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Sheriff, regulators, Justice Bradley still silent on ethics complaint

By   /   March 31, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Watchdog

MADISON, Wis. — Still no word from regulators on whether Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney will face any consequences for appearing in a campaign ad, alongside a county squad car, for state Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

The ad and a photo of Mahoney, a Democrat, shaking hands with Bradley remain on her campaign Facebook page. This despite allegations the ad is a breach of campaign ethics laws for the sheriff and the justice.

Photo by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley campaign Facebook page

DAVE AND ANN: This photo of Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley appears on Bradley’s campaign Facebook page. Is it a breach of Dane County ethics laws? And how come the mainstream media have mostly ignored this story?

Following a Wisconsin Watchdog story  last week detailing the allegations in a complaint against the sheriff, Mahoney said he would send out a response to all media about the matter. As of Monday, he had yet to do so. He has not returned follow-up calls from Wisconsin Watchdog seeking comment.

On Friday, Mary Kasparek, assistant corporation counsel for Dane County, said Mahoney had yet to respond to the complaint, which was forwarded to the Dane County Ethics Board.

The sheriff has 10 business days to respond, and the deadline is looming. Mahoney doesn’t have to respond, but after the date passes the board is supposed to have a meeting to consider the complaint. Just when that may be is not clear.

The next ethics board meeting is scheduled for April 13, but the agenda has yet to be filed.

Robert Hall, one of the few vocal conservatives standing in the liberal bastion that is Dane County, filed the complaint with Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell alleging that Mahoney violated the county’s general ordinances on impermissible use of public office. The ordinance prohibits the use of county-owned vehicles and uniforms, among other things, for political activity.

Hall said he isn’t hopeful the ethics board will do anything with his complaint before next week’s Supreme Court election, pitting Bradley, a member of court’s liberal wing, against Rock County Circuit Court Judge James Daley.

“It seemed to me that the sheriff and probably Justice Bradley broke the law,” said Hall, a conservative blogger who served five terms in the Massachusetts state Senate.

“Liberals clearly believe that it is acceptable, in fact virtuous, to bend, ignore or break the rules and laws as long as it is in behalf of the high good of the progressive agenda,” Hall said. “The ‘higher good’ of course includes getting liberals appointed or elected to public office where they can enjoy the power, perks and pelf that those who dedicate their lives to the progressive agenda clearly deserve.”

In the Bradley ad, Mahoney is decked out in his uniform, with gun and badge, standing and chatting with Bradley next to what appears to be a county squad car.

The ad attempts to drive home the point that Bradley has plenty of backup from the state’s sheriffs.

Contributed photo by Robert Hall

CALLING FOUL: Dane County resident Robert Hall has filed an ethics complaint against Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney.

And Mahoney — again in uniform and this time unquestionably positioned next to a sheriff’s vehicle — appears in a photo shaking hands with the justice. You’ll find that picture still up on Bradley’s campaign Facebook page.

Law enforcement agents are free to endorse whomever they like, but the line is drawn at using taxpayer-funded equipment to promote a candidate.

Dane County’s ethics code states “no county official or county employee shall use or attempt to use his or her public office or employment to influence or gain unlawful: benefits, advantages or privileges, personally or for others.”

Bradley, too, would seem to be operating counter to the code of conduct that governs the state Supreme Court.

From the Wisconsin Judicial Commission’s Code of Judicial Conduct:

“A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities.

(1) A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

Under “comment,” the section goes on to explain:

“Public confidence in the judiciary is eroded by irresponsible or improper conduct of judges. A judge must avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety. A judge must expect to be the subject of constant public scrutiny. A judge must therefore accept restrictions on the judge’s conduct that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly.”

Bradley’s campaign has not responded to requests for comment.

In his complaint, Hall writes the ethics ordinances were established to “ensure no county official or employee may seek or gain financial gain from public office or service.”

“It is further to protect county taxpayers from officials and employees use of taxpayer-funded assets or funds for personal or political gain,” the complaint states.

“It is gravely concerning that our sheriff prioritizes the use of county property for the benefit of a political campaign over his duty to provide for and administer the county’s public safety. While the use of this property in this way is alone unethical, it is further troubling that the county’s chief law enforcement official would remove the public protection asset from service for any purpose, particularly the purpose he chose: campaigning.”

The sheriff in 2009 made a cameo in a campaign ad for Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

Mahoney, who endorsed Abrahamson as he has endorsed Bradley, proclaims the left-leaning chief justice is “law enforcement’s ally.” In another ad, Mahoney, driving in what appears to be a squad car, asserts Abrahamson is “protecting Wisconsin families.”

There were no ethics charges filed against the sheriff at that time.

“I can’t imagine what their excuse could be other than ignorance of the law, and it’s hard for me to believe a sheriff of a county and a Supreme Court justice could claim ignorance,” Hall said.

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.