The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity (through its Wisconsin Reporter and Watchdog.org websites) has aggressively attacked the “John Doe” probe into possible campaign finance violations during Wisconsin’s 2011 and 2012 recall elections. Its outlets have also published new information about the apparent targets of the investigation, but they have omitted an important detail: Franklin Center has close ties to individuals and groups that may be caught up in the John Doe.
The only name associated with the investigation, Eric O’Keefe, helped launch the Franklin Center’s operations in 2009, and his Sam Adams Alliance group provided the majority of its startup budget; O’Keefe has spoken publicly about being subpoenaed in his capacity as director of Wisconsin Club for Growth. Franklin Center’s Director of Special Projects John Connors, and the Executive Assistant to the President Claire Milbrandt, also have close ties to a group reportedly involved in the John Doe probe. Its former Director of Operations and General Counsel, James Skyles, worked with another group active in the Wisconsin recalls.
Franklin Center’s Wisconsin Reporter has written 16 stories so far that are highly critical of the John Doe probe and prosecutors (calling its series “Wisconsin’s Secret War”), but these latest revelations raise questions about whether the outfit has a conflict of interest in its coverage.
“It does sound like a conflict-of-interest situation that minimally ought to be disclosed, whenever stories are written,” said Robert Drechsel, Director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism and Mass Communications. “Particularly if the reporting in question is being done by an entity that holds itself out as nonpartisan and as doing the same kind of journalistic work being done by any traditional journalism institution.”
No one who follows politics – either here in Wisconsin or nationally – should be the slightest bit surprised that right-wing groups like Wisconsin Reporter and Watchdog.org would attack the current John Doe investigation, given the potentially negative impact the investigation would have on the flow of conservative dark money into Wisconsin.