Madison, WI, United States (4E) – Federal prosecutors accused Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker of illegally coordinating and fundraising with conservative groups to help him and Republican state senators fend off recalls elections in 2011 and 2012, according to a court document unsealed on Thursday.
Federal Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook unsealed the court documents as he reviews a lawsuit from the conservative group Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCG) against the John Doe or secret investigation into the recall elections. WCG asked the unsealing of the documents to prove in their lawsuit that prosecutors violated the group’s First Amendment free-speech rights, abused authority, and were targeting conservatives. The WCG is aiming to permanently stop the probe that was temporarily stopped by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa in Milwaukee last month.
The unsealed document contain details of prosecutors’ filings related to the probe, including an e-mail that suggested Walker and his aides helped raise money and control spending through 12 conservative groups during the recall elections.
The recalls elections were sparked by the GOP move in 2011 to sharply limit collective bargaining for most public employees. Walker, who is running for re-election and is considered a possible 2016 presidential candidate, survived the recall. Most Republican state senators being recalled also won in their respective recalls elections enabling the GOP to control the state senate by a supermajority.
Prosecutors did not object to the unsealing of the court documents as they seek to overturn the rulings of Randa and the judge overseeing the probe, state Reserve Judge Greogory Peterson.
Prosecutors alleged that Walker and his aides committed a “criminal scheme” or illegal campaign contributions by conniving to circumvent Wisconsin’s campaign finance contribution prohibitions, limitations and disclosure requirements. They also cited an email in which Walker tells Karl Rove, former top adviser to President George W. Bush, that R. J. Johnson, his longtime campaign strategist and the chief adviser to WCG, would lead the coordination campaign.
Special prosecutor Francis Schmitz also claimed that Walker’s chief of staff, Keith Gilkes, was in on discussions involving coordination between several different groups during the 2011 Senate recalls, and again during the 2012 Wisconsin Senate and gubernatorial recall elections, when he served as Walker’s campaign manager.
Under the state’s elections law, outside groups are supposed to remain independent and not allowed to strategize with candidates. WCG, however, contends that the prohibition does not apply to them and other conservative groups because they did not run ads explicitly telling people to vote for or against a candidate.
Schmitz said “significant in-kind or direct contributions to the recall candidates were not disclosed on campaign finance reports as required” proving illegal coordination was committed.
Reacting to the unsealing of the document, Walker told reporters at the 2014 Water Council Summit in Milwaukee on Thursday that the decision of a state judge and a federal judge against the probe clearly rejects the arguments of prosecutors.