WASHINGTON -- Prosecutors allege that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was at the center of a criminal conspiracy to illegally coordinate the activities of independent conservative groups during recall elections in his state in 2011 and 2012, according to documents released Thursday and first reported on by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Prosecutors contend in the documents that Walker had direct knowledge that his top deputies R.J. Johnson and Deborah Jordahl were involved in the alleged illegal coordination between the Walker campaign and 12 conservative groups.
The documents, part of a John Doe investigation, were unsealed in a lawsuit brought by the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the central player in the alleged illegal coordination, and other groups seeking to halt the investigation as a violation of their First Amendment rights. The prosecutors' allegations are based on extensive testimony and findings from the parties involved.
In one unsealed email from Walker to Karl Rove, chief political strategist to former President George W. Bush and founder of the well-funded independent groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the governor described Johnson's alleged role in coordinating Republican efforts in the recall elections.
"Bottom line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin," Walker wrote to Rove. "We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like running 9 Congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities.)"
Johnson sent Walker a document saying that the Wisconsin Club for Growth's activities in the recall elections were overseen by "operative R.J. Johnson and Deborah Jordahl, who coordinated spending through 12 different groups. Most spending by other groups were directly funded by grants from the Club."
According to an affidavit, Johnson stated, "We own [Club for Growth]."
Other affidavits referenced in the documents allege that Walker aides Mary Stitt and Kelly Rindfleisch were involved in raising money for both the recall campaigns and the Wisconsin Club for Growth. A fundraising consultant, Kate Doner, also coordinated fundraising for the Walker campaign and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, according to the documents.
Walker's chief of staff, Keith Gilkes, is alleged to have been involved in conversations regarding coordination with independent groups in both the 2011 Senate recall elections and Walker's 2012 recall campaign.
Prosecutors also contend that the Walker campaign and the independent groups "tacitly" admitted to the allegations by arguing that the coordination was not illegal because the groups were engaged in issue advocacy, not electoral activity.
The documents portray the Wisconsin Club for Growth as the coordinated campaign's hub of operations, spending money on ads and acting as a "dark money" bank to dole out undisclosed funds to other groups to do the bidding of the Walker camp.
Formerly a small player in Wisconsin, the group pulled in more than $20 million from 2011 through 2012. It then distributed that money to other groups to push messages in the Senate and gubernatorial recall elections and key judicial races.
Citizens for a Strong America received $6.64 million -- all of its funds -- from the Wisconsin Club for Growth during this period, according to Internal Revenue Service forms obtained through CitizenAudit.org and Guidestar. The group then passed that money on to other groups active in the allegedly coordinated campaign. Wisconsin Family Action received $1.2 million, Wisconsin Right to Life received nearly $400,000, United Sportsmen of Wisconsin received $245,000, and Safari Club International got $77,908.
All of this money had to come from somewhere, but since the groups are registered as 501(c)(4) nonprofits, they are not required to disclose their donors. A search of IRS documents, however, reveals that the original donations to the Wisconsin Club for Growth came from a number of major Wisconsin business groups and conservative nonprofits.
In 2011, the Wisconsin Club for Growth raised $1.06 million from the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance, $988,000 from the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Issues Mobilization Council, $227,000 from the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance and $140,000 from the Building Industry Council. The next year, the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance gave another $100,000 and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Issues Mobilization Council added $165,000.
The Wisconsin Club for Growth also pulled in $225,000 from the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a dark money group operated by Walker supporters Charles and David Koch, and $400,000 from the conservative Wellspring Committee.
This support came after Walker fought for a budget bill that stripped members of the state's public employee unions of collective bargaining rights. Protests from unions sparked the push for recall elections, and Walker supporters and anti-union business interests fought back.
The John Doe investigation was temporarily halted when U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa ruled that prosecutors had violated the First Amendment rights of the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other groups. Randa held that the groups had simply found a loophole in campaign finance law that they were cleverly exploiting.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit is reviewing the case and is responsible for the release of the documents.
Read the documents here: