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Feb
2014
12

Alarmed Yet? Scott Walker & Co. Now Target of Second John Doe Investigation

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A second John Doe investigation in Wisconsin, this one into the campaign finances of the Scott Walker recall election defense, has been labeled “the shadowy probe of shadowy political groups” by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writer Daniel Bice. It focuses on “illegal campaign coordination between (name redacted), a campaign committee, and certain special interest groups.” Details have been hard to come by, but recently unsealed court documents suggest that the campaign committee in question is Friends of Scott Walker and that the Governor is a target of the bi-partisan investigation.    

Five suspects in five Wisconsin counties are involved, of which some are “social welfare” non-profits who ran “issue ads” throughout the recall election.  The right wing is calling the probe a “partisan political speech raid,” but critics of the campaign finance system see the investigation as potentially helping shape the campaign finance reform movement henceforth.

From PRWatch:

The special interest groups under investigation include Wisconsin Club for Growth, which is led by a top Walker advisor and friend, R.J. Johnson, and which spent at least $9.1 million on “issue ads” supporting Walker and legislative Republicans during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections. Another group is Citizens for a Strong America, which was entirely funded by Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012 and acted as a conduit for funding other groups that spent on election issue ads; CSA’s president is John Connors, who previously worked for David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity and is part of the leadership at the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity (publishers of Watchdog.org and Wisconsin Reporter). Other groups reportedly receiving subpoenas include AFP, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the Republican Governors Association.

Those being investigated have apparently refused to comply with the judge’s wishes, delaying the process.  The Club for Growth has acknowledged they are a target and taken to friendly news sources to villify the investigators.  The conservative media has largely complied, says PRWatch:

Wisconsin Reporter and the Wall Street Journal editorial board have consistently attacked the probe, characterizing the criminal investigation as a “political speech raid” and citing unnamed sources to portray the investigation as a Democrat-led “taxpayer-funded opposition research campaign” with “one party in this state using prosecutorial powers to conduct a one-sided investigation into conservatives.”

The new court documents undermine those portrayals. The documents show that while the probe started in Milwaukee, it quickly spread to four other counties and is now led by Republican and Democratic prosecutors.

The five-county effort is the result of Assembly Republicans pushing changes to Wisconsin law in 2007 to require that individuals accused of campaign finance or ethics violations be charged in their county of residence, rather than where the violation actually occurred. The subjects of this John Doe investigation live across the state, the filings show, in Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Iowa, and Milwaukee counties. The 2007 law was widely seen as an effort to help Republicans avoid trial in Madison, Wisconsin’s capitol, where campaign finance violations would be most likely to occur but whose District Attorney and judges are perceived as liberal.

“Whatever the reason for the enactment of [the statutes], from the standpoint of judicial administration, the results are chaotic in a John Doe investigation where the subjects live far and wide within the state,” wrote Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz in an unsealed filing with the Court.  “The only reasonable approach to the handling of this circumstance is to assign one judge to hear all five John Doe proceedings.”

The unsealed documents also reveal former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch and Eric O’Keefe of the Wisconsin Club for Growth as suspects by releasing their initials in court paperwork.  The Wisconsin Club for Growth spent over $9 million in ads during the recall election.  

This second John Doe case seems to have spawned from the original probe into abuses by Walker’s campaign staff during the period that he was running for Governor while simultaneously acting as Milwaukee County executive.  That investigation led to six criminal convictions and shed light on how deeply social welfare organizations had infiltrated the infrastructure of elected government.

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