The Guardian: Leaked John Doe Documents Detail Walker Collaboration with Conservative Groups

Sep 15, 2016

Update: Three Republican legislators are requesting an investigation into who leaked the secret John Doe documents to The Guardian. Assemblymen Robin Vos, Jim Steineke and John Nygren have sent a letter to Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, asking him to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate, insisting the person responsible committed a crime.

(Original post follows)

The Guardian's U.S. Edition on Thursday features a lengthy article about one of the John Doe probes involving Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The article's headline says documents from the investigation "lay bare" the "pervasive influence of corporate cash on modern U.S. elections."

The Guardian says it received 1,500 pages of leaked documents pertaining to the second John Doe investigation, which looked into the relationship between Walker's campaign and conservative donors. The Wisconsin Supreme Court put a stop to the probe last year, after determining that the law allows coordination between candidates and issue advocacy groups.

READ: WUWM's Reporting on the John Doe Investigations

The newspaper reports on fundraising meetings Walker conducted with a number of large corporations. It outlines how Walker and his fundraising staff sought donations for Wisconsin Club for Growth, which backed Walker in his 2012 recall campaign.

"There were very few degrees of separation between Scott Walker’s campaign committee and these outside groups through which they were channeling large sums of money," Guardian US chief reporter Ed Pilkington told WUWM. 

For instance, the Guardian says Walker and his team asked for money from: Stephen Cohen, a hedge fund billionaire; Ken Lagone, the co-founder of Home Depot; and the late Harold Simmons, who owned NL Industries. Simmons' company manufactured lead used in the paint industry.

The story says Simmons contributed $500,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth after the Republican Legislature and Gov. Walker approved a law, which, the newspaper says, "in effect granted immunity to NL Industries and other lead producers from any new claims for compensation," related to lawsuits filed by people who believe they got lead poisoning from exposure to lead paint.

"There’s no evidence in the documents that this amounted to overt corruption," Pilkington says. "But we do ask the question does this at least give the appearance of potential quid pro quo? And if so, how concerned should the people of Wisconsin and beyond that – the people of America – be about it?"

Pilkington says reporting the story gave him and his colleagues an up-close look at the realities of campaign finance since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court that changed the landscape.  "I think since Citizens United happened six years ago, there's been a sense of 'free for all'," Pilkington says. "Like, anything goes. There are no rules, there are no regulations and it's kind of OK to do pretty much anything you like.  But there are consequences of that for all us.  Notably, the amount of money pouring into elections - is it distorting them?"

Walker did not return messages seeking comment, according to the Guardian, but the governor did state on a Milwaukee radio program Thursday morning that there was nothing illegal about campaign donations corporate leaders gave to the Wisconsin Club for Growth - which helped him and Republican legislators fight recall efforts.