Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker knew his campaign organization was collaborating with tax-exempt issue advocacy groups as they fought a 2012 attempt to recall him, prosecutors said in a court filing.
Walker touted the work of one campaign staff member in coordinating activities with conservative groups in a 2011 e-mail to Republican strategist Karl Rove, according to court papers unsealed yesterday. The coordination with such groups, illegal under state law, included the Wisconsin chapter of Club for Growth.
He “helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin,” Walker wrote Rove on May 4, 2011, referring to his staff member, according to the documents.
A first-term governor, Walker successfully defeated the recall campaign, which was led by labor groups opposed to his legislation limiting collective-bargaining rights. He’s frequently cited as a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, along with U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.
A special prosecutor requested by district attorneys in five counties was pursuing a confidential investigation into whether Walker’s office illegally coordinated its efforts with conservative groups. Last month, a Milwaukee federal judge issued a preliminary order blocking the probe, finding it likely violated U.S. constitutional protections for political activity.
The prosecutors appealed that decision.
U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook yesterday ordered 266-pages of documents related to the investigation unsealed.
Walker, in a statement issued by his campaign, called claims that he engaged in any wrongdoing politically motivated and “categorically false.” Two judges, one federal and one state, have ruled against the investigators, the governor said.
“This is nothing more than a partisan investigation with no basis in state law,” Walker said. “It’s time for the prosecutors to acknowledge both judges’ orders to end this investigation.”
The documents show prosecutors abused their powers and adopted a “blatantly unconstitutional interpretation of Wisconsin law,” Andrew Grossman, a lawyer representing Wisconsin Club for Growth, said in a separate e-mailed statement.
In a January ruling quashing investigators’ bid for more information from targets of the probe, a state court judge said that campaign committees, while barred from coordinating expenditures with the groups, were allowed to work together on fundraising.
The alleged coordination didn’t involve expenditures, Grossman said.
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and this is a story that needs to be told to prevent more abuses,” Grossman said.
The federal court bid to end the investigation was filed by Eric O’Keefe, a director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth. His group was one of several that attempted to have investigatory subpoenas quashed in state court, according to a ruling included in the newly released documents.
“The scope of the criminal scheme under investigation is expansive,” the county prosecutors said in December 2013 state court filing opposing the motion to quash the subpoenas.
“It includes criminal violations of multiple election laws,” they said, including rules that would make any independent group coordinating with a candidate’s campaign committee a subcommittee of that candidate’s organization, subjecting it to additional disclosure laws.
The subpoenas were quashed by a state judge.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, declined to participate in the investigation.
In a May 2013 letter to Milwaukee County District Attorney John T. Chisholm, Van Hollen said he was concerned about “potential conflicts of interest that arise by virtue of our ongoing representation of Scott Walker in his official capacity as governor.”
Leading the five-county investigation was former Deputy U.S. Attorney Francis Schmitz.
“The documents released today raise more questions than answers about Scott Walker’s misconduct during his first term,” Democratic National Committee Press Secretary Michael Czin said yesterday in a statement. Czin called the alleged coordination potentially illegal and “a clear violation of the public’s trust.”
The appellate court case is O’Keefe v. Chisholm, 14-1822, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago). The lower-court case is O’Keefe v. Schmitz, 14-cv-00139, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin (Milwaukee).
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in federal court in Chicago at firstname.lastname@example.org
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