Monday, October 27, 2014

George Will’s Hit Piece on Wisconsin Undermined by Factual Inaccuracy and Non-Disclosure

By Jay Heck

Long-time columnist George F. Will has deep Midwestern roots, but his baseless, factually-challenged assault on the ongoing investigation of serious political corruption in Wisconsin suggests he’s lost touch with Midwestern values.

Will has made an assassination attempt on the character of a conscientious district attorney, John Chisholm, along with the non-partisan Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.) and Wisconsin’s effective “John Doe” investigation process.

Will’s attack relied heavily on outrageous and unsubstantiated accusations made in the Wall Street Journal by Eric O’Keefe, the long-time head of Wisconsin Club for Growth and a central figure in the two-year-old criminal investigation of illegal campaign coordination between the Club and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign apparatus in 2011 and 2012.

Will also draws on a discredited and unsubstantiated attack by a right wing, out-of-state writer who simply invented a false story about Chisholm’s wife and claimed it provided an ulterior motive for Chisholm’s involvement in the investigation.

While Will describes the John Doe investigation as the handiwork of only Democratic District Attorney Chisholm, the panel is completely bipartisan – including four other Wisconsin county prosecutors (two of them Republican). The investigation is being led by a Republican Special Prosecutor, Francis Schmitz, who voted for Walker in the 2012 recall election.

Will also repeats a shopworn attack on Wisconsin’s long-standing law against coordination between political campaigns and outside special interest groups like the Club for Growth, which invest heavily in advocacy on behalf of candidates and issue ads. O’Keefe and Walker operatives found the law inconvenient and apparently ignored it; caught in that, they now argue that it’s an infringement of their free speech rights. But the law still stands and the prosecutors have a sworn duty to enforce it.

The most unsettling element in this dispute may be a bit of Will’s own dirty laundry. For many years, the columnist has sat on the board of directors of the Bradley Foundation, a Milwaukee-based organization with close ties to Eric O’Keefe. The Foundation has sent millions of dollars to organizations being investigated in the criminal probe. Bradley’s CEO is Michael Grebe, who served as Walker’s campaign chair in 2010 and during the 2012 recall campaign. Will is paid $43,500 a year to sit on the Bradley board and Bradley awarded him a $250,000 “prize” several years ago for his service to the conservative cause. Did Will reveal any of this in his column? No.

Wisconsinites have a right to expect factual information when a national columnist puts our state under his or her microscope. Instead, in the days leading up to the November 4th election, Will has delivered a factually incorrect diatribe undermined by an undisclosed financial interest.

Jay Heck is the state director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, the state’s largest non-partisan, non-profit political reform advocacy organization.

Phone: 608-256-2686; Email address:;

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