Scott Walker’s campaign hit with subpoena, says Club for Growth leader O’Keefe


If the piece below found in the Wall Street Journal is to be believed, a slew of right wing groups based in Wisconsin (or linked with Wisconsin) got served subpoenas – – including Scott Walker’s campaign.

The set of at least 29 groups under scrutiny includes:
Wisconsin Club for Growth
American Crossroads [Karl Rove’s group]
Republican Governors Association
Republican Party of Wisconsin
Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin [KOCH $$$]
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce
Wisconsin Family Action [Julianne Appling’s anti-gay, anti-reproductive rights group]
League of American Voters

The subpoenas are intended to flush out records and fundraising information related to the 2011 and 2012 recall elections according to both Bice’s account and O’Keefe’s.

This is a product of what we’ve been calling “John Doe 2.0” – the new rumored 5-county investigation that is headed by Francis Schmitz. Dan Bice of M.J.Sentinel wrote about this in a thinly sourced blog post on October 21st.

For you out-of-state readers, a John Doe investigation in Wisconsin is a probe into possible wrongdoing under terms that allow activities to remain secret. Prosecutors can conduct searches, subpoena records etc — it’s sort of like a secret federal grand jury.

That’s why it’s often hard to get the scoop on what’s really happening while it’s happening.

Apparently Eric O’Keefe of Wisconsin Club for Growth doesn’t want this investigation to be secret. He believes very strongly that readers of the Wall Street Journal will look upon the investigation as being much like the recent oppression of upstanding Tea Party groups (cough!) by the I.R.S. instead of a legitimate effort to expose illegal campaign practices of the right wing here in Scott Walker’s state.

We don’t have any law and order here – right?
We’re “stifling allies of Mr. Walker” – right?


Here is Mr. O’Keefe’s letter in full copied and pasted from the W.S.Journal for your convenience:

Americans learned in the IRS political targeting scandal that government enforcement power can be used to stifle political speech. Something similar may be unfolding in Wisconsin, where a special prosecutor is targeting conservative groups that participated in the battle over Governor Scott Walker’s union reforms.

In recent weeks, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz has hit dozens of conservative groups with subpoenas demanding documents related to the 2011 and 2012 campaigns to recall Governor Walker and state legislative leaders.

Copies of two subpoenas we’ve seen demand “all memoranda, email . . . correspondence, and communications” both internally and between the subpoena target and some 29 conservative groups, including Wisconsin and national nonprofits, political vendors and party committees. The groups include the League of American Voters, Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Americans for Prosperity—Wisconsin, American Crossroads, the Republican Governors Association, Friends of Scott Walker and the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Enlarge Image

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Associated Press

One subpoena also demands “all records of income received, including fundraising information and the identity of persons contributing to the corporation.” In other words, tell us who your donors are.

The probe began in the office of Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, though no one will publicly claim credit for appointing Mr. Schmitz, the special prosecutor. The investigation is taking place under Wisconsin’s John Doe law, which bars a subpoena’s targets from disclosing its contents to anyone but his attorneys. John Doe probes work much like a grand jury, allowing prosecutors to issue subpoenas and conduct searches, while the gag orders leave the targets facing the resources of the state with no way to publicly defend themselves.

That makes it hard to confirm any details. But one target who did confirm receiving a subpoena is Eric O’Keefe, who realizes the personal risk but wants the public to know what is going on. Mr. O’Keefe is director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which advocates lower taxes, limited government and other conservative priorities. He has worked in political and policy circles for three decades, including stints as national director of the Libertarian Party in 1980 and a director of the Cato Institute, and he helped to found the Center for Competitive Politics, which focuses on protecting political speech.

Mr. O’Keefe says he received his subpoena in early October. He adds that at least three of the targets had their homes raided at dawn, with law-enforcement officers turning over belongings to seize computers and files.

Mr. O’Keefe and other sources say they don’t know the genesis of the probe, and Mr. Schmitz declined comment. The first public reference appeared in an October 21 blog post by Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Mr. Bice is well known for his Democratic sources.

The kitchen-sink subpoenas deserve skepticism considering their subject and targets. The disclosure of conservative political donors has become a preoccupation of the political left across the country. In the heat of the fight over Governor Walker’s reforms, unions urged boycotts of Walker contributors and published a list of Walker donors for boycotting.

The subpoena demand for the names of donors to nonprofit groups that aren’t legally required to disclose them is especially troubling. Readers may recall that the Cincinnati office of the IRS sent the tax-exempt applications of several conservative groups to the ProPublica news website in 2012.

The subpoenas don’t spell out a specific allegation, but the demands suggest the government may be pursuing a theory of illegal campaign coordination by independent groups during the recall elections. If prosecutors are pursuing a theory that independent conservative groups coordinated with candidate campaigns during the recall, their goal may be to transform the independent expenditures into candidate committees after the fact, requiring revision of campaign-finance disclosures and possible criminal charges.

Another reason for skepticism is the probe’s timing as Mr. Walker’s 2014 re-election campaign looms. This is the second such investigation against Mr. Walker in three and a half years, following one that began in the office of Milwaukee County Democratic District Attorney John Chisholm in spring 2010.

That probe examined whether staffers used government offices for political purposes while Mr. Walker was Milwaukee County Executive, but after three years turned up nothing on Mr. Walker and embarrassingly little else. The final charges included a case of an aide sending campaign emails on county time, two Walker aides stealing money, and charges of child enticement against the domestic partner of a former staffer.

Mr. Walker’s Democratic recall opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, nonetheless used the probe against the Governor, saying in a debate that “I have a police department that arrests felons, he has a practice of hiring them.” So it’s notable that the new batch of subpoenas began flying just days before Democrat Mary Burke announced her candidacy for Governor. District Attorneys are partisan elected officials in Wisconsin, and Mr. Landgraf works for Mr. Chisholm. Neither of them returned our call for comment.

The investigation’s focus on campaign-finance law also falls into the wheelhouse of the Government Accountability Board, Wisconsin’s political speech regulator. The GAB, which is made up of retired judges appointed by the Governor, has a history of pushing aggressive regulations of issue advertising. Mr. O’Keefe’s Wisconsin Club for Growth has fought in court with the GAB over regulating political speech.

A person who has seen one of the Wisconsin search warrants tells us that the warrants were executed based on the request of Dean Nickel, who filed an affidavit for probable cause. Mr. Nickel is a former head of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Public Integrity Unit and has worked as an investigator for the GAB. Mr. Nickel told us he is a contractor for the GAB but wouldn’t discuss the John Doe probe. GAB Director and General Counsel Kevin Kennedy declined to comment.

Perhaps the probe will turn up some nefarious activity that warrants this subpoena monsoon and home raids. But in the meantime the effect is to limit political speech by intimidating these groups from participating in the 2014 campaign. Stifling allies of Mr. Walker would be an enormous in-kind contribution to Democrats. Even if no charges are filed, the subpoenas will have served as a form of speech suppression.

Mr. O’Keefe told us that the flurry of subpoenas “froze my communications and frightened many allies and vendors of the pro-taxpayer political movement in Wisconsin and across the country.” Even if no one is ever convicted of a crime, he says, “the process is the punishment.”


3 thoughts on “Scott Walker’s campaign hit with subpoena, says Club for Growth leader O’Keefe

  1. Now the DOJ gets to file more charges against whomever allowed WSJ to see their subpoena. While receipients are free to say they have been subpoenaed, it is a felony to disclose the contents. Time for a Leaker raid on the WSJ.

    These people don’t think ANY laws apply to them.

  2. If they have nothing to hide, what are they afraid of? You’d think that donors would be honored to be associated with scat such as o’keefe and walker

  3. Waaaah! They’re victims! Change the subject, quick! To their victimey victim victimhood!

    Mr. Eric O’Keefe is getting out ahead of the story to put his spin on it: he and his cronies are but poor suffering citizens, don’t you know. They clearly want us to talk about that, not the orchestrated, coordinated and likely illegal takeover of Wisconsin by outside wealthy interests. These outside interests are preying on, and looting and polluting, Wisconsin.

    This false spin will be repeated endlessly on talk radio, right wing think tanks owned by this same cabal, in news reports and all over the internet. 1,000s of repeating stations throughout the vast right wing echo chamber. We citizens need to talk back.

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