Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Is Walker Guilty — Or the Law Meaningless?

After the latest Doe document dump, no other conclusion is possible.

By - Aug 26th, 2014 12:58 pm

The latest release of documents in the stalled John Doe probe of Scott Walker’s campaign committee leaves only two possible conclusions.  Either Walker’s campaign committee violated the laws against coordination between candidates and independent advocacy groups. Or the law prohibiting such collusion is meaningless and should be overturned.

Walker has repeatedly insisted he did nothing wrong without going into much detail. Meanwhile, lawyers for the conservative advocacy groups who are also under investigation are moving ever closer to saying the laws against such collusion — which the Doe prosecutors were seeking to enforce — are actually meaningless.

Governor Scott Walker

Governor Scott Walker

For years there seemed to be a bright line separating candidate electoral committees and those shadowy independent advocacy groups. Under the law, the names of donors to electoral candidates must be disclosed and there are limits on how much they can contribute. But donors to issue advocacy groups — groups that don’t expressly urge you to vote a certain way — can be anonymous and there are no limits on how much they can donate.

In the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizen’s United decision opening the door to unlimited donations to issue advocacy groups, the court quoted the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision to explain why these unlimited donations wouldn’t necessarily help candidates. First, because the “absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate… undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate.” Since the ads aren’t coordinated with the candidate’s campaign, they might not help and might even run counter to the candidate’s message.

Perhaps more important, the court also quoted Buckley v. Valeo to the effect that if there is no coordination with the candidate, then he or she can’t know who gave the donation, which “alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidate.” In short, the lack of coordination assures “a substantially diminished potential for abuse,” making it difficult for wealthy individuals and companies to give untold millions in anonymous donations to buy certain policies from elected officials.

So how did the Walker campaign interact with “independent” groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth? Was there an “absence of prearrangement or coordination” as the Supreme Court has suggested? On the contrary. R.J. Johnson served as both an advisor to the Walker campaign and to the Club for Growth. And the newly released documents reviewed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel show that Kate Doner, a Walker campaign consultant, wrote an email to Johnson saying Walker wanted the Club for Growth to exclusively coordinate campaign themes. “As the Governor discussed … he wants all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging,” she wrote. In short, all those “independent” groups would have their ads overseen by Johnson, who was also Walker’s campaign advisor.

Was Walker unaware of who was donating to these independent advocacy groups, meaning no quid pro quo was possible, as the Supreme Court has suggested? On the contrary. Walker took charge of donations to the Club for Growth. “The Governor is encouraging all to invest in the Wisconsin Club for Growth,” said an April 28, 2011, email from Doner to Johnson. “Wisconsin Club for Growth can accept corporate and personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure.”

Far from being unaware of who the donors were, Walker’s team was actually directing the Club for Growth to target nationally known donors to support the governor in the 2012 recall election, the new documents show, including real estate developer Donald Trump, industrialist billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. A September 2011 email by Doner suggested the Wisconsin Club for Growth should “Take Koch’s money” and “Get on a plane to Vegas and sit down with Sheldon Adelson.”

The documents also show a pattern of the Club for Growth receiving generous checks from donors soon after Walker was advised to solicit funds from them. Those included, the JS story noted, $250,00 from hedge fund CEO Paul Singer, $100,00 from manufacturer Maclean-Fogg Co., $50,000 from Atlanticus Holdings CEO David Hanna‘s trust, $50,000 from hedge fund chairman Bruce Kovner, $50,000 from natural gas and oil producer Devon Energy, $15,000 from Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and $15,000 from Trump. And Stephen Cohen, the founder of SAC Capitol Advisors, gave the Wisconsin Club for Growth $1 million less than a month after Walker was scheduled to meet with someone from the company.

Walker has said he helped solicit contributions to the Club for Growth primarily to help GOP senators who faced recalls. But the court filings suggest “he was involved in raising more than $1 million for Club for Growth in the months before his own recall election,” the Journal Sentinel concluded. Club for Growth, in turn, gave $2.5 million to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobbying group, which then ran ads promoting Walker and blasting Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who ran against Walker in the 2012 recall election. These ads came after Walker was scheduled to participate in a conference call arranged by James Buchen, then a leader of the WMC.

In their lawsuit challenging the John Doe investigation, the Club for Growth and its attorney David Rivkin argued there were Democratic or liberal politicians in Wisconsin who might have violated laws against campaign coordination, which I’ve written about in detail and discounted.

Rivkin now seems to have dropped that argument and instead contends that what Walker did was comparable to President Barack Obama actions, in helping raise funds for Democratic super PACs like Priorities USA. Perhaps, that amounts to the old defense that “they all do it,” which would mean no one could be arrested for tax evasion or speeding.

The striking thing about Rivkin’s response is that he doesn’t deny that Walker and the supposedly independent Club for Growth coordinated their fundraising and campaign ads. He’s instead saying everyone does it and therefore what Walker did is “certainly not a crime.”

Federal judge Rudolph Randa has essentially accepted that argument and we now await a decision by the federal Court of Appeals. Rivkin and his boss Erik O’Keefe, head of Wisconsin Club for Growth, clearly hope to eventually convince the U.S. Supreme Court as well. They may succeed, though Urban Milwaukee contributor Bruce Thompson has noted reasons why the Supreme Court may uphold the laws against candidates coordinating with independent advocacy groups.

But regardless of how the law might eventually change, it clearly prohibited such coordination, and we’ve now seen abundant evidence that Walker was engaged in such activities — certainly enough evidence to justify a John Doe probe. Walker has adopted the mantra of conservative talk radio that this is a “witch hunt” against him. If so, that would make him a witch, because there’s clear evidence he was doing precisely what prosecutors were hunting to find.

Short Takes

  • The new Doe documents were apparently released by mistake and available for only a few hours on August 22, but the Journal Sentinel jumped on the release and grabbed the information. Their team of reporters has done excellent work analyzing the documents.
  • Is Walker afraid of Mike Gousha? For my money, Gousha is by far the best moderator of candidate debates. Often the media panel asking questions in other debates is woefully weak. Gousha, by contrast, asks tough questions and quick, punchy follow-up challenges. Walker has agreed to do two debates and turned down a third that Democratic challenger Mary Burke accepted, jointly sponsored by a long list of media groups. Walker also turned down the debate that Gousha wanted to do for Channel 12 and Marquette University Law School.
Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

31 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Is Walker Guilty — Or the Law Meaningless?”

  1. PMD says:

    The most depressing thing about all of this is the massive amount of money being poured into campaigns by a very limited number of individuals, and the way candidates go out of their way to seek that money. I don’t see how that can be a good thing for the public, elections being determined by a small number of insanely rich people, and candidates spending so much time and effort courting those people & and their money. And I’d say the same thing if it involved George Soros or Tom Steyer rather than the Kochs or Sheldon Adeson.

  2. David says:

    And for a mere $700,000 the Republicans in Wisconsin will rewrite environmental regulation so you can build an iron ore mine.

  3. PMD says:

    $20,000 from Ashley Furniture less than a month after they got $6 million tax break. Sure seems like there’s a trend here.

  4. Jan Pierce says:

    It is depressing, but the floodgates have already been thrown most of the way open, so the only question is whether they will be thrown all the way open. And then the only thing we’ll be arguing about is whether there was any quid pro quo (e.g. an iron ore mine) as part of the transaction.

  5. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Joe Kennedy, the mafia and a few friends financed JFK in 1960. Nixon could not match it. Clean Gene was financed by a handful of people when he ran against LBJ. Obama spoke to dozens of groups that subsequently gave money to various Citizen United groups. Doyle got millions from the Indians as did Barrett and other campaigns like Baldwin. Give it up, there is not any joker under the bed. Obama was by far the worst.
    As long as the money is not spent telling people to vote for someone but on issues courts have ruled around country for free speech. Left just wants to turn of Conservative funds but keep theirs flowing like they did with Mark Green.

  6. bruf says:

    The two John Doe probes strongly suggest that being an accomplice
    is a precondition for working in a Walker campaign. Are Wisconsin
    voters able to detect the sleaze and to protest against it?

  7. PMD says:

    But aren’t those bad things WCD? Don’t you worry about the influence of a small number of people who are able to write huge checks, by the liberal or conservative?

  8. Allison says:

    Just like the recall, the left will throw everything they can at Governor Walker. They not only want him to lose, they want him thrown in jail.

    But the fact remains we have 100k new jobs, though not as much as we had hoped. 23k new businesses, Lower taxes, $3 billion in savings from Act 10. Unemployment below national average. Simpler tax code. List goes on. The state has come a long way from Doyle and Burke. It was a mess when he came in. Has Walker been perfect? No way, but the positives far surpass the negatives.

    I wish this blog was more focused on the issues. I’m interested to learn where Burke stands on Act 10, transportation/transit, her views on Milwaukee, etc. Bruce tell us where your side differs from what Governor Walker has done and then maybe we can all learn something and be more informed. Endless John Doe stuff doesn’t add much, in my humble opinion.

  9. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    I have pushed for open financing without limits for decades. McCain/Feingold was stupid. You cannot stop free speech. In the 60’s people could give any amount to the candidates or to the party they just had to be identified. Money is not the only measure of elections just as Moews found out. We used Bloomberg money against him as they did in Co. Freedom of speech is precious and when ever you try to put limits on it, the courts toss it out or the money goes somewhere. Does not work.

  10. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    bruf that is total crap. You are either naive or justt stupid. Read the Erpenbach memos. During the Recall half the state was working and emailing on govt. computers. if you looked at all of the Barrett computers in the Mayors office, the last ten years, it would make the three little things on the on county computers look small.

  11. PMD says:

    So you’re for allowing unlimited donations as long as they’re done openly and transparently?

  12. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    That is the way it was for half a century before we passed a bunch of dumb laws. All the Left wants to do is figure out ways to limit speech, debate especially that of the Conservatives while they have fed on the Union dues for years. Why should Herb Kohl be able to spend unlimited bucks and the people that opposed him could not do same.

  13. jake says:

    I think walker should be able to do what he wants. He has been clearly voted in to be above the law. Duh!

  14. tim haering says:

    Bruce, I track your argument until we get to Randa, who presumably has seen and dismissed the documents you claim prove Walker broke the law. How did you and Randa reach divergent conclusions? Randa stated only that issue ad coordination was legal. Did he maybe not see the evidence of coordinated express advocacy? Even Chisholm et al said Walker was not a target. With all this documentation, why not? You and I are missing homo habilus.

    Burke will be destroyed in debate. She is void of wit and humor, without real, pragmatic ideas, and bloated with cliched banalities and so devoid of actual government experience. Although profiles since yours have called her an assistant attorney general and a member of another state’s legislature. Your bio did not uncover any of this. Politico’s bio lists her career as an exec at Trek. That’s only 10 years. If she got her MBA at 25 and she’s now 55, there is about 16-18 years of her life unaccounted for, except by this activity you label “philanthropy.”

    She may be smart, but the only thing her candidacy has going for it is she is NOT Scott Walker. She is as charisma-free as Mark Green. Gov. Scott is not exactly Speaker Scott, but he’s sharper than Burke and almost every Wisconsinite has more in common with him and his life than we have with Burke and her life, what little we know of it.

    Not saying she’d make a bad governor, but she is farther out of left field than Hovde was out of right field. It’s like they both just strolled out of Kevin Costner’s cornfield. If you build it, they will come. I think I’ll follow Darth Vader’s voice into that cornfield.

  15. Choo Choo says:

    Can foreign donors or governments give to a 501c4? Do we know whether all the money coming to WiCFG was from Americans? What are the reasons that Walker donors might not want their names disclosed?

  16. athabasca says:

    tim haering — On not being a target of the investigation — Walker has made a lot of hay about not being a “target,” but all that means is that the wheels grind slowly and they weren’t at a point to charge him (yet). He may not be a “target” of the investigation, but he’s CLEARLY a “subject.” Per the State Journal a couple of days ago:

    Legal experts have told the State Journal that a “target” of a John Doe probe is someone who prosecutors have enough evidence to file charges against, as opposed to a subject, who is someone under investigation for possible wrongdoing.

  17. PMD says:

    That’s a fair point WCD. When these people can self-finance their reelections, often times that makes it tough to foster a legitimate challenger. But that’s also part of what worries me. I believe I recently read that more than half of Congress are millionaires now. Whose needs are they responding to? Their own and people like them, and both parties are guilty of it. And is someone’s free speech really being restricted if they can’t give unlimited money to a candidate? Is it in the public interest to allow unlimited donations? Or are we just going to end up with politicians representing the few, responding to and doing the bidding of their largest donors at the expense of everyone else? Is that not a legitimate concern?

  18. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Those are all concerns and they have to be matched with freedom of speech. Hard thing to do. If you have public financing, you guarantee that no one will get good challenges cause incumbents have the advantage. Just liek the drug rpoblem, alcohol. Nog good answer. I have been on too many committees working on this to remember and in the end it all comes down to same thing. “Let freedom ring”.

  19. PMD says:

    So it’s hopeless? That’s depressing. Thanks for brightening my day WCD.

  20. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    PMD: I have looked at hundreds of ideas. In end only one that makes sense is let people spend what they want on candidates and issues and let them report them the last 6 months before elections. Clarke was outspent badly but Bloomberg hurt him cause we exposed it. Not many people care for a “little weeine” like Abele trying to manipulate everything behind the scenes so that hurt plus no one bothered to tell us what Moews would do or who he was, just hate that dastardly Black guy: Clarke. Racist smears.

  21. PMD says:

    Allow people to self report donations before the election? Will they actually follow through? What if they don’t?

  22. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Same as now. You must report big donations within time frame or get fined, jail. With modern computers it is easy.

  23. David says:

    I agree with Allison. I’m so tired of the whole John Doe back and forth. No one really understands it.The problem is that neither candidate has any vision. I have no idea what Mary Burke stands for. Other than a quick sound clip on local news, I haven’t heard her speak. And other than claiming to lower taxes, what is Scott Walker’s vision? There has been no real tax reform and tepid job creation. Why would I ever vote for him?

  24. David says:

    The Joe Doe investigation is a blatant example of partisans using the Government as a weapon. It is a major civil rights violation however I am not holding my breath for a DOJ investigation or Holder to parachute in anytime soon. I will enjoy the day the people targeted in that investigation can turn the tables around in court and have those prosecutors found guilty of violating their civil rights. The same prosecutors who are letting real criminals off with warnings and early releases in Milwaukee – I mean wake up people – do you realize the resources being diverted from actual prosecutorial matters to run and ultimately have to defend the prosecutors actions. It’s a complete sham., I suppose if you can’t beat him at the ballot box – find any other way – and then hey lets target his supporters for the crime of having like view points with each other and talking about it. Give me a break Stop the Gestapo bullshit and do you job… Your real Job…. Start charging people with the actual crimes they commit instead of these social programs which don’t work and make the world – the real world safe from real world danger – not real world thoughts.

  25. Tim says:

    It sounds like Walker did the crime, the DA’s are too scared to put him in the klink for political reasons. That would be them doing their job instead of cowering from a bunch of crazies with a persecution complex.

  26. Paul G. Hayes says:

    Is Walker guilty? Or the law meaningless?

  27. Gee says:

    Why the dichotomy? Based on the evidence of the John Doe documents and of judicial rulings on political donations these days, I suspect that Walker is guilty AND that the law will be found to be meaningless.

  28. Jeffrey says:

    Money will be speech when it is free! We have a majority rule country, and this is NOT a majority of money. One man, one vote!

  29. Bob Redman says:

    Burke has her own legal problems by association…

  30. Observer says:

    Hmm, since the GOP led Government Accountability Board oversaw probe of Scott Walker, the GOP leadership is getting rid of board. It’s nice to know that it never was a partisan witch hunt~

  31. Bruce Fetter says:

    This is our favorite son candidate for president? Do the majority of decent Badgers
    really want to privatize the public schools, defund UW-System, turn down federal
    money for Medicaid, and divert $25 m in Sherman Park mortgage reparations,
    to close a deficit? All this while the J-S gives him a pass? O tempo, o mores!

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