MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Newly released court documents include emails showing that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's recall election campaign team told him to instruct donors to give to a key conservative group which would run ads for Walker and distribute money to other conservative groups backing him.
The documents released Friday by a federal appeals court also show that prosecutors believe Walker personally solicited donations for conservative group Wisconsin Club for Growth to get around campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements as he fended off a recall attempt in 2012.
Aides told Walker to tell donors that they could make unlimited donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth without having the gifts publicly disclosed. Wisconsin Club for Growth then funneled the money to other conservative groups that advertised on Walker's behalf.
"As the Governor discussed ... he wants all the issue advocacy efforts run thru (through) one group to ensure correct messaging," Walker fundraiser Kate Doner wrote to campaign adviser R.J. Johnson in April 2011, a little more than a year before the recall election. "We had some past problems with multiple groups doing work on 'behalf' of Gov. Walker and it caused some issues ... the Governor is encouraging all to invest in the Wisconsin Club for Growth."
It's not clear whether Walker followed the instructions from his team. But the documents say millions of dollars later moved from donors he was set to speak with to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which in turn funded groups backing Walker in the recall election.
For example, a March 2012 email said that Walker was scheduled to meet with real estate mogul Donald Trump, who gave Wisconsin Club For Growth $15,000 days later.
Other Wisconsin Club for Growth donors included Gogebic Taconite LLC, which has proposed opening a 4½-mile long iron mine in northern Wisconsin. The company gave $700,000 to Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012. Walker signed legislation last year streamlining state mining requirements and paving the way for the project. The documents don't show whether Walker directly solicited donations from that company, however.
The documents are part of a secret investigation into whether Walker's campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups during the run-up to the June 2012 recall, which was spurred by anger over Walker's signature law stripping most public workers of nearly all their union rights . Walker, a Republican, defeated Democrat Tom Barrett to become the first U.S. governor to survive a recall election. He's mulling a 2016 presidential run but first has to get past Democrat Mary Burke in a tough battle for re-election in November.
Wisconsin Club for Growth is organized under federal law so that it can accept unlimited anonymous contributions as long as it engages in only limited political activity. Prosecutors contend the club stepped over that line by coordinating with Walker.
Walker's campaign issued a statement Friday saying Walker isn't a target in the probe. Wisconsin Club for Growth attorney David B. Rivkin said in an email that it should come as no surprise that Walker would "encourage support" for groups that back him and there's no evidence to support the investigation.
A federal judge in Milwaukee halted the probe in May after Wisconsin Club for Growth filed a lawsuit alleging the investigation violated its free speech rights and the prosecutors are liberals out to harass and tarnish conservatives.
The prosecutors have asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to allow them to re-start the probe. The court released the documents tied to that appeal in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of media and open government groups.