Wisconsin

Ethics Complaint Filed Against Chief Investigator in John Doe

Policy

By: Brian Sikma

Thursday morning an ethics complaint was filed against David Budde, the chief investigator in the John Doe probe who has come under scrutiny for allowing a “Recall Walker” sign in his front yard and a “Blue Fist” AFL-CIO poster on his front door. Tim Dake and Larry Gamble, two Milwaukee County residents who are conservative activists, filed the complaint with the Milwaukee County Ethics Board as a “request for investigation.”

By default, complaints filed with the Ethics Board are not a matter of public record, but Dake and Gamble start their complaint by noting it is a public request. They then recount the now familiar media reports regarding Budde, his role in the high profile and much politicized John Doe investigation, and the appearance of partisanship and anti-Walker sentiment on his part.

The document specifically says that Budde’s actions may have violated several provisions of the Milwaukee County Code of Ordinances.

            The Milwaukee County Code of Ordinances at 9.01.02 declares, The proper operation of democratic government requires that public officials and employees be independent, impartial, and responsible to the people; . . . and that the public has confidence in the integrity of its government.”

            The Ordinances further state at 9.01.02(a), “The ethical county public official or employee should: . . . Actively promote public confidence in county government . . . Maintain a positive image to pass constant public scrutiny . . . Inject the prestige of the office into everyday dealings with the public, employees and associates.

            At 9.01.02(b) the Ordinances read, The ethical county public official or employee should not: . . . Engage in outside interests that are not compatible with the impartial and objective performance of his or her duties.”

            We would submit that Mr. Budde’s consent, either express or implied, to having a Democratic Party of Wisconsin “Recall Walker” sign put in his yard, and an AFL-CIO “Blue Fist” poster put on his front door (a poster considered to be anti-Walker in nature), while he has worked on the John Doe investigation in which Walker’s name has been mentioned, could be viewed as creating an appearance of bias or conflict of interest not acceptable for a legal investigation. Because of these facts, the particular language of the Milwaukee County Ordinances, and the public reports I am [sic] asking this board, the Milwaukee County Ethics Board, to consider investigating this matter.

Investigators and staff in the district attorney’s office are classified as county employees while the actual attorneys themselves are considered to be state employees. Hence, Budde’s actions are governed directly by the ethics code referenced in the complaint.

District Attorney John Chisholm, Budde’s boss, defended the investigator saying it was Budde’s wife who was responsible for placing the anti-Walker material in front of their home. Chisholm said there was nothing he could do about the matter. But on Wednesday the Wisconsin Reporter ran a story raising the argument that Budde’s actions may have violated Milwaukee County ethics rules.

Larry Gamble, one of the county residents who filed the complaint, said he did so because, “Given the leaks and now a public display of partisanship, the perception of the investigation has been tainted and the appearance of impartiality can be called into question.” The perception of partiality has indeed been growing in recent weeks as the Budde incident follows on the heels of a report by Media Trackers that 43 attorneys and staff members, including the secretary for the unit running the John Doe probe, signed petitions to recall Governor Walker from office.

Gamble also asserted, “It’s inappropriate to be putting on a public display of political propaganda when he [Budde] is the Chief Investigator of a John Doe investigation that is getting manipulated in political advertising and he is aware that this investigation has had serious information leaks.”

The Barrett for Governor campaign has released a television ad attempting to suggest that Walker, who originally called for the John Doe probe to root out corruption in county government, is guilty of unspecified crimes because of his association with the matter.

Just when the Milwaukee County Ethics Board will take up the request for investigation is not clear since it was just submitted Thursday morning. Interestingly, if the board decides that Budde’s actions did violate ethics rules, one of their options to enforce the rules would be to refer the case to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, the very place Budde works.

PDF of the filed complaint: MKE CO Ethics Complaint_Budde.