By M.D. Kittle
MADISON —State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Jill Underly used her school district email to help build her campaign.
Will Underly have her home raided at dawn by law enforcement? Will government officials spend years spying on her, rooting through her personal emails and possessions? Will she be sentenced to six months in jail? Will Underly be hounded and harassed and intimidated in an unconstitutional John Doe investigation?
Underly’s not a conservative.
State election law experts say Underly, who sent out two campaign-related emails on the taxpayer’s dime clearly broke the law. But she’ll probably receive a reprimand from the school board of the Pecatonica School District, where she serves as superintendent, if that.
Others were not so lucky.
Darlene Wink, an aide to former Gov. Scott Walker when he was Milwaukee County’s executive, faced up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine in a trumped up John Doe investigation more than a decade ago. Milwaukee County Democrat District Attorney John Chisholm’s office was really after Walker, the Republican candidate for governor at the time. Instead, they got Wink for writing comments on news sites defending her boss while on the clock. She also sent out invitations to a campaign fundraiser.
Wink was sentenced to a year of parole.
Underly wrote that she knew she was being “risky” in sending out a mass email to public school administrators around the state seeking their personal emails for campaign use.
“PS: Please do me and yourselves a favor and don’t communicate with me or anyone else about this election on school district emails or servers. I may have been risky in asking for your personal email via our school email, but I couldn’t think of any other way …” she wrote. Besides, Underly added, “there was no money asked for :)”
The teacher union-backed candidate won’t have to worry about a plea deal to keep her out of prison.
Kelly Rindfleisch was another Walker aide caught up in Chisholm’s “Walker Doe,” as prosecutors secretly called it. She was sentenced to six months in jail and three years probation for “doing campaign work on county time.” Rindfleisch failed to step out of the county building when she took some campaign-related calls.
Chisholm and his investigators went after Rindfleisch like a pack of wild dogs. They searched seized thousands of Rindfleisch’s professional and personal emails, using unconstitutionally broad search warrants, according to one appeals court judge. They destroyed her life on the pretext of “campaign finance crimes.”
“There were times I felt like I wasn’t going to make it through. They drove me to the absolute depths of depression,” Rindfleisch told Wisconsin Reporter in 2014.
And then Chisholm and Wisconsin’s election regulator cast a wider net, investigating nearly every conservative organization in Wisconsin, particularly those seen as allies of Walker. In early October 2013, they led coordinated raids on the homes and offices of conservatives. They did so because they had obtained millions of documents from their targets through illegal search warrants. After years and expensive court battles, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared the second John Doe unconstitutional.
It was an illegal investigation conducted under the bogus pretext of campaign finance law violations.
Jill Underly broke the state ethics law. In Wisconsin’s two-tiered system of justice, the liberal candidate has nothing to fear.