Being a married heterosexual means
never having to say your partner's guilty
It's a small state after all.
If you work in Wisconsin politics, you'll find it's even smaller, as the same bad apples keep bobbing up again and again.
Mark Block, a right-wing operative who managed to get himself banned from Wisconsin politics for three years, surfaced as the head of a conservative issues group, Americans for Prosperity, which pushed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR)and will no doubt pop up again with more anti-Jim Doyle ads this fall.
Block was banned from politics, and fined $15,000, for his role in an illegal scheme in the campaign of Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox. He was the campaign manager.
An "independent" group, the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation (WCVP), raised $200,000 to mail 354,000 postcards and conduct a phone campaign disguised as a non-partisan get-out-the-vote effort. It was illegally coordinated with Wilcox's campaign and helped him defeat challenger Walt Kelly.
What brings this up now? Another blast from the past -- from the same illegal operation, in fact -- surfaced in the news this week.
Lorri Pickens is the campaign manager of Vote Yes for Marriage, the group supporting a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions.
When last heard from, Ms. Pickens was associate director of Block's Americans for Prosperity group.
She also was a key player in the illegal WCVP operation in the 1997 Wilcox Supreme Court race.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that her husband, Brent Pickens, a GOP Assembly aide who had worked for Block, helped set up the group.
The directors were, Lorri Pickens, then a business consultant at the state Department of Commerce; his friend, James Wigderson, of Milwaukee,who has run GOP campaigns; and Matt Weiss, of New Berlin.Wigderson? Where have I heard that name before? Doesn't he own a pub or something?
When the state tried to investigate the group, the Pickenses used the sanctity of marriage defense to avoid answering questions, the State Journal reported:
Marital Privilege Brick Wall Hit In Probe
Investigators Can't Lean On The Wife Of An Organizer In Wilcox Mailing probe, Judge Rules
State investigators can't force a woman to tell what she learned from her husband about a group facing a state Elections Board probe.
Dane County Circuit Judge Dan Moeser on Friday ruled that the state's marital-privilege law bars investigators from asking Lorri Pickens about statements made privately by her husband, Brent Pickens, an organizer of the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation (WCVP). Lorri Pickens was an officer in WCVP, which raised and spent about $200,000 on postcards and phone calls in the 1997 state Supreme Court election.
At a telephone hearing Friday, Assistant Attorney General John Greene unsuccessfully argued that Lorri Pickens had to answer questions because the marital privilege doesn't apply when a spouse has acted as the agent of the other.
The Pickens family did OK on that campaign. The Cap Times said:
And the coalition paid $34,000 to its own director, Brent Pickens, for what Pickens described only as "rental, list purchase, (and) consulting."Brent Pickens was fined $35,000 and banned from campaigns for five years. Justice Wilcox paid a $10,000 fine, and Block was fined $15,000 and banned from campaigns for three years. The $60,000 total was the biggest penalty ever paid in an elections case in Wisconsin.
The coalition and Wilcox's campaign deny there were any links between the two organizations.
But papers filed by Assistant Attorney General Alan Lee on Thursday suggested that there were substantially more contacts between Pickens and Block than either side or investigators had previously acknowledged.
According to those documents, Pickens "or someone with access to Mr. Pickens' phone" called Block more than 100 times before the postcards were mailed.
Lorri Pickens, James Wigderson, and Matt Weiss remain at large.
And Lorri is now working to make sure that if a gay couple ever engages in illegal campaign activity, they will have to testify against each other. Some things are just better left between a man and a woman, the way God intended.
PS: In the interest of full disclosure, I was Walt Kelly's media consultant.