By Elaine Magliaro
Last month, I wrote a post about the “John Doe” criminal investigation into the alleged coordination between Friends of Scott Walker and “independent” groups during the tumultuous 2011-2012 recall elections.
Excerpt from my post:
Prosecutors have alleged that Scott Walker had secretly raised millions for the Wisconsin Club for Growth (WiCFG) from “out-of-state donors like Donald Trump and Paul Singer, and allegedly coordinated with WiCFG in order to evade Wisconsin’s donor disclosure laws.” Talking points that were prepared for the governor reportedly advised him to “stress that donations to WiCFG are not disclosed,” and to tell donors “that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.”
I also wrote in my post about Mary Bottari of PR Watch who reported that the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) had argued in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the “dark money schemes left voters completely in the dark about who was truly influencing elections in the state.” Bottari said that Wisconsinites were unaware “that a Florida-based mining company lobbying for a massive open pit mine in Wisconsin secretly gave $700,000 to WiCFG.” In addition, she said they did not know that “John Menard gave $1.5 million to the group, and in turn received at least $1.8 million in tax credits from Walker’s job development agency.” She added that the investigation into the schemes had “been halted by a passel of lawyers hired by the groups under investigation.”
Greg Stohr of Bloomberg News reported yesterday that the United States Supreme Court has “refused to end a state investigation into Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign, rejecting an appeal from a conservative group that says its constitutional rights are being violated.”
According to Stohr, the future of the investigation is now “in the hands of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which is considering a separate bid to stop the probe.” Stohr added that the criminal investigation—which had been on hold during the court fight—“might complicate Walker’s potential campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.”
Lyle Denniston of Scotusblog said that SCOTUS—in its denial of review in O’Keefe v. Chisholm—“chose on Monday to stay out of a years-long political battle surrounding Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his political allies, leaving the dispute to be sorted out in state court. Without comment, the Court turned aside a plea by a conservative political activist to revive a civil rights lawsuit against a special prosecutor over an investigation of supporters for the governor’s anti-union efforts.”
The Supreme Court’s decision reportedly “leaves intact an appeals court ruling from September that said the conservative group Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O’Keefe, must resolve their claims in state court.”
In its September ruling, the appellate panel said that the government is entitled to regulate coordination between campaigns and purportedly independent groups, despite the First Amendment’s protection of truly independent expenditures on political speech.
“If campaigns tell contributors to divert money to groups that have agreed to do the campaigns’ bidding, contribution limits become porous, and disclosure requirements become useless,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court, according to Courthouse News.
Lawrence Hurley (Christian Science Monitor) said that the “Wisconsin Supreme Court is currently considering separate cases concerning whether the investigation should continue.” Hurley added that attorneys who are “representing the state-appointed investigators in the case noted in court filings that the investigation is dormant while the state court determines whether the alleged actions violated Wisconsin campaign finance laws.”
Stohr reported that Francis Schmitz, a court-appointed special prosecutor, “is tasked with investigating whether Walker and his operatives violated state campaign-finance laws by coordinating their efforts with Club for Growth, an advocacy group.”
The Wisconsin chapter of Club for Growth and its director, Eric O’Keefe, are fighting subpoenas they received from Schmitz seeking financial records. The group and O’Keefe sued in federal court to block the probe, and a federal trial judge said the First Amendment bars the state from trying to learn whether the organization coordinated with the Walker campaign.
A U.S. appeals court overturned that ruling, saying federal judges shouldn’t entangle themselves in state criminal proceedings.
Alice Ollstein of ThinkProgress said that the WiCFG and other Republican groups claimed that the investigation was “an infringement on their constitutional right to free speech and free association.”
Most of the facts of the case remained secret until last week, when The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and four other journalism groups won a lengthy battle for access to a trove of documents. These papers reveal, among other things, that Walker was planning to argue that his coordination with Club for Growth was not illegal because it happened before he was an officially-declared candidate, even though he was actively fighting voters’ attempt to recall him from office.
Before the so-called John Doe investigation was halted by lower court, it resulted in the conviction of several of Walker’s staffers for crimes committed while they worked for him, ranging from corruption to embezzlement to working on campaign activities while on the clock at a government job. Though Walker himself was never charged with a crime, internal emails suggest he was involved in or at least aware of the illegal coordination with outside groups.
The case now rests in the hands of the state Supreme Court, which is expected to rule by the end of June on whether the investigation can go forward or will permanently end. Yet that court, whose members are elected by voters, is now coming under criticism for having serious conflicts of interest. The four conservative members of the court benefitted from millions of dollars of outside spending from Club for Growth and the other groups under investigation to win their own seats, leading the Republican head prosecutor to call on them to recuse themselves from the case.
Conservative Group Fails To End Criminal Probe Into Scott Walker (ThinkProgress)
Supreme Court Won’t Block Probe of Scott Walker’s Recall Campaign (Bloomberg News)
Supreme Court declines to hear lawsuit seeking to block John Doe probe (Journal Sentinel)
Court bypasses Wisconsin political fray (SCOTUSblog)
Scott Walker campaign-finance probe to continue, Supreme Court rules (Christian Science Monitor)