Promoted from the diaries
By: Brian Sikma
Kris Barrett, the politically active spouse of Tom Barrett, current mayor of Milwaukee and the Democratic nominee running against Gov. Scott Walker, has been caught using her taxpayer funded e-mail account to lobby and campaign for Democratic candidates and causes. Mrs. Barrett is a public school teacher and last year she was employed by Milwaukee Public Schools, Wisconsin's largest school district. The district has two policies that prohibit employees from using any government resources, including e-mail addresses, for political purposes.
Using Wisconsin's open records law Collin Roth, a researcher with the conservative investigative watchdog group Media Trackers, obtained e-mails from Mrs. Barrett's account showing her lobbying Democratic lawmakers to vote against Gov. Walker's collective bargaining reforms. Another e-mail exchange found Mrs. Barrett recruiting fellow public school teachers to campaign against a conservative Republican candidate running for county executive in Milwaukee County.
Wisconsin has a public purpose doctrine upheld by state courts that prohibits government employees from using public resources for political purposes. More specifically, Milwaukee Public Schools has an ethics code and an acceptable use policy for school resources that specifically prohibit staff from using government resources to promote a political agenda or candidate. The ethics code reads in part, "[Employees] may contribute to political candidates, either with financial resources or in donation of services, provided donations do not utilize MPS equipment, time, or work product."
Last summer Wisconsin public school teacher and union boss Shelly Moore ran as a Democrat in one of the state Senate recall elections. After it was discovered that she had hijacked taxpayer resources and used her e-mail for political and campaign work a complaint was filed against her. This time around, Democrats and Big Labor groups are hoping that an arguably compromised legal investigation into county government employees who worked for Walker and used their work computers for political activities becomes a scandal that sinks his candidacy in the June 5th recall election.
Reflecting that strategy, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett has ratcheted up his public musing about the investigation and roundly condemned those who broke the rules. With his own wife now discovered to have abused public resources and violating school district rules, Barrett's attack may need some modification.
As of Monday afternoon the Barrett campaign had not commented about the situation. Kris Barrett is a regular surrogate for the campaign reaching out to women voters and those who oppose Walker's collective bargaining reforms.
Brian Sikma is the communications director for Media Trackers.