The latest release of documents from a probe into possible illegal campaign coordination between Republicans and conservative issue advocacy groups is prompting new concerns about the future of campaign finance laws in Wisconsin.
The documents, part of a stalled John Doe investigation, show the governor and his campaign worked to direct contributions during the recall elections to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a third party issue advocacy group. Walker’s campaign and Club for Growth have argued the activity is not against the law, although Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe disagrees. “It’s absolutely illegal, and it’s been settled law for a very very long time that’s it’s illegal.”
Because Wisconsin Club for Growth operates as an issue advocacy group, they are not required to disclose where their funding comes from and how much money they have received. The John Doe documents show Walker was asked to urge donors to send money to the group, which could then coordinate advocacy messages during the wave of recall elections two years ago that targeted the governor and several state lawmakers.
McCabe worries that the federal court signing-off on arguments that politicians steering money to a third party group is not illegal could take Wisconsin to a “very dark place.” He warns that it could result in situations where wealthy campaign donors give unlimited amounts of money to “shadow campaigns,” without having to worry about their political affiliations being made public. McCabe says “it takes us to a very dangerous place” when it comes to the ability of the public to know who is influencing elections.
McCabe is also raising concerns about a $700,000 contribution Gogebic Taconite made to Club for Growth, revealed for the first time in the court documents. The company wants to open an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin and lawmakers passed legislation after the recalls that streamlined the approval process for that project. McCabe says it looks like “blatant pay to play,” even though Governor Walker denied over the weekend that he had any knowledge the company had sent money to the group.
AUDIO: Mike McCabe on the latest John Doe developments (1:56)
A federal judge halted the investigation earlier this year after Club for Growth filed a lawsuit claiming the probe violates its free speech rights. Prosecutors are appealing the decision. The John Doe has not resulted in any charges being filed.