Heavily redacted records released Wednesday by the Wisconsin Supreme Court provided the first glimpse into arguments from Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign defending the legality of the fundraising and coordination he acknowledged doing with political groups that purported to be independent.
The previously sealed records released by the court Wednesday are from three cases related to the stalled secret John Doe investigation launched in 2012. The probe is examining coordination in 2011 and 2012 between Walker’s campaign and conservative and Republican groups.
According to one brief by Walker campaign attorney Steven Biskupic, the governor was not a “candidate” when he worked closely with such groups. In the records, Biskupic’s client is referred to as Unnamed Movant No. 1.
“In the case of the 2012 gubernatorial recall, Governor’s Walker’s ‘candidacy’ did not begin until April 9, 2012,” Biskupic argued. “And prior to that time, Governor Walker and his campaign committee were entitled to raised unlimited campaign funds in connection with opposing the circulation of the recall petitions.”
In his brief, John Doe prosecutor Francis Schmitz disputed that interpretation, saying Wisconsin law states “a person does not cease to be a candidate for purposes of compliance with” campaign finance and ethics laws “by virtue of the passing of the date of an election.” He said Biskupic’s stance “is clearly not a logical interpretation” of the state’s campaign finance laws.
The documents also reveal more details about Schmitz’s request that some of the Supreme Court justices recuse themselves from the case.
The State Journal and other media outlets have reported that the court’s four conservative justices — Chief Justice Patience Roggensack and justices Michael Gableman, David Prosser and Annette Ziegler — together benefited from an estimated $8 million in outside spending by groups under investigation in the John Doe, including Wisconsin Club for Growth.
Schmitz’s arguments for recusal are largely blacked out. But the records do show he cites a West Virginia case in which a coal executive had made independent and direct contributions that helped elect a state Supreme Court justice who then ruled in favor of the company’s appeal of a $50 million judgment.
Biskupic said the current situation is different in that the spending in question “occurred long before the unnamed movants were aware of, were involved in, or had any ‘stake’ in the outcome of these proceedings.”
The records also include rebuttals by Schmitz, a Republican and former U.S. attorney who voted for Walker in the 2012 recall, to allegations by Walker that the John Doe is politically motivated.
Schmitz wrote that although Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, launched the investigation, Schmitz alone has been “ultimately responsible for the investigation and all decisions related thereto” since he was appointed to lead the five-county probe in 2013.
Supreme Court Clerk Diane Fremgen noted in releasing the records Wednesday that Justice Shirley Abrahamson continues to object to the amount of sealing and redacting in the court files. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, whose son works for one of the firms representing a client in the proceedings, is not participating in the cases.
Supreme Court spokesman Tom Sheehan said there is no deadline for a decision, although the high court typically renders decisions in the same term in which cases are argued. The current session ends June 30.