New details of secret Walker campaign investigation emerge
MADISON — As Gov. Scott Walker this week promotes the release of his book "Unintimidated," new details are emerging about an ongoing criminal investigation that reportedly focuses on his campaign and other conservative groups.
The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Walker's campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups have been subpoenaed by a special prosecutor seeking records and fundraising information related to a series of recall attempts in 2011 and 2012 that targeted Walker and Republican state senators.
The news came just days before Walker made the rounds on national television shows Sunday promoting his book, which focuses heavily on the recall efforts and the fight over public union collective bargaining that precipitated them.
The book, which comes out Tuesday, is fueling speculation that Walker might run for president in 2016.
But Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate, in a conference call Monday, said the investigation shows why Walker needs to be replaced as governor next year. His only Democratic challenger to date is a former Wisconsin commerce secretary, millionaire Mary Burke, whose father founded Trek Bicycle Corp.
The Wall Street Journal reported that about 30 groups had received subpoenas as part of the ongoing investigation. It named nine of the targets: Walker's campaign; the Wisconsin Club for Growth; American Crossroads, a group co-founded by Karl Rove; the Republican Governors Association; the Republican Party of Wisconsin; Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin; Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's chamber of commerce; Wisconsin Family Action; and the League of American Voters.
Those affiliated with the named groups either declined to comment or did not respond to messages seeking comment that were left over the weekend and on Monday.
Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O'Keefe told the Wall Street Journal that he received a subpoena in early October and that at least three targets had their homes raided.
O'Keefe did not returned numerous calls and emails from The Associated Press requesting comment. The special prosecutor handling the case, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis Schmitz, declined to comment Monday.
It's impossible to know whether subpoenas coming from Schmitz's investigation are limited only to conservative groups, as the Wall Street Journal reported, or whether he's looking at Democrats and their supporters as well.
Both sides combined spent more than $137 million on the 15 recall races in 2011 and 2012, based on an analysis done by the independent group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
But Republican candidates, special interest groups and political committees outspent Democrats $84.5 million to $52.6 million. In the governor's race alone, Walker and his supporters outspent Democrats $58.7 million to $21.9 million, according to the Democracy Campaign's tallies.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which first reported on the new John Doe investigation last month, said the new probe was following up on leads picked up during an earlier inquiry that resulted in six criminal convictions stemming from activity in the Milwaukee County executive's office when Walker held that position between 2002 and 2010.
That investigation began in May 2010, six months before Walker was elected governor, and closed in February. Walker was interviewed by investigators but never charged with any wrongdoing. Three of those convicted were former aides to Walker when he worked as Milwaukee County executive. A Walker appointee and major campaign donor were also convicted.
A John Doe investigation is much like a federal grand jury, allowing prosecutors to gather evidence and compel testimony in secret. The John Doe law prohibits the target of a subpoena from disclosing its contents to anyone but his or her attorney.
O'Keefe told the Wall Street Journal that in talking about his subpoena he "realizes the personal risk but wants the public to know what is going on."
Walker has declined to comment about the investigation, calling it a distraction.
This week, Walker is focused on promoting his book. On Thursday, he is slated to talk about it at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.
Walker said during interviews to promote his book over the weekend that he thinks the 2016 presidential nominee should be a former or current governor. He also continued to refuse to say whether he would finish a second term if he is re-elected in 2014.