By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The retired attorney Matt Flynn planned on Wednesday to be the first Democrat to submit the required signatures to get on the ballot for Wisconsin governor, despite facing questions about his past defense of the Milwaukee Archdiocese against allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
Flynn, the former Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman, is one of more than a dozen Democrats hoping to take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker in November. June 1 is the deadline to submit at least 2,000 nomination signatures to make it onto the Aug. 14 ballot.
Flynn, a retired partner in the Quarles and Brady law firm, has been on the defensive this week about his work from 1989 to 2004 representing priests accused of sexual abuse.
The Madison and Wisconsin chapters of the National Organization for Women, along with Women’s March Wisconsin, called this week for Flynn to drop out of the race because of his work for the archdiocese. Peter Isely, a founding member and former Midwest Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has also been critical of Flynn’s candidacy.
Alec Zimmerman, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Party, labeled Flynn a “dirty defense attorney who has built a career on defending special interests and those who prey on Wisconsin families” when he launched his campaign in October.
Flynn has defended his work for the archdiocese, saying he worked hard to settle cases.
“It was important to me that all victims be treated with dignity and respect,” Flynn said in a statement Monday. “While no amount of money can make a victim of sexual abuse whole, we settled with victims to provide compensation. I believe I made a difference.”
Pressure on Flynn has increased since Sarah Peason, co-chair of the group Women’s March Wisconsin, posted a video on Facebook of her confronting Flynn after a candidate forum held in Madison on Sunday night in which she asked about what she said was his “involvement in the cover-up and transfer of pedophile priests.” She presented Flynn with church documents released in 2014 that she said showed he knew that the former priest James Arimond was leaving the church to work as a counselor with children and families.
Flynn did not respond to her allegations at the time, but on Tuesday issued a statement on Facebook saying he had no knowledge of the former priest’s application for a license to work as a counselor in 1995 after he had left the ministry. Arimond’s license was revoked in 2002 after a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story revealed he was working as a counselor in Racine.
Flynn said: “If I had known that he was applying for any counseling license, I certainly would have objected to the licensing authorities.”
Flynn said in his statement that he worked “to put into place procedures to identify and remove abusive priests, notify the authorities, and prevent their transfer. It was imperative that we work to create a system that would ensure that crimes such as these could never be committed and allowed to persist.”
Flynn previously ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 1986 and 1988 and for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978 and 2004.
Other Democrats campaigning for governor include state Superintendent Tony Evers; state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, of Alma; state Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire; former state Rep. Kelda Roys, of Madison; political activist Mike McCabe; Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik; Madison Mayor Paul Soglin; and state firefighter union leader Mahlon Mitchell.