MILWAUKEE -- Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke spent a diminishing number of days doing business in the county as his national profile grew in 2015 and 2016, according to newly released calendars provided to FOX6 News through an open records request.
The calendars indicate Clarke worked in the county on 26 percent of the days in 2015, and the percentage slipped to 20 percent over the first seven months of 2016. Over the 19-month period, Clarke left Wisconsin to visit 26 other states, the District of Columbia, and two foreign countries.
Taxpayers paid for just five of the 56 out-of-state trips, while outside groups including the National Rifle Association and police unions picked up the tab for dozens of others that often included paid speaking engagements.
FOX6 initially filed the records request in October 2016, seeking Clarke's calendars and travel expenses since January 2015. Clarke provided few records before resigning from office in August 2017, and acting Sheriff Richard Schmidt has provided substantially more. Clarke has blocked the release of some records, a Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office spokesman said.
Through his newly formed company, DAC Enterprises, Clarke declined an interview for this story.
"Mr. Clarke is no longer the sitting Sheriff of Milwaukee County having retired Sept of 2017. He has moved on to more important endeavors nationally which he is enjoying and has no interest whatsoever in looking back or addressing Milwaukee issues," an anonymous person from Clarke's company wrote in an email. "He says to pass on his best to the voters whose support he continues to enjoy to this day. Additionally, he is flattered that even though he is no longer in office, he continues to be the biggest media interest in Milwaukee."
On an average 31-day month including weekends, 12 days of Clarke's calendars were redacted. That means it's unclear what the sheriff was doing on those days.
Clarke spent an average of 11 days out of state and one day elsewhere in Wisconsin, leaving an average of seven days where the calendars list meetings, media appearances or other work in Milwaukee County.
"It was a complete and total abuse by David Clarke," said Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now. "It was an abuse of taxpayers. It was an abuse of Milwaukee County. And it was an abuse of the trust that voters had put in him to actually do his job."
California and New York were Clarke's most visited states; he flew to each eight times.
Clarke made $94,615 in speaking fees and gifts from outside groups over the 19-month period, according to the sheriff's financial disclosure forms filed with Milwaukee County. He was also earning a $132,000 taxpayer-funded salary as sheriff.
Free scopes, muzzle loader rifle
On June 17, 2016, Clarke's calendars include two entries: from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., he traveled by car to the Madison suburb of Middleton. Clarke spent the next four and a half hours at Vortex Optics, a company that makes rifle scopes and other optical devices for shooting and recreational activities.
Clarke got some freebies out of the trip. On his 2016 financial disclosure form, he listed that he received two scopes valued at a total of $2,239.98 as gifts that day.
On April 30, 2015, Clarke blocked off an hour so two representatives from the Conservative Political Action Conference and the NRA could deliver to his office a $350 muzzle loader rifle he got for speaking at CPAC's conference earlier in the year.
"Parking instructions were given, along w/ specific directions to only use our garage entrance," the calendar entry states.
The representatives were Kayne Robinson, a past president of the NRA, and Robinson's chief of staff, Roger Sanders.
"I think it’s obvious that David Clarke cared about only one person, and that was David Clarke," Ross said. "Under David Clarke’s leadership, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office was about protecting and serving David Clarke, not protecting and serving the people of Milwaukee County."
Access to records
Schmidt, the acting sheriff, has done what Clarke could not or would not do: he has provided 488 days' worth of Clarke's calendars in response to FOX6's initial records request. Clarke had provided just 90 days of calendars before resigning his job.
Nearly 18 months after the initial request, the Sheriff's Office still has not provided all of the records and says it doesn't have Clarke's calendars for August and September 2016.
"I was advised that before the final two months could be pulled, David A. Clarke resigned from office, and closed access to his Google Calendar," wrote Deputy Michael Murphy, the Sheriff's Office records custodian.
The missing records include the nights of unrest in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood in August 2016. Clarke has said he was away from Milwaukee County on Aug. 13, the first night of violence, but has not said where. He held a news conference in Milwaukee County the following day.
Murphy said his office and Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Margaret Daun asked Clarke to provide the two missing months by Feb. 22. Murphy said on March 15 that Clarke has not responded to their request.
Records staff blacked out large portions of Clarke's calendars, making it impossible to know what the sheriff had scheduled for 39 percent of the days over time period examined.
In late 2015, Clarke took a 16-day trip funded by the NRA to Israel and Russia. The calendars are heavily redacted and include no details of what the sheriff did from Nov. 29, 2015 through Dec. 13, 2015, other than "All Day Israel" or "All Day Moscow."
The calendars indicate a trip to Gulfport, Mississippi that had been scheduled for the same time period was canceled.
Craig Peterson, Clarke's longtime political advisor, said in an email that he no longer works for Clarke when asked if he could set up an interview with the former sheriff. Clarke now lives near Washington, D.C., Peterson said.
The five taxpayer-funded trips over the time period cost Milwaukee County a total of $15,305, according to credit card records examined by FOX6.
Clarke's receipts show the county was billed for his travel, lodging, meals and transportation on four trips to Washington and one trip to New York.
The Washington trips included police conferences, testimony before a congressional committees, and meetings. Many days also included interviews on national media outlets. The New York trip included meetings with the New York Police Department and more media appearances.