Prosecutors claim that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a possible presidential candidate was at the center of an illegal effort to coordinate fundraising between his campaign and outside conservative groups as he battled for his political life in a 2012 recall election.
In documents released Thursday, local prosecutors in Wisconsin alleged wrongdoing by Walker, a Republican, and two top aides. They said the three took part in a “criminal scheme” to bypass state election laws that prohibit such coordination to help his campaign and those GOP state lawmakers also facing recalls.
The documents also include three-year-old email between Walker and Karl Rove, the mastermind behind George W. Bush’s two presidential election victories who later went on to co-found and steer American Crossroads, a leading pro-Republican super PAC.
A federal judge ordered the documents unsealed following a lawsuit by a conservative group under investigation by prosecutors. The Wisconsin chapter of Club for Growth, an anti-establishment organization, claims it was unfairly targeted by prosecutors who it said were partisan and infringed on its First Amendment rights.
The release of the documents that are part of an ongoing investigation also comes less than five months before the midterm elections, when Walker faces voters as he bids for another four years in office. If Walker wins in November, he’s considered a possible contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
Asked Thursday about the new developments, Walker pointed to comments from state and federal judges.
“I hope people that look at the facts. And the facts are that you have a state judge that wasn’t appointed by me, wasn’t aligned with me at all, make the case earlier this year that didn’t think there was a foundation for this. You had a federal judge that made a similar finding,” he said.
“And so I think it’s pretty clear you have judges who are separate branches of government, at the state level certainly, but also at the federal level, who made it clear that they don’t believe the case has been made,” Walker told reporters.
Walker added that “I haven’t seen any of the documents released today.”
According to the papers, “the investigation focuses on a wide-ranging scheme to coordinate activities of several organizations with various candidate committees to thwart attempts to recall Wisconsin Senate and gubernatorial candidates.
“That coordination included a nationwide effort to raise funds for an organization which then funded the activities of other organizations supporting or opposing candidates subject to recall,” the documents said.
They continued, that “the purpose of this investigation is to ensure the integrity of the electoral process in Wisconsin.”
Also revealed Thursday was an email sent by Walker to Rove on May 4, 2011, in which the governor talked about the role of one of his top aides, R.J. Johnson, in leading the coordination effort.
“Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin. We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like running 9 congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities.),” Walker wrote.
National Democrats were quick to attack.
“The documents released today raise more questions than answers about Scott Walker’s misconduct during his first term. Walker’s coordination with Karl Rove and a Koch-backed group, among others, is not only troubling and potentially illegal – it is a clear violation of the public’s trust,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin.
He added that “now that prosecutors have alleged criminal conduct by Walker, it’s time for him to come clean to the people of Wisconsin and face the consequences, whatever they may be.”
The new developments follow the release of documents in February that indicated Walker ordered his official staff to hold a daily conference call with his political campaign in 2010 when he was Milwaukee county executive and running for governor.
That coordination would be considered illegal under Wisconsin as county officials are not allowed to conduct political business on the county’s dime.
That revelation came from thousands of documents in a now-closed case in which six of Walker’s former aides were convicted.
Walker was never accused of any wrongdoing nor was he investigated.
Walker, who was elected governor with the support of the tea party movement, set off a firestorm in January 2011 when he moved to curtail the collective bargaining rights of most Wisconsin state employees.
With majorities in both houses of the legislature, Walker and his GOP allies voted to limit raises for public employees (except police and firefighters) to the rate of inflation, bar unions from deducting dues from workers’ paychecks and force them to hold a new certification vote every year.
That bill was signed into law in March of that year, following weeks of protests at the state Capitol building in Madison that captured national attention.
Republicans insisted it was necessary to control the skyrocketing costs of public employee benefits and close the budget shortfall. Democrats argued it was an attempt to gut public-sector labor unions, one of their core constituencies.
The public demonstrations all but shut down the Wisconsin state legislature for weeks. It also drew protesters by the tens of thousands, among them union supporters and public employees, who called the measure an attack on workers.
A group of Democratic lawmakers left the state for some time in an effort to not allow a quorum for a vote.
Later that year, the state Supreme Court upheld the controversial law, but the battle sparked a storm of political activism that led to the recall effort.