Newly released records show that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's campaign partnered with a Republican lieutenant governor candidate in 2010 to tap wealthy donors who had already given all they could to Walker, a move designed to bolster their potential ticket.
The behind-the-scenes navigating of Wisconsin's campaign finance laws by Walker staffers was revealed on Feb. 19 as part of the release of 28,000 pages of documents collected during a criminal investigation into one of the governor's aides.
Walker, who faces re-election this year and is considering a run for president in 2016, was not charged with any wrongdoing in the investigation that closed last year with convictions against six of his former aides and associates.
Democrats are hoping Walker could be sunk by the investigation, which has shadowed him for years. But it was unsuccessfully used against him in his 2010 run for governor and recall attempts in 2012 — and it hasn't hurt his fundraising ability. That gubernatorial race broke state spending records at $36 million, and the recall hit $81 million, largely because state laws limiting donations don't apply until a recall election is officially set. That allowed Walker to collect checks as large as $500,000 from backers.
The newly released records show how Walker's campaign was working closely with Republican lieutenant governor candidate Brett Davis' campaign to milk all they could out of Walker's supporters during his first run for governor, in 2010. The plan eventually fell apart because Davis lost in the primary election. Walker at the time was the Milwaukee County executive.
In one February 2010 email with a subject line of "Damn it," Walker's deputy chief of staff in his Milwaukee County office demands that Walker's campaign manager, Keith Gilkes, provide her with a list of people who had maxed out their donations to Walker.
"Where's my maxed out donor list?" Kelly Rindfleisch wrote. "Do I have to do everything?"
"Yeah, yeah - we are working on it," Gilkes responded. "We don't drop everything just to make Kelly happy in this office."
Six days later, Walker's deputy campaign manager supplied the donor list. And it's clear from the emails that Rindfleisch at least didn't care for Rebecca Kleefisch, who defeated Davis in the September 2010 primary and became Walker's running mate for lieutenant governor, a position she still holds.
"Ugh, I just hate Becky," Rindfleisch wrote in a March 30, 2010, email to Davis's campaign manager Emily Loe.
Rindfleisch was convicted in 2012 of misconduct in office, a felony, for doing campaign work for Davis on government time while in Walker's county executive office. Rindfleisch, who is appealing her conviction, was sentenced to six months in jail and three years of probation.
The records released on Feb. 19 were collected during the Rindfleisch investigation.
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, in a conference call with reporters, attempted to link the investigation with scandals that have hit Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
"If these ethical scandals are the way (Republican governors) lead, that's got to be something we all make sure voters pay attention to," Wasserman Schultz said.
Walker said his political opponents would spin the records to their advantage, but he said the documents revealed no surprises.
Court records previously released showed that Walker's aides in the county office set up a secret wireless router in his office to email one another about both country and campaign business. The newly released emails showed numerous examples of where Walker's campaign workers were communicating during normal business hours with his county staff.
In one email, sent March 22, 2010, Walker's administration director, Cynthia Archer, told Rindfleisch she could consider herself part of the "inner circle," adding that she frequently used her private email account to communicate with Walker.
Walker told The Associated Press in November 2012 that he had built a firewall to ensure county workers were not ordered to do campaign work while on county time.
"Oftentimes, there's not a distinction between asking a political question in the official office and the campaign office," Walker said then. "All those things are things that need to be coordinated. There's nothing wrong with that."
Associated Press writers contributing to this report were M.L. Johnson and Taylor W. Anderson in Madison; Mike Cronin in St. Paul, Minn.; Doug Glass in Minneapolis; and Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee.