While the state Supreme Court ordered an end to a secret investigation targeting Governor Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups two years ago, the so-called John Doe II probe once again found itself in the spotlight this year.
The investigation, which was exploring whether Walker’s campaign and outside groups illegally coordinated efforts during the 2011-12 wave of recall elections, was closed after justices determined the activity was not illegal. They ordered material seized by prosecutors returned or destroyed. However, some of those sealed records and other evidence found their way into the hands of reporters at The Guardian newspaper, who then published a piece highlighting the investigation.
State Lawmakers ordered the Department of Justice to investigate the source of the leak and Attorney General Brad Schimel released his findings in early December. While he could not identify the specific individual responsible, Schimel said the documents most likely came from someone inside the former Government Accountability Board. The agency was dissolved by GOP lawmakers, but many of the former employees now work in the separate Wisconsin Ethics and Elections Commissions that took its place.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was among Republicans outraged by the accusations, arguing that the report showed the GAB was not the national model its supporters had lauded it as for years. “Now we see that it was the exact opposite,” he said. “Not only was it not a model, but really it was a travesty of justice – people literally going on a witch hunt with a political vendetta.”
After the attorney general also criticized the interim administrators of the new agencies for hindering his investigation, Vos and other Republicans have asked for them to resign. Members of the bipartisan commissions that oversee their work have defended them though, with each passing resolutions of support. They have also accused the DOJ report of failing to mention important details.
Elections Commission administrator Mike Haas and Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell have both personally fought back against criticism from GOP leaders and accusations that they may have broken any laws. Haas sent a letter to Vos and Senate Republican Leader Scott Fitzgerald accusing them of slandering his name, while Bell asked his commission to launch an investigation into his past performance.
The fates of both men will likely remain undecided until 2018. The Senate wants the attorney general to reopen and expand the original leak investigation, while Fitzgerald has threatened to have his chamber reject their nominations.
Editor’s note: WRN will be counting down its top stories of 2017 all this week. Check back each day to review some of the biggest political news in the state during the past year.