Special Report

Howard Dean and the $100,000 Wisconsin Slush Fund

Money to "back" AWOL Wisconsin state senators as teachers, doctors lie -- fraud committed?

By 2.22.11

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You can call them "Dean Dollars."

Former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, a one-time presidential candidate, is the founder of a group that by mid-day of President's Day had raised over $100,000 in a slush fund to "back" the on-the-lam Wisconsin Democratic State Senators.

The Dean Dollars are being specifically funneled to the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee (SSDC) -- an apparent violation of Wisconsin election law that pointedly says, according to the Wisconsin Election Board's Legal Counsel in a 2005 decision, that the "SSDC may not accept a contribution of more than $6,000 from a single committee in a calendar year." (Note: the Election Board is now called the "Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.")

The money, requested in an e-mail obtained over the weekend by The American Spectator, is being solicited in $14 dollar contributions through the Dean-founded million-member "Democracy for America" grassroots organizing group chaired by Dean's brother Jim. There are no prohibitions on more generous donations of any amount. The funds are being collected through the left-wing "Act Blue" fundraising website, which identifies itself as "the online clearinghouse for Democratic action."

The $14 dollar solicitation is symbolic -- as in one dollar for every one of the fourteen Democrats in the Wisconsin State Senate. All of whom have now fled the state in a political battle royal over budget cuts and collective bargaining rights for public employees with the newly elected Republican Governor. On Monday, the Huffington Post quoted Senator Tim Carpenter, one of the fourteen, as saying of the decision to remain out of state: "We'll be here until Gov. Walker decides that he wants to talk."

Carpenter made no mention of who was paying his expenses.

The slush fund revelation comes on the heels of the discovery by both Fox News reporter Mike Tobin and the Wisconsin-based John K. MacIver Public Policy Institute of an organized effort by some Wisconsin doctors -- who were deliberately handing out "doctor's notes" to teachers feigning illness in order to protest the governor's legislative plans. Which would be fraud, if proven in court. The Fox report uncovered at least one doctor connection to the presumably taxpayer-funded University of Wisconsin Family Medical Program. The MacIver video, posted over the weekend by my American Spectator colleague Philip Klein, is a particularly stunning depiction of both teachers and doctors quite publicly engaged in what appears to be outright fraud, a question raised by one reporter to an angrily defensive doctor on the MacIver video.

The fraud suggested? Doctors -- some of whom may be paid by Wisconsin taxpayers -- are willingly lying about the health of protesting teachers (also paid by Wisconsin taxpayers) who in turn are lying about their health status in order to skip school so they can spend their time protesting.

As of Monday, following the Fox News and MacIver revelations, the teachers union leadership apparently had a change of mind, urging teachers to return to work. Whatever happens now, what has effectively been a teachers strike -- also illegal in Wisconsin -- shut down some Wisconsin schools, leaving school kids without teachers, hungry school kids without government-financed school lunches while stiffing taxpayers for the bill. Ironically, only a little over a month ago the Wisconsin Education Association Council -- the teachers union -- was trumpeting the importance of having children in school because of the critical nature of "child nutrition" and to fight "obesity." Apparently hungry kids and unhealthy fat kids are not as important as lying to get days off to protest on the taxpayers' dime.

Or is it the taxpayers' dime? Is some of this instead being paid for by Dean Dollars?

The Dean brothers goal was originally $75,000 but changed upward to $100,000 over the President's Day holiday weekend. By 12:23 pm on President's Day itself the group had met its revised goal, with over $100,027 having cascaded into the coffers of the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee.

Says Jim Dean in his e-mail of why the Dean Dollars slush fund for state senators is needed:

If even one of these Democrats had remained in Wisconsin, the state police would have forcibly brought them to the state Capitol and the bill would have passed. So now they are holed up in another state playing a high stakes game of chicken over which side will cave first. That's why we absolutely must back these Senators up today.

The e-mail, re-written slightly after being sent to individual members of Democracy for America by name -- one of which was obtained by The American Spectator -- is now used as the solicitation language on the Act Blue site, found here.

The funds are being funneled from the Dean group to the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee, specifically to be provided as "back up" for the 14 state senators described as "heroes" for fleeing the state.

Ironically, it is one of those hiding senators, Jon Erpenbach -- reported by Chicago's ABC affiliate to be hiding in a Chicago hotel -- whose over-limit contribution of $21,000 to the SSDC drew a 2005 rebuke from the Government Accountability Board's predecessor, the Wisconsin Elections Board. Said the Board's Legal Counsel in an April 22, 2005 memo to the Board:

(2) A legislative campaign committee may accept no contributions and make no contributions or disbursements exceeding the amounts authorized for a political party under this chapter. (Emphasis supplied)"

(Note: the bold print for this sentence from the memo was deliberately included in the original document by the author of the memo to draw specific attention to the problem. The term "Emphasis Supplied" was also written by the Board's Legal Counsel to emphasize the point of law.)

The amount of money legally authorized to be contributed to the SSDC, according to Wisconsin law, is $6,000 in "a calendar year." Erpenbach was cited for a $27,000 contribution from his own campaign committee to the SSDC -- $21,000 over the limit. Under the law he was mandated to give the balance as punishment to Wisconsin's "Common School Fund" or a charity.

The Dean brothers' goal of $100,000 for the SSDC is $94,000 above the legal limit as stipulated by Wisconsin law -- and again, as of mid-day Monday, that goal was both reached and the amount was still rising.

So. The obvious question.

What are all the Dean Dollars to "back" the Wisconsin Democratic state senators through their own campaign committee being used for?

While the media is focusing on the fact that the senators are famously hiding out across the state line in Illinois, the question that is not being asked is simple: Who pays for this?

By definition, of course, even fleeing state senators -- especially fleeing state senators -- would need money to pay for their expenses while on the run. The gas to drive at a time when gas prices are skyrocketing. Lodging -- with reports of senators staying in hotels in Chicago and Rockford, sometimes moving from place to place in a style reminiscent of Saddam Hussein or Yasser Arafat. Like any big city, Chicago isn't cheap and hotels aren't free. Rooms cost money (the Rockford resort cited in several news reports charges $109 dollars a night for a double bed and bath -- with wireless).

With over a hundred grand in Dean Dollars surging into the state senators' kitty specifically for their use, and no election until 2012, what could this cascade of Dean Dollars possibly be used for?

Hotel rooms in Chicago and Rockford? How are these senators paying for clean clothes? Is this slush fund being used for quarters in Laundromats -- or tips for the hotel valet service? What's on the menu? McDonald's --or prime rib?

A close look at one of the places selected as a gathering point for some of the senators might give some idea.

The Clocktower Resort in Rockford, where news reports had some of the senators located, offers whirlpool suites, saunas, an indoor swimming pool and high speed Internet among other amenities. Then there's the resort's Racquet Club -- described as having a "50,000 square-feet Fitness Center" and "featuring 9 Tennis Courts (7 Indoor & 2 outdoor) 2 Racquetball Courts & 2 Basketball Courts." Not to mention the "hair salon and spa." The rooms also offer "cable satellite television with HBO Cable TV/68 Channels (multiple sports & news)." 

Senators like to eat, and the Resort's "Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery" sounds… ahhh… delightful -- especially if you have some Dean Dollars burning a hole in your pocket. On the menu?

Well, clearly nothing but the finest.

For those senators who like an adult beverage, Dean Dollars could purchase excellent Irish whiskey (Jameson or Bushmills or Michael Collins), superb scotch (Glenlivet) and fabulous Makers Mark Kentucky bourbon, to name but a few. There's expensive Russian vodka (Stolichnaya), the best British Tanqueray gin (produced in Scotland) and… well… don't leave out the name-brand rum, tequila, brandy, and Cognac.

While the people of Wisconsin are cooling their heels the Senators could move on to a Dean Dollars paid order of "Drunken Clams" (steamed in beer), followed by a "Chef's choice of Steak grilled to your liking and served with either French Fries or Garlic Mashed Potatoes and seasonal Vegetables." Irresistibly and impossible not to mention under the circumstances would be the "Fat Bastard's Meatloaf Sandwich," which is served as a "generous portion." Top off with a "Purple Haze" or "Hair of the Dog" or perhaps a "Gravedigger" or "Red Headed Wench" to accompany a senatorial "creamy rich" New York Cheese Cake or a "White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie served hot from the oven topped with Vanilla Ice Cream and Chocolate Syrup." Before you retire to a Dean Dollars paid-for whirlpool and room for a little HBO you could (perhaps hazily) ponder one of the Tilted Kilt's favorite sayings that surely must be the motto of the Dean Dollar fueled Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee :

Dance as if no one were watching, Sing as if no one were listening, And live every day as if it were your last.

Alas for the Wisconsin senators and their Dean Dollars, Governor Scott Walker is watching. So too their doubtless appalled Republican colleagues. Not to mention the horrified and mad as hell taxpayers of Wisconsin.

Did I leave out the entire nation?

Where are Wisconsin State Senate Democrats' Dean Dollars going? And based on the reality that Wisconsin teachers and some doctors are seen lying… on camera!… who will believe the answer when it comes? From either the Deans or the missing state senators?

Thanks to the Deans and 14 AWOL Wisconsin Democrats in the State Senate -- now flush with a slush fund of over a hundred grand -- the idea of being a "public employee" and "teacher" will never be seen the same way again. Not to mention being a Democrat in the Wisconsin State Senate.

The message to Wisconsin public employees' concept of "collective bargaining" -- and the zealots holding the same now-deeply-stained idea in almost bankrupt states across the country? Particularly in states like Ohio and New Jersey and almost a dozen other states where this issue is front and center?

To borrow some Irish from the Tilted Kilt, "live every day as if it were your last." Because soon enough -- it will be.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.