MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, took part in a nationwide criminal scheme to coordinate fundraising with conservative groups, prosecutors said in court documents unsealed Thursday.
No charges have been filed against Walker or any member of his staff. And both sides are arguing in court over whether the activities are covered by election laws. The documents for the first time put Walker himself at the center of an investigation into campaigns in 2011 and 2012.
The papers were filed in December as part of an investigation into fundraising involving Walker and his campaign, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the state Chamber of Commerce and other groups.
The investigation began in 2012 as Walker, who rose to fame by passing a law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, was facing a recall election. But the probe has been on hold since May, when a federal judge ruled it was a breach of Wisconsin Club for Growth’s free-speech rights and temporarily halted it.
State prosecutors said in the December filing that Walker, former chief of staff Keith Gilkes, top adviser R.J. Johnson and campaign operative Deborah Jordahl discussed illegal fundraising and coordination with national political groups and prominent Republican figures, including GOP strategist Karl Rove.
“The scope of the criminal scheme under investigation is expansive,” lead prosecutor Francis Schmitz wrote in a Dec. 9 court filing objecting to an attempt by Walker’s campaign and other conservative groups to quash subpoenas. “It includes criminal violations of multiple elections laws” including filing false campaign-finance reports, Schmitz wrote.
Walker suggested the documents mean little or nothing, given that his campaign’s position has already prevailed twice in court.
“I’m not asking people to take my word for it, or political allies,” the governor said. “I’m saying look at two independent judges, at both the state and federal level, who did not buy those arguments and were rather aggressive in telling those folks to stop proceeding with that because they didn’t think it was right.”
The uproar over the collective-bargaining law led to the recall, which Walker won.
“The evidence shows an extensive coordination scheme that pervaded nearly every aspect of the campaign activities” during 2011 elections that decided control of the state Senate and the 2012 recall election, Schmitz said in the December filing.
Under Wisconsin law, third-party political groups are allowed to work together on campaign activity, but they are barred from coordinating that work with actual candidates. The Wisconsin Club for Growth has argued the prohibition does not apply to them because they do not specifically tell people how to vote, or run ads with phrases like “vote for” a certain candidate. The federal judge who halted the investigation and the judge overseeing it both agreed with that argument.