The New York Times unloads on Gov. Scott Walker this morning after emails leaked last week revealed the Governor solicited donations from wealthy donors and corporations. Those same leaked documents give more insight to the speculation that Gov. Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups to spend money and earn votes for Republican campaigns.
The New York Times An Email Trail Leads To Governor Walker
Anyone looking for more evidence that politicians pay no attention to campaign contribution limits will find it in an astonishing trove of documents leaked to The Guardian, which published a report last week about the secret money that has recently flooded Wisconsin state politics.
The roughly 1,500 pages of emails, financial records and court filings — most of which have not been made public until now — were collected during an investigation of possible campaign-finance violations by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign to beat back a 2012 recall effort.
After the recall failed, prosecutors alleged that the Walker campaign had skirted state law by asking donors to send contributions to ostensibly independent conservative groups — primarily the Wisconsin Club for Growth. Unlike a campaign committee, these tax-exempt groups have no limits on how much money they may receive, and no requirement to publicly disclose their donors under state law. But they are not allowed to work with a campaign to urge voters to vote for a candidate, because that would essentially allow donors to funnel money toward these groups to get around contribution limits that apply to campaign committees.
Reading the emails revealed by The Guardian, it appears that is exactly what the Walker campaign did.
In one email, Kate Doner, Mr. Walker’s top fund-raiser, wrote to the governor’s advisers with suggestions on how to save Mr. Walker’s job. “Corporations. Go heavy after them to give,” she wrote. “Take Koch’s money.” And: “Get on a plane to Vegas and sit down with Sheldon Adelson. Ask for $1m now.”
In another, Mr. Walker wrote to Ms. Doner, “I got $1 million from John Menard today,” referring to a wealthy businessman who donated that amount about a week later — as a corporate donation to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which Ms. Doner had said should be the clearinghouse for all ads in order “to ensure correct messaging.”
Memos on checks written to the Club for Growth and other groups said “because Scott Walker asked,” or “to fight the Walker recall.” Mr. Walker wrote personal thank-you notes to the donors. Other documents uncovered by The Guardian show that a top political strategist was arranging TV and radio ad spending for both Mr. Walker’s campaign and the outside groups at the same time.
Was it illegal? Mr. Walker, his campaign aides and the outside groups have all denied wrongdoing, saying they were simply fighting for the same cause. In 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority shut down the investigation before any charges were brought. The court also ordered the destruction of the documents.
But at least two of the court’s justices who voted to end the inquiry also benefited from millions of dollars spent by some of the same conservative groups backing Mr. Walker, including the Club for Growth, in their own re-election campaigns in recent years. Republican operatives knew that losing the court’s conservative majority would spell the end of Mr. Walker’s right-wing, anti-union agenda.
The special prosecutor handling the investigation requested that several justices recuse themselves from the case for this reason, but they refused. Prosecutors have appealed that refusal, and the court’s decision to end the investigation, to the United States Supreme Court, which will consider whether to take the case in the coming weeks.
Versions of this sad story are playing out across the country, thanks in large part to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, in which a 5-to-4 majority upheld the right of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, so long as they remained independent of the candidates.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “by definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.” The court also said that “prompt disclosure” of the sources of independent spending would help the public “hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.”
Yet what’s happening in Wisconsin gives the lie to both of these claims. Politicians vacuum up millions of dollars from supposedly independent groups, and it all happens in the dark.