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 inquiry 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 GOP figures.
The scope of the criminal scheme under investigation is expansive, lead prosecutor Francis Schmitz wrote in a Dec. 9 court filing. It includes criminal violations of multiple elections laws including filing false campaign-finance reports, Schmitz wrote.
Walker suggested that the documents mean little or nothing, given that his campaign’s position has already prevailed twice in court.
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 it because the group does 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.