Document release reopens Walker questions

Matt Pommer • Wisconsin Newspaper Association

The leaked release of hundreds of documents has revived interest into the legal and political controversies surrounding the John Doe investigation of Wisconsin’s recall elections.

Some 1,300 pages of documents show Gov. Scott Walker was personally involved in the coordination between his campaign and the Wisconsin Club for Growth which mounted fundraising efforts to protect Walker and several Republican legislators in recall elections.

The John Doe investigation – it is secret like a grand jury in many states – was to look into “an agreement of understanding related to the solicitation” by the governor and his campaign committee “to circumvent” state campaign finance law, according to one of the new documents.

Walker says he already has been absolved of any wrongdoing by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The court also wants to destroy all of the evidence collected by John Doe prosecutors. The destruction order has been stayed until all appeals are completed. Walker says critics are trying to get the Doe issues into the court of public opinion.

He is absolutely correct. But that’s what elections are all about – the public has the ultimate say in deciding what they think is proper. Yet it’s not the whole story.

In the short run there is the question of whether two conservative members of the state Supreme Court should have recused themselves from participating in the John Doe case. The high court halted the John Doe. Michael Gableman and David Prosser had been backed by the Wisconsin Club for Growth when they ran for their top court positions. Prosser recently retired from the court.

In one of the newly released documents Walker said that “Club for Growth- Wisconsin was key to retaining Justice Prosser.”

The U.S. Supreme Court this week was reviewing a petition to have it review the controversy.

Perhaps the overriding issue in the Wisconsin case is the relationship between a candidate’s own campaign and a separate “issue” campaign organization.

Money to fight the recalls was sought from wealthy individuals and run through the non-profit Club for Growth. The donors were informed that their names and size of donations would not become public.

In one of the newly released documents Walker asked in an e-mail, did “I send out thank you notes?” to the donors of the private group. One of the donors to the Club had written a notation on the bottom of his check that read “because Scott Walker asked.”

The Wisconsin case gets to the issue of whether government should be able to require disclosure of all money flowing into political campaigns and, indirectly, whether donations can be limited.

The Guardian US, an arm of the British newspaper of The Guardian, had released the leaked documents. Release of sealed John Doe documents is a crime in Wisconsin.

The State Justice Department is talking about probing the release – and that could keep the issue alive until the next gubernatorial election.

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