, serving as his deputy chief of staff at the county.

Another was Kelly Rindfleisch, who was threatened with prosecution and granted immunity in the legislative caucus scandal back in 2003 or so. She had long experience illegally working on political campaigns while being paid by government and did exactly that for the Walker Administration.

Then there was Darlene Wink, who worked for Walker as his constituent services coordinator, but was working illegally on his gubernatorial campaign.

Then there was Taylor Palmisano, Walker’s deputy campaign finance director, who tweeted virulent anti-Latino comments on twitter, and Steven Krieser, assistant deputy secretary of the Wisconsin department of transportation, who shared an anti-Latino screen on Facebook. Both were fired for this.

Emails released from Walker’s time as county executive shows his staff often shared and exulted in racist jokes. Walker has a history of hiring uber-loyalists whose judgment and ethics have raised questions.

Wiley, by contrast, was not a Walker loyalist. I’m told that it was Mike Grebe, Walker’s campaign chairman, who insisted that Wiley be hired to run the campaign. Grebe has kept his head down through this entire controversy over Wiley. It’s interesting that no one has pointed the finger at him for wanting to hire Wiley rather than Walker’s longtime campaign guru R.J. Johnson (who has also dumped on Wiley).

There seems little doubt Wiley unwisely spent too freely on Walker’s campaign, but he was doing this in full view of Walker (who at least has the valid excuse of being busy campaigning) and Grebe, who doesn’t seem to have been monitoring his chosen campaign director. There is plenty of blame to go around in this seedy controversy, but the reality is that Walker turned out to be a weak candidate who wasn’t ready for prime time. All the outrage over Wiley, all the pontificating about bad versus good Republicans, won’t help Walker and simply makes the entire party look bad.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

29 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Walker Campaign “Scandal””

  1. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    While Willey was as much of a self-absorbed loser as the average GOP campaign flack, the reality is that the Sykeses and the RW bloggers and other local hacks are just upset that Walker was exposed as a content-free fraud on the national scale.

    As Bruce brings up, there are years of evidence of Walker hiring crooked and corrupt people to be in the “inner circle.” It’s probably why they got the job! But it sure begs the question why the Wisconsin media covered up these obvious flaws, which helped lead to Walker being such a flop as a candidate for president

  2. slammy says:

    It does not take a brain surgeon to conclude that Walker does not have what it takes to be president. I laughed when I heard he was seriously mounting a campaign and told others he was not going anywhere. The guy is just not bright and quick on his feet. He lacks world experience, and most damaging, he’s a despicable, pathetic right wing ideologue who claims he receives direction from God. Give me a break Scooter and please don’t get any crazy ideas about running in 2020. Your a national joke and disgrace.

  3. matt says:

    Its probably better to blame an outsider or freespending consultants with funny beards. What is forgotten is that Walker turned out to be a Rick Perry levely clown with no real deep understanding of the difference between running a state and running a country. We may hate Unions in Wisconsin (except police and fire and whoever else contributes to our campaigns) but they ain’t ISIS. The idea that you are going to get the leadership of the country by promising to rain holy hell on… public sector unions… is just bizarre. Not lets study a wall with Canada bizarre or lets fall asleep during a couple debates bizarre, but what the hell. This is Wisconsin, with the good SAT scores and top flight universities. And he made us look like rubes. Let’s not blame Wiley without lookng at what he was working with.

  4. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Reading the thoughts of rank amateurs in campaigns, last 50 years have run or been in on top of over 100 campaigns from school board to prez. This article is really a laugher, Bruce.
    I hate to say that i know all of those people and some are not very good. Wiley I always have thought a jerk, that wrecked the state GOP.
    But Walker has had thousands of people working for him and frankly he is the most investigated gov. in history and nothing.
    The things that happened with Russell were turned in by Nardelli, at Scotts request. They were done by thousands of times by teachers, during act 10 and in Barrett’s office. Anyone in campaigns knows that.
    As for employees, Scott and state has thousands, some are bound to do something stupid.
    But most of all you missed the whole campaign and why it failed, but you are all rookies, so don’t feel too bad, but time to move on.
    Scott has bright future, and so does Wisconsin, unless the leaders of Milwaukee, one of worst run cities in country, get hold of it again.

  5. Kent Mueller says:

    I’ve felt since well before his announcement that Walker’s most vulnerable fault, to be easily exploited by primary opponents (and in the general if he got the nomination) was Scott’s administrative and executive judgement. I was waiting for the oppo ads highlighting his two hires who stole from a veterans fund. Oh and Bruce, you left out Kevin Kavanaugh, the lesser hire but the bolder thief (63k?). Ethics, judgement, competence all took a distant place from the main qualification of absolute loyalty. I’ve met Scott Walker and, even if I agreed with his policies I saw nothing there that could inspire that loyalty, which is ALL one way. Fall on a sword for THIS guy?
    I really wanted to see those ads though, “Stole from a Veteran’s Fund? From a Veterans Fund? Why? Was the Widows and Orphans Fund already spoken for? Scott Walker. He lacks good judgment.” Choose your voice-over; Concerned Mom, White Male Voice of Authority, or grizzled gravel-gargling truck-driver/vet/real man. Sounds great in all three.
    If Grebe made the choice to hire Wiley then the very top of the Wisconsin GOP machine may have the same flaw in judgement as Walker. Good to know.

  6. Forward says:

    It’s amusing to read the somber, adult musings of “Wis Conservative Digest” (whatever that is). The post is a perfect complement to this article; it illustrates the simple fact that the supposed political professionals are nothing more than starry-eyed true believers when it comes to Walker, unable to see that he comes across as a dissembling, self-interested dolt instead of executive material. I hope that poster sticks to those school board races.

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    Here’s why you are so full of it and impossible to take seriously WCD. You are completely and totally blinded by pure ideology. Replace Walker’s name with Obama or Doyle and you’d be shouting to the rooftops about how corrupt they are and how it just proves liberals are ruining everything.

  8. tim haering says:

    Enough blame to go around. But it began without humility, and he who exalts himself will be humbled, says a book popular with the former candidate. He was so over his head, he couldn’t see the lake for the water he was drowning in. Now he knows what Mary Burke felt like – to tread the lunar surface without a helmet. Mrs. Seuss wrote an apt story for both, “A Fish Out of Water.” R U ready for Gov. Kleefisch?

  9. roz says:

    one has such mixed feelings about the failed walker campaign, yeah he’s not going to be president and boo hiss he is back in the state doing and trying to do more awful things. wish he’d take his inept self on an extended vacation.

  10. Bea says:

    Another crony: Just two months into his governorship, Scott Walker signed a law removing 37 state positions from civil service requirements, including 14 general counsels. The law was criticized by Wisconsin Common Cause and others, who argued it would politicize these positions and make information less accessible to the public. That’s exactly what happened in the case of Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith and chief legal counsel Mary Spear, who ended having a sexual affair the department did its best to cover up.

  11. Terry Ott says:

    Good summary and insightful comments, for the most part. The article rounds out an understanding of Walker and (inferentially) his opposition in the state. I never took Walker seriously as a candidate for POTUS; just absolutely dismissed it as misguided and a product of an overblown ego. Now there is additional evidence to load into that opinion.

    I’m not here to demonize Walker as there’s plenty of that activity already along a well-worn path. But I HAVE concluded that you CAN tell some important things about a candidate for any substantial office by looking at how their campaign is run — and by whom, in terms of who is given the reins.

    Here is what I find disquieting, though. In three tries, the Democratic party in Wisconsin came up with no candidate that the voters believed was more acceptable to run the executive branch here. What does that say about the Democrats? And, for that matter, how can we have any faith that there is a Democratic candidate in waiting for the next go around? Gimme a name so I can do some due diligence. Please.

  12. John says:

    Walker’s has to be one of the goofiest presidential campaigns waged in all the years going back to Harold Stassen. His geeky and inconsistent answers to the simplest of questions screamed that he was a stupid doofus. So it seems totally logical to me that he’d have agreed to have this nut-job as his campaign manager. His track record of having around him corrupt, light-fingered and stupid minions were an accurate predictor of what took place.

    I lived in Wisconsin for the first thirty-eight years of my life and left before the Tommy Thompson demo derby hit the state, but Walker has eclipsed Tommy in destroying so much of what made me proud of this once-great state.

  13. Bea says:

    Terry Ott: Kathleen Vinehout might be governor right now if she’d worn a seat belt. I think she would be a good governor.

  14. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    It is so entertaining to read all the hate, God it must be really terrible to have someone as stupid as you think Scott is to whip your butts so often. Does show how inept and incompetent the Barrett/Doyle axis is to have one of the worst run cites in the US and to leave the Conservatives with one of the worst run states to have to fix, and they did.
    We never hate, take too much energy.
    Am waiting to see which of the septugenarians, idea free, that run for the Left for governor and prez.
    Am waiting every day to see some people with new ideas on the Left, They are still trotting out Marx/McGovern/Trotskyites.

  15. Tom D says:

    WCD, what exactly is the “Wisconsin Conservative Digest”?

    Is it something I might find at a newsstand? Does it have a website? Does it have a staff of more than one?

  16. James Flynn says:

    Bruce, I must say I am disappointed in your decision to include an unfounded allegation of sexual impropriety by Mr. Wiley in this article. You note that the only supposed witness to the event repeatedly denied the allegation. You also note that the person “pushing” this allegation has a history of fabricating stories. What then is the purpose of including such an allegation in your article except to participate in maligning the reputation of Mr. Wiley.

    I am and avid reader of Urban Milwaukee. I will continue reading “Murphy’s law” because you provide readers with insightful analysis and commentary about important issues not otherwise reported in the other local media outlets. I only ask that you refrain from repeating cruel and unfounded gossip. I do not like feeling like a participant by reading it.

  17. Al Lindro says:

    James Flynn: Bruce’s wording is fine on this “rumor” matter. He is very careful to note that the rumor is unsubstantiated and by linking Dayspring to it, he puts even more doubt around it. As a reader, my conclusion from rereading it is merely that there are people who are so “political” (in the worst sense of the word) that they will fabricate damaging things to destroy the reputation of another.

  18. A busdriver says:

    Bottom line YOU CAN’T FIX STUPID. Scooter is exactly that stupid. So sorry Wisconsinites are stuck with this state wrecking Koch sucking fool.

  19. BT says:

    I’ll give you credit for including the quotation marks around the word “SCANDAL” in your title, the JS as part of its very successful campaign to rid itself of ANY credibility as an unbiased news source certainly would’ve not only left out the quotes, they’d have come up with a title that implied it was Walker getting the, well you know what in the men’s room at the debate!

    Thanks for refreshing us all on myriad of horrible scandals Walker’s had tied to him, like Tim Russell, who as was pointed out already in the comments, was TURNED IN TO THE DA ON WALKER’S ORDERS when his thievery was suspected, yeah that’s a great example of Walker covering up for his “partners in crime” when he turns them in to the DA! In fact, wasn’t that the back door used to open up the massive John Doe parts one and two that uncovered such pervasive corruption like the woman who was posting pro-Walker comments on JS Online-from a county computer???!!! Oh my God, these people are just dirty to the bone!

    Hey, wasn’t Russell the gay partner of another guy (who I’d assume must be gay then too if they’re partners, right?) who worked for Walker?? I thought we’ve been programmed to think that ANYONE even slightly to the right is a straight up homophobic gay basher, so how did that guy get to work for Walker? According to the left, ALL right wingers, Republicans, etc are the type of people who drive past gay bars and throw a big rock through the front window, yell out some anti-gay slurs and speed off like cowards, right?

    Meanwhile, down the hall in the county courthouse, we have the downright INSANE county board, one day steering legal biz (and BIG $$$) to a law firm tight with the board’s leaders, since they don’t like the legal opinions of the county’s own in house counsel, who also happens to be African-American AND a female, which if Walker had done it, would be a great example of his racism AND his taking part in the “GOP War on Women”!!

    Then, the next day they’re going against everyone from environmentalists to “right wingers” sick of paying double the property tax they’d pay simply by living on the other side of 124th Street by being the only people sticking up for the ridiculous waste of rebuilding the Estabrook Dam, all so a handful of property owners can keep their little windfall going by living on a “lake” that you’ll see a boat on once every 17 years. Nah, that’s all small potatoes when compared to that evil woman posting those JS Online comments!

    Walk a few blocks east to city hall and of course there’s NO corruption going on there whatsoever, nope not at all! (and if any Walker fans bring up the city worker who’s job was to kick drug dealers out of drug houses who just got busted for-wait-yep, having a drug house herself and yes, she’s only been charged not yet convicted and who these days doesn’t have a house where the whole house reeks of weed??? I mean come on, everyone keeps a pound or two of weed at home, plus some heroin, guns, large amounts of cash, lots of little baggies cut to make little “packages”, etc at their house these days, right? Well don’t go connecting this to Mayor Barrett since she worked for DNS, so she’s not even in city hall, so nope, no ties to the mayor there!!!)

    Plus, Barrett’s too busy manning the “gun hotline”, his one and only answer to the city’s skyrocketing murder rate, which I’m sure just has the phones ringing off the hook!! Here’s a good question, maybe a constitutional lawyer can answer for me: If I call the gun hotline and say “Yeah, check this out. There’s this dude Murphy, ummmm Barry Murphy I think, no wait, ummmmm oh yeah Bruce, Bruce Murphy and this dude is always packin major heat, he carries like at least 3 guns at all times, he’s always got his big 50 cal Desert Eagle tucked in his waistband and then not just one, but two back ups on each ankle in ankle holsters and I don’t know where he lives but he writes a column for this online thing, ummmm Milwaukee’ or something oh wait, its and I know he ain’t gotta permit and I think he’s got at least one felony, probably a bunch of em, you gotta check this Murphy dude out before he kills someone-again!” So, now does that call, whether its anonymous or maybe if I’m crazy and give my name and address too, (a real death sentence for ratting out a bad dude like this Murphy guy, who’s got a rep as a stone cold killer!) does THAT give the cops ANY new right or reason to go track down this “bad dude” and search him for these guns??? I’m no attorney, but I’d think one of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, namely the 4th Amendment, would render my tip useless, right?? Maybe they should switch the stupid and useless “gun hotline” over to a “Walker Corruption Hotline” since it is so pervasive!!

  20. Vincent Hanna says:

    That is why it’s never a good idea to post at midnight. Don’t drink and comment!

  21. BT says:

    AAAANNNNDDD Vincent Hanna (Heat fan?) checks in with the usual, really tired yet still used daily left winger practice of making or at least attempting the old “zinger” comment, ALWAYS with one BIG thing in common, no substance, nothing based in fact or stats to back anything up, which looking at EVERY SINGLE comment above, other than Bea, who broke totally with the tradition and actually brought something from reality into the conversation, so I’ll give Bea credit for that-a real switch from the usual lib response of “Walker’s so stupid!” or “Scooter can scoot on home now”. Yeah, “don’t drink and comment”, wow that’s so funny, so clever I fell out of my chair laughing so hard, the combination makes for a real comedic genius!

    You might even be in the running for the Jim Doyle Lib Comment Award, sponsored by the tribes he gave away the house to, in exchange for lots of legal donations and one can only imagine how much more under the table!

  22. Vincent Hanna says:

    Are you claiming there is substance in the above rambling diatribe? And let’s talk about typical conservative responses. Like many others here, you go with the tried and true “but Jim Doyle did it!” defense (also see “but Doyle was worse!”). So what’s your point BT? Two wrongs make a right? I can’t wait for your substantive, thoughtful response.

  23. Forward says:

    Hmmm. In all of BTs garbled prose, he had s good idea. A Walker scandal hotline! Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then I suppose.

  24. BT says:

    Nice try Vince, but even though “The Doyle Disaster” leaves us with a wealth of mistakes, blunders and outright disasters to pick on, I only brought Doyle up as part of a little joke (that I’m sure wasn’t funny at all to anyone who cheered on the thousands who vandalized the state capitol, urinated on the walls inside, banged on their homemade drums-all to protest being nudged closer to the real world the rest of us live in!) and I’m sure you found nothing fishy at all about anything back when he just handed over everything he could on those casino deals, nah nothing worth investigating there! It only means hundreds of millions of dollars in exchange for basically nothing, why bribe anyone or make any dirty deals in exchange for hundreds of millions? What’s that worth? Oh yeah, its worth hundreds of millions of dollars, still pocket change compared to using a county computer to post JS Online comments!

    You seem to have missed the radically left county board and imagine what this county will be like and how much your tax bill will be if that shoplifting bike thief knocks off Abele, who’s got a job you couldn’t pay me a million dollars a year to do, dealing every day with the insanity of that thank God now part time group of nutjobs and their love of wasting money! Nope, nothing dirty going on there.

    You missed the equivalent blame of Mayor Barrett, where if we’re going to hang Walker at noon for some young staffer’s anti-Latino janitor tweet from 4 or 5 years ago when she was in college, then what do we do to Barrett when the woman in charge of kicking dealers out of drug houses apparently has her own drug house, oh sure the college girl’s tweet was treason compared to the drug house enforcer’s own home “reeking of weed” having big bags of weed plus some heroin, guns and a lot of cash in her own home, everyone’s got a few pounds of pot and some heroin, guns and big cash at home, quit singling her out!

    So, we’ll see what totally off the mark response you have next, will it be another attempt at a “zinger” backed by nothing, or ????

  25. Terry Ott says:

    Probably best to save your time, BT, tangling with Vince.

    It was and is pretty clear that the voters of Wisconsin were turned off by what they had found out about the Doyle regime, and (in a purple state) that opened the door for Walker — warts and all. He’s not my favorite, but when the voters are fed up with an incumbent they’re not likely to elect his political clone to carry on in the next term. Then the Democrats showed total cluelessness by running (a) for the recall the same guy who had just lost to Scott, and (b) then in the next election could do no better than a neophyte with few ideas, none of them new or different.

    Al Gore redux.

  26. Vincent Hanna says:

    I have not defended Doyle or the county board or Barrett, so I’m not sure why you’re acting like I’ve been advocating for all of them. All of these tirades because I made a harmless crack about posting at midnight (and even after you admit to joking about Doyle)?

  27. Vincent Hanna says:

    Why is that Terry? Seems unwarranted.

  28. Terry Ott says:

    Retraction hereby issued after rereading the thread; I agree it was unwarranted. By way of explanation, I think BT raises some legit points about the virulent attempted takedown of Scott Walker … and you came back with the “drinking and posting after midnight” rejoinder. I personally would not spend much time continuing on after that, but it’s really none of my concern, so … carry on.

  29. Vincent Hanna says:

    I didn’t think that comment would be taken so seriously. This is an insanely divided state right now, and Walker is not blameless, but yes there is plenty of vitriol coming from the left. I don’t like him but I also didn’t sign a recall petition or support it.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us