November 27, 2014

Documents show Walker pushed for donations to conservative group

Gov. Scott Walker speaks to supporters at a campaign event. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Gov. Scott Walker speaks to supporters at a campaign event. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

A federal court on Friday released another wave of documents from a stalled John Doe investigation into possible coordination between Republicans and conservative groups during Wisconsin’s recall elections. The more than 1,300 pages of court documents from the secret investigation include emails that indicate Governor Scott Walker solicited donations for the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which planned to run issue advocacy ads and pass money on to other conservative groups to do the same.

The records show a long line of contributions made to the group, which had been secret until Friday’s release. They include $700,000 donated by officials with a company that wants to open a large iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin. Lawmakers passed a bill last session that eased the approval process for that project, although Walker told reporters on Saturday that he had no knowledge that Gogebic Taconite had made a donation.

The John Doe investigation is currently on hold after the Wisconsin Club for Growth argued in federal court that it violated their free speech rights. A federal judge earlier this year ruled in their favor and halted the investigation, although prosecutors are appealing.

No charges have been filed and prosecutors say that Governor Walker was not the target of the probe at the time that it was shut down. Walker’s campaign notes that two judges have dismissed the allegations, while Walker and officials with Club for Growth have also long argued that there was nothing illegal about the group’s activity.

Friday’s revelations prompted an outpouring of criticism. The campaign for Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke released a statement late Saturday, calling the revelation that Walker steered donations, like the one from Gogebic Taconite, “appalling.” Burke argues that even “if it isn’t illegal, it should be.”

Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, said the latest round of court records “show massive sums of money were solicited and received on Gov. Walker’s behalf from millionaires, billionaires and special interests across the country, including from groups that subsequently received significant changes in state law to benefit them.” Ross also noted that several groups mentioned in the documents continue to run issue advocacy campaigns that benefit the governor, which he argues raises the question of whether the coordination continues to this day.