Wednesday, January 11, 2006


WEDNESDAY, Oct. 23, 2002, 10:32 a.m.

By Charles J. Sykes

Don Fish is the witness who wasn’t called. Fish was a whistle-blower long before the caucus scandal was even a gleam in Brian Blanchard’s eye. In sworn affadavits, the former state Democratic Party staffer charges that prominent Democrats attended meetings where party officials discussed using state employees – including caucus staffers – to develop voter files for use in political campaigns. Fish, who worked for the state Democratic Party from 1998 to 2000, says that two-thirds of the voter information used by the party was created by caucus workers from the state senate and assembly. He provides documents; names names, dates, and places. Fish’s charges are so detailed and so credible that the state Elections Board voted unanimously in July to continue investigating them. But Don Fish was never called before the John Doe probe into the Capitol caucus scandal. Fish suspects Brian Blanchard didn’t want to call him because he had “named too many names.” While Fish can document the abuse of the Democratic caucus staff, he says, “I have even more evidence on how [Jim] Doyle, the state party, and the Democratic congressional delegation did the same thing.” Blanchard never gave him a chance to tell the John Doe what he knew. Fish finds much of the information in the criminal complaints fascinating. “It was particularly disheartening to read how [former senate caucus director and current Doyle aide] JoAnna Richard testified to actively participating in caucus scandal abuse,” he says, “but no charges were filed against her. Could this have something to do with the fact that Doyle ‘was the boss of the investigators’?” Fish was quite familiar with JoAnna Richard. “During 1999 and 2000, I attended at least a dozen meetings of the members of the [Democratic Party’s] coordinated committee, and I remember JoAnna was at most of them, representing Doyle.” Fish says that the current focus on whether Richard may have campaigned on state time for Doyle misses the point. “The real issue,” he says, “is that JoAnna, while representing Doyle on the [Democratic Party’ s] Coordinated Campaign, participated in plans to extensively use caucus and legislative staff in the development of the [the state party’s] voter database program. ” Under the standards set out by Blanchard in last week’s charges, this suggests that Fish has evidence of criminal misconduct, perhaps even felonies, involving some very prominent officials. A year ago, Fish says, he had three lengthy meetings with Blanchard and Milwaukee County prosecutor David Feiss. “I freely provided answers to all their questions, with no lawyer by my side, and provided over 500 pages of documents” including documents that the State Elections Board had not seen. But despite the prosecutors’ apparent initial interest, Fish was never asked to testify before the John Doe. “This seems particularly ironic…because I would probably have been one of the few who would not have brought along an attorney and who would have testified freely without a grant of immunity.” Why does Fish think that he wasn’t asked to testify? “This may sound cynical,” he says, “but I can only believe Brian Blanchard and E. Michael McCann are protecting Attorney General Doyle, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and other top Democrats; and that there was, indeed, selective prosecution; and that there are, indeed, some people immune from prosecution.” “I also believe Blanchard’s own involvement in caucus scandal abuses may have made it difficult for him to scrutinize others who were doing the same thing.” The failure to include Fish’s evidence in the John Doe investigation raises even more questions about the timing, fairness, and motivation of Blanchard’s election-eve felony charges. After 18 months of investigation and under intense pressure to produce charges, Blanchard was unable to come up with anything against Scott Jensen or Steve Foti that matched McCann’s charges against Chuck Chvala either in drama or seriousness. No pay for play, no shakedowns, no extortion. Blanchard was unable to come up with the staples of political corruption: no sexual misconduct, no million dollar cash grab like Milwaukee County’s pension scandal, no destruction of public records, no bribery, no perjury, no envelopes stuffed with cash. Just allegations that the Republicans had used legislative staffers for political purposes – precisely the charges that Fish had made about the Democrats. Fish says he still considers himself a Democrat, but the bottom-line of Blanchard’s investigation is that: “Most of the Democrats involved with the caucus scandal apparently will not be held accountable for their actions. They have gotten away with it, and they have no incentive to change. “My fear is the result of this investigation will be a continuation of politics as usual, which is tragic. Because so many got away with abuses of power, the caucus scandal is likely to be reduced to a footnote to reference in the next scandal.” Maybe that’s what Brian Blanchard didn’t want to hear.


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