Gov. Scott Walker maintained Saturday he broke no laws in soliciting funds for a conservative group during the 2011 and 2012 recalls, but he said he’s not engaged in the practice as he seeks re-election in November.
“Everything we’ve done is completely legitimate,” Walker told reporters Saturday in Madison. “The only thing I can clearly point out to you is that a federal and a state court have both said without hesitation that they dismiss the argument that was put out in this report.”
Asked why he’s no longer doing it, he said, “as you can imagine I’m pretty busy with my own campaign right now.”
Walker made the comments in response to documents released Friday by a federal appeals court showing that he solicited money for Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative group that backs his policies.
The appeals court is considering whether a lower court acted correctly in shutting down a secret John Doe investigation into whether Walker and his associates illegally coordinated campaign activities with Club for Growth and other conservative groups.
The new documents provide supplemental evidence to prosecutors’ previously disclosed legal theory that Walker and his campaign aides were involved in a “criminal scheme.”
Investigators pointed to Walker raising money for Wisconsin Club for Growth and statements from campaign aides about the group coordinating campaign activity as evidence of an attempt to circumvent state campaign finance laws.
The documents include excerpts from emails suggesting Walker solicited millions of dollars from wealthy donors for Wisconsin Club for Growth, which then distributed funding to a dozen other groups, which advocated for Walker and against his recall opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Investigators stated in affidavits that the operation violated state campaign finance laws because such coordinated political activity should have been reported by the campaign and would have been subject to state campaign finance restrictions on personal and corporate contributions.
Some donors with whom Walker was scheduled to meet gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Wisconsin Club for Growth.
Last summer, the Government Accountability Board, an elections panel of retired state judges, agreed there was enough evidence to commence an investigation. District attorneys in five counties, including two Republicans and three Democrats, sought the appointment of a lead John Doe prosecutor.
Walker dismissed the investigation as a “political witch hunt” because it started in the office of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat.
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa’s decision to halt the investigation in May came in a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Eric O’Keefe, who was one of at least four individuals prosecutors were investigating.
Walker said he had not been interviewed by prosecutors as part of the latest John Doe investigation. The documents released Friday mention a Walker deposition from an earlier John Doe investigation that resulted in convictions of six of Walker’s Milwaukee County aides and associates. The deposition has not been released. Walker has said he cooperated with prosecutors in that probe and was not a target.
Walker also maintained that he is not a target of the second John Doe investigation. A lawyer for lead prosecutor Francis Schmitz issued a statement in June stating that at the time the investigation was halted in early May, “Gov. Walker was not a target of the investigation. At no time has he been served with a subpoena.”
Legal experts have told the State Journal that a “target” of a John Doe probe is someone who prosecutors have enough evidence to file charges against, as opposed to a subject, who is someone under investigation for possible wrongdoing.
Asked whether he was being investigated before the probe was halted, Walker said he didn’t know. “I’m not the one who conducted it,” Walker said. “I can’t dispute it one way or the other because I’m not privy to that information.”
One document released Friday quotes Milwaukee County investigator Robert Stelter’s conclusion that Walker solicited donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth and that such solicitation violated and was intended to “circumvent” state law on campaign contributions.
The document goes on to say the investigation “is about a candidate and his personal campaign committee failing to disclose the funding of such coordinated advocacy.”
Walker said he expects Randa’s decision stopping the investigation will be upheld by the appeals panel. Even if the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses Randa, he added, the case will still be on hold because Judge Gregory Peterson, the John Doe presiding judge, tossed out subpoenas a previous presiding judge had granted. Peterson concluded “the coordinated activities are not prohibited under the statutes.”
Peterson later stayed his decision after the prosecution appealed it, saying “the state’s theory is not frivolous. In fact, it is an arguable interpretation of the statutes. I simply happen to disagree.”
Walker is locked in an unexpectedly tight re-election campaign with Madison School Board member and former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke, who also is a former Commerce secretary.
In a statement Saturday, Burke highlighted the revelation in the documents that Gogebic Taconite, the company that wants to operate a massive iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin, made a $700,000 donation to Club for Growth. The Democrat said Walker needed to end “this politics-first nonsense.”
“We need a governor working for the people of Wisconsin to create jobs, not one working for big special interests and out-of-state corporations,” Burke said.
“Learning that Gov. Walker personally steered donations, like the $700,000 one from Gogebic, in this way is frankly, appalling and if it isn’t illegal, it should be.”
Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at another stop Saturday that he did not personally solicit money from Gogebic and was unaware that the company had given $700,000 to Club for Growth.