MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Court documents released publicly for the first time Thursday offer new insight into prosecutors’ secret investigation of potential illegal campaign fundraising activities by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign.
In the documents, state prosecutors say Walker’s campaign in 2011 and 2012 broke election laws by coordinating with conservative groups, including the Wisconsin Club for Growth. The 266 pages of unsealed documents show investigators viewed Walker as having a central role in the alleged scheme.
No charges have been filed against Walker, who is viewed as a potential 2016 presidential candidate. The investigation, known as a John Doe, has been on hold since May, when a federal judge temporarily halted it.
WHAT IS A JOHN DOE INVESTIGATION ANYWAY?
It is the name given to investigations allowed under Wisconsin law which are done largely in secret and overseen by a judge. Prosecutors can collect evidence and compel people to testify, but the activity is largely shielded from the public.
Prior to Thursday’s document release, some information had leaked out about the latest probe through court rulings, redacted court filings, and leaks made by Eric O’Keefe, the director of Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the conservative groups being targeted.
WHY WERE THE DOCUMENTS UNSEALED?
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook in Chicago unsealed 266 pages of documents related to a Wisconsin Club for Growth lawsuit seeking to halt the investigation. The organization had argued the public has the right to see them.
The documents include a filing from prosecutors defending the investigation, saying Walker illegally coordinated fundraising during the state’s 2011 and 2012 recall elections with independent conservative groups across the country.
WHO ARE THE PROSECUTORS?
The lead investigator is Francis Schmitz, who has described himself as a Republican who voted for Walker. Also involved in the investigation is Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat.
WHO IS ACCUSED OF COORDINATING?
Lead prosecutor Francis Schmitz wrote that the organizations include Wisconsin Club for Growth; Citizens for a Strong America; Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce; and Walker’s campaign. The document also quotes an email Walker sent to Karl Rove in May 2011 praising his top adviser, R.J. Johnson, for running successful campaigns in the state. Johnson served as both Walker’s top campaign strategist and as an adviser for Wisconsin Club For Growth.
The prosecutors also mentioned that beginning in March 2011 there were open discussions of coordinating with Americans for Prosperity, the Republican Party of Wisconsin, the Republican State Leadership Committee and the Republican Governors Association.
HOW WERE THEY ALLEGED TO BE COORDINATING, AND WHY WOULD IT BE ILLEGAL?
The prosecutors alleged Wisconsin Club for Growth funded a number of organizations, enabling them to run advertisements or conduct other activity supporting Republican recall candidates or opposing GOP recall opponents. For example, the organization contributed 99.9 percent of the $4.6 million in revenue Citizens for a Strong America reported in 2011. CFSA gave $1.2 million to Wisconsin Family Action; $347,580 to Wisconsin Right to Life; and $245,000 to United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, all groups that were involved in coordinating absentee ballot application activities during at least the 2011 Wisconsin Senate recalls.
The prosecutors contend the groups’ work amounted to contributions to the candidates’ campaigns. The groups should have reported those contributions to the state but they failed to do so, they argue.
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