Meet Gov. Scott Walker’s New Political Hit Women
As Wisconsin’s recall elections approach, Republican Governor Scott Walker has enlisted an eyebrow-raising pair of well-connected, out-of-state political operators to sell his administration's policies and promote his reelection. Of the two young women, one cut her teeth with Karl Rove and the other promoting anti-abortion causes and working with Tea Party favorite Sharon Angle.
Late last year, the governor's office announced it had hired 28-year-old Jocelyn Webster to serve as communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA). The department manages the state buildings where most of the anti-Walker protests have been held, and its duties include setting rules for protests. Webster started her career with Rove's notorious Office of Political Affairs in the George W. Bush administration.
A congressional investigation of the activities of that office yielded allegations -- including specific allegations against Webster – that Rove's team was involved in partisan campaigning on the public dime, a claim also leveled at aides of her newest boss during his tenure as Milwaukee County Executive.
As activists gathered signatures to recall the governor in late 2011, Walker also hired new campaign staff, including Ciara Matthews as campaign communication director. Matthews, a 20-something Nevada native, has worked as spokesperson for an anti-abortion group as well as Angle's 2010 senate campaign, where she defended Angle's racially tinged ads and banned reporters from a candidate event for asking questions without permission.
Webster's Eye-Rolling Leads to Discovery of Her Karl Rove Roots
Jocelyn Webster, the new DOA communications director, first caught the eye of citizens attending a public "information session" about restrictions on rallies in the capitol.
On December 1, Walker's DOA released a 23-page policy announcing new limits on demonstrations in and around the state capitol, the site of massive protests in early 2011. Most observers viewed the new rules as an effort to suppress dissent. Webster's name was at the top of the December 1 press release announcing the new restrictions, and she was quoted in the press claiming that the “updated policy is meant to remove confusion and create consistency” for law enforcement officers and the public.
DOA announced a two-week “educational period” to help the public understand the new restrictions before they took effect. During the contentious public information sessions, Webster hovered in the background, but her eye-rolling in response to citizens expressing concerns about restrictions on their freedom of speech led some to take a closer look at her experience and her background.
From Washington to Wisconsin
Webster is no cheesehead. She was most recently in Dallas, Texas, working government relations for the global convenience store chain 7-Eleven. Previously, she worked four months for New Jersey governor Chris Christie's PR shop. For nine months before that she pushed press inside the Beltway on education policy in the 2008 election year. She also worked PR for New Yorker Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign.
But before those experiences, Webster worked for the federal government in Washington DC, and was cited in a major congressional investigation.
After graduating from college in California, Webster got a gig at the new Department of Homeland Security as a liaison to the George W. Bush White House. After six months, she moved to the White House and became a staffer in the Office of Political Affairs (OPA) in February 2006. OPA was overseen by Karl Rove and was reportedly tasked with tracking the political environment. A three-year investigation into OPA concluded in January 2011 with a report showing the office routinely violated the Hatch Act, a federal law prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars for partisan political activities.
The report by the Office of Special Counsel found that the taxpayer-funded activities of OPA employees “were directed at the electoral success of Republican candidates and the Republican Party as a whole,” and that “U.S. Treasury funds were unlawfully used to finance efforts to pursue Republican victories at the polls.”
“OPA was essentially an extension of the RNC in the White House,” the report stated. Rove's OPA violated the Hatch Act throughout the Bush presidency, said the report, but particularly in the run-up to the 2006 midterm elections, when Webster joined OPA.
Webster's Ties to Bush White House Email Controversy
The controversial role of the office in which Webster worked did not end after the 2006 midterm elections.
In 2007, it was revealed that OPA staffers had been using partisan Republican National Committee email accounts for official business, such as the controversial firings of federal prosecutors who were not pursuing allegations of voter registration fraud. This practice circumvented the requirements of federal sunshine and ethics laws, such as the Presidential Records Act, which required that employees preserve a record of all communications taking place at work. The National Journal wrote that Karl Rove sent 95 percent of his emails on his RNC account.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman requesting an investigation. As a result of that congressional investigation, the Bush administration claimed that 5 million emails had been lost or deleted. After a lawsuit, computer technicians were able to reconstruct some of the deleted messages and found that up to 22 million emails had been deleted.
Waxman’s investigation uncovered secret RNC emails from Webster, which showed she was very much involved in Rove’s shadowy White House political operation.
As the investigation proceeded, the RNC requested that searches of the emails be limited. In an April 2007 letter, Waxman noted that accepting the RNC's request to narrow the email search terms “would not have located a January 19, 2007, email from an official in Karl Rove's office to an official at the General Services Administration transmitting a copy of Powerpoint slides prepared by the White House that list the top 20 Democratic targets in 2008. That email read: ‘Please do not email this out or let people see it. It is a close hold and we're not supposed to be emailing it around.’”
Waxman's citation was an "E-mail from Jocelyn Webster, Staff Assistant, Office of Political Affairs, White House, to Tessa Truesdell, Confidential Assistant to the Administrator, General Services Administration (Jan. 19, 2007)." Webster was not charged with any crime for her participation in Rove's activities during her work for him from early 2006 until early 2007.
Webster's Role in "Pentagon Pundits" Operation
In early 2007, with public support for the Iraq war declining, Webster moved to the Pentagon's public affairs division.
In 2008, David Barstow broke a story in the New York Times about the depth and breadth of the Defense Department's public affairs operation using "surrogates" to promote Bush administration policies in the press, without disclosing the Pentagon's hidden hand. The Center for Media and Democracy's John Stauber called the scandal “the Pentagon Papers of this war” in Iraq. CMD made the documents Barstow obtained available through its SourceWatch electronic library. The Times won a Pulitzer for its investigation.
One part of that program was described in an earlier Harpers article by Ken Silverstein, who identified Webster as working on the project. The so-called “Surrogates Program,” according to Silverstein, “arrange[d] regular conference calls during which senior Pentagon officials brief retired military officials, civilian defense and national security analysts, pundits, and bloggers...The Pentagon essentially feeds participants the talking points, bullet points, and stories it wants told.”
Silverstein wrote, “it's quite clear that the Pentagon views it as a propaganda program." Neither Webster nor others involved were charged with any crime, however, even though watchdog groups like CMD noted how the so-called “surrogate operation” violated longstanding federal appropriations rules and other laws against military propaganda in the United States.
As Recall Heats Up, Walker Beefs Up Campaign Staff
In late 2011, as Wisconsin activists went door-to-door gathering signatures to recall their governor, Walker hired new campaign staff, including Ciara Matthews as communication director.
Matthews most recently worked as communications director for the anti-abortion Susan B Anthony (SBA) List, a group that works to elect pro-life politicians and takes credit for the U.S. House of Representatives voting in 2011 to defund Planned Parenthood. It is currently asking that presidential candidates sign a pledge to appoint anti-abortion nominees to the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice and Department of Health, as well as defund Planned Parenthood.
When the effort to defund Planned Parenthood failed in the Senate, Matthews appeared on ABC News to praise the states passing laws that cut Planned Parenthood funding. "What the states are doing is what the federal government has failed to do, and that is to strip tax dollars from America's abortion giant," she said. Possibly foreshadowing yesterday’s announcement by the Susan K. Komen for the Cure Foundation, Matthews told ABC in July 2011 that “[t]here is a huge tidal wave of support sweeping across the country right now to defund Planned Parenthood.”
In her position with SBA List, Matthews also blogged for Lifenews, discussing the “radical pro-abort agenda of Emily's List” and penning stories like “Obama Repeatedly Chooses Planned Parenthood Over People” and arguing that, if Planned Parenthood had its way, Steve Jobs would never have been born.
Before working with SBA List, Matthews was spokeswoman for Sharon Angle's 2010 senate campaign in Nevada. In that campaign, Angle attacked Democratic incumbent Harry Reid by running ads juxtaposing white families and schoolchildren with menacing Latino men stalking through train yards or creeping through the night. The ads warned, “illegals [are] sneaking across our border putting Americans’ safety and jobs at risk,” and called Reid “the best friend an illegal alien ever had.”
The images and content were so offensive that even the chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Hispanic Caucus, who had also served as a spokeswoman for Angle, denounced the ads. Matthews, though, aggressively defended Angle's racially tinged campaign.
Matthews also played a role in banning two news agencies from the candidate's election night party as “punishment” for asking questions without permission. Throughout her campaign Angle had developed a reputation for avoiding and even fleeing the news media. In the final weeks of the campaign, Nevada's CBS and NBC affiliates approached Angle to ask about national security policy and a local air force base, and after several evasive answers, Angle said “I'll answer those questions when I'm the senator.” Matthews later informed the news agencies that they were uninvited from Angle's election party the following week, telling the NBC affiliate's news director that his staff asking tough questions was tantamount to treating the candidate like Paris Hilton.
Matthews has pulled no punches since joining Walker's campaign in December and moving to Wisconsin. She called the first Democrat who announced plans to run against Walker a two-time loser who was “hand-picked by big-government, public employee union bosses.” She said that “whoever winds up to be the Democratic candidate is going to be someone whose interests lie with big government employee unions, and they will be beholden to the people who put them in office,” brushing aside concerns that Walker might also be beholden to the deep-pocketed, out-of-state donors who've helped him raise over $12 million to fight the recall effort.
Matthews, who appears to have spent most of her life in Nevada, apparently feels comfortable telling Wisconsinites what is good for them. “The governor has spent his first year in office laying the foundation for a more successful Wisconsin,” she explained in a recent press release.
Walker's New Hires Make a Splash
Throughout the 2011 Wisconsin protests, Governor Walker falsely claimed that most of the demonstrators were from out-of-state. But some are now questioning whether he is recruiting his own out-of-state agitators with Webster and Matthews.
On Matthews' Twitter feed, she dukes it out with recall supporters and Democrats. She seems fixated on proving that the recall is all the work of “DC big union bosses,” and in press releases denounces the “baseless recall efforts lead by big-government union bosses,” minimizing the work of thousands of grassroots volunteers who organized in their communities and stood in the cold gathering signatures.
Webster has also reportedly treated Wisconsinites with a dismissive attitude. During the public information sessions on Wisconsin's capitol access rules, citizens concerned about the policy's impact on their First Amendment rights were dismayed by Webster rolling her eyes and shaking her head at their comments. Many were also put off by Webster's misleading press release that had asserted the new rules, which require permits for groups as small as four persons, were simply restatements of existing policies.
At one of those information sessions, Paul Schmid of WisconsinReporters.com expressed concern about the background of the Department of Administration's new communications director. “This is the state of Robert LaFollette, open government, transparent government,” said Schmid, noting that citizens were unlikely to trust the administration considering the background of their new hire and Webster's past involvement in secretive, taxpayer-funded political activity.
In response, DOA Deputy Secretary Chris Schoenherr replied, “You'll decide whether or not, you decide to trust the administration. Or not.”