Walker probe special prosecutor wanted justices to step down
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The special prosecutor investigating alleged illegal coordination between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign and conservative groups wanted at least two state Supreme Court justices to step aside in the case, according to documents the court released Wednesday.
The secret John Doe investigation has swirled around Walker for years, and the Supreme Court is set to rule on three pending cases that could halt it for good in late June — the same time Walker is expected to announce a presidential bid.
No one has been charged in the investigation that’s hounded Walker, both as he ran for and won re-election last year and now as he builds for an expected run for the White House. Walker has denied any wrongdoing.
The legal battle largely centers on the type of political activity conducted by Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups during Walker’s recall and recalls targeting state senators in 2011 and 2012.
At issue is whether the groups were bound to follow state laws that bar coordination with candidates, require disclosure of political donations and place limits on how much money can be collected.
In previous court filings, prosecutors have said Walker’s campaign was part of a “criminal scheme” to skirt campaign laws and raise large amounts of money from donors for Wisconsin Club for Growth. However, an attorney for one of the prosecutors has said that Walker was not a target of the investigation.
The filing seeking the justices to step down was among 260 the Supreme Court made public on Wednesday.
It was known that special prosecutor Fran Schmitz made a motion in February to get at least one justice to step down, but the filing itself wasn’t released until Wednesday. It shows that Schmitz wanted at least two justices to step aside because of donations and campaign help they received from the unnamed people trying to stop the probe.
The names of the justices and those seeking to end the investigation, as well as other details about their connections including the donation amounts, were blacked out.
But at least three groups named in the probe spent heavily to get four conservative justices elected to the court in recent years. The Wisconsin Club for Growth spent about $1.8 million, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce spent about $5.6 million and Citizens for a Strong America spent nearly $1 million on the various campaigns, based on tallies by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a group that tracks political spending.
Liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley did step down in the case because her son works for a law firm involved. But Schmitz references that decision in his request that at least two of the remaining six other justices step down. None of them have to date.
In another filing from February 2014, the two unnamed people challenging the investigation are described as “strategic communications consultants to conservative nonprofit groups that engage in issue advocacy.”
Schmitz argued in a Feb. 23 filing that names of people involved in the lawsuits that had not yet been made public should be revealed, including Walker’s campaign, which is known as “Unnamed Movant No. 1” in court documents. Walker campaign attorney Steven Biskupic objected. All of the names Schmitz referenced were blacked out.
Wisconsin Club for Growth has argued that the law does not prohibit politicians, including Walker, from raising money for issue-based advocacy groups that don’t expressly advocate for the election of a certain candidate. The conservative group has also argued that investigation was partisan-motivated and a violation of its free-speech rights.
The investigation had been on hold for more than a year when a judge overseeing it determined that the activities in question were not illegal. The state Supreme Court’s decision could end the investigation for good.
Unnamed parties have filed two lawsuits challenging the probe’s validity. Prosecutors have filed another action seeking to reinstate quashed subpoenas that halted the investigation more than a year ago.
The Supreme Court did not hold oral arguments in the cases, citing concerns over protecting information gathered during the investigation that has not yet been made public, including the names of the two people challenging the legality of the investigation.
Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP