Wisconsin's Dollars for Democracy

June eyed for decision on Chvala in caucus case 
10:35 PM 5/20/02
Dee J. Hall Wisconsin State Journal

     The Milwaukee County district attorney hopes to decide "by the end of June" whether there will be any charges in the investigation of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala and the now- defunct Senate Democratic Caucus, Assistant District Attorney David Feiss said Monday.
    The comments were the most explicit to date about the timing of the nearly yearlong secret John Doe investigation into possible illegal activity in the Legislature.
    Responding to persistent rumors at the Capitol that charges could be filed any time, Feiss said, "We don't anticipate anything happening in the next couple of weeks. Our goal is to be in a position to make decisions by the third week in June," with charges, if any, to follow afterward. Feiss said he could not comment on the likelihood the investigation will result in charges.
    Feiss said the Milwaukee County district attorney's office is focusing on allegations of "improper political activity" at the taxpayer- funded Senate Democratic Caucus, which was headed by Chvala. He also confirmed that his office is looking into "pay to play" allegations that Chvala traded access or legislative action for campaign contributions.
    A call to Chvala's office was not returned Monday night.
    Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard is investigating the other three partisan caucuses. The probe was launched last June after the Wisconsin State Journal revealed that the four state agencies were operating as secret campaign organizations. Blanchard assigned Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann investigation of the Senate Democratic Caucus after Blanchard recused himself because an SDC staffer helped him with nomination papers prior to the 2000 election.
    Blanchard declined to put a timetable on his investigation, and both he and Feiss said the investigations might not wrap up at the same time.
    Feiss also said Blanchard's investigation has a "fourth track" focusing on Sen. Brian Burke, D-Milwaukee. Blanchard declined to comment on Feiss' statement.
    "I have spoken publicly before about the three caucuses, and at this time, I'm not commenting about the fourth (area of investigation)," Blanchard said.
    On May 10, Burke announced he was dropping out of the race for state attorney general - the same day his name was released along with the identities of four other lawmakers and 59 legislative staffers who were receiving legal help at taxpayer expense in the John Doe investigation. 
indent Burke, who was forced to turn over paper and computer records from his Capitol office, also announced he would not seek re- election to his Senate seat in November. Efforts to reach Burke through his former campaign spokesperson weren't successful.
    Blanchard also would not comment on the likelihood of charges in the investigation. However, both he and Feiss agreed that one consideration is the July 9 deadline for legislative candidates to submit signatures to get on the Nov. 5 ballot. Chvala is not up for re- election this year.
    "There are a lot of considerations in terms of timing on decision-making," Blanchard said. "Certainly, one is the consequences for the electorate of having information relative to people running for office. The fact is, though, this is a criminal investigation, and the pace cannot be dictated by dates on the political calendar. Those kinds of dates are among the relevant factors, but they don't dictate it."
     Said Feiss: "If we were going to charge someone who were up for re-election, we probably would want to do that ... by the July deadline."