Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is saying that he played no role in soliciting donations from a mining company on behalf of a key conservative group that ran ads supporting him during the 2012 recall attempt and that he didn’t even know the company donated to the group.
While at a Kenosha campaign stop over the weekend, Walker said he was not aware of $700,000 donated by Gogebic Taconite in 2011 and 2012 to Wisconsin Club for Growth, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
When asked if the donations and subsequent legislation last year — which streamlined state mining requirements and paved the way for an iron mine in northern Wisconsin — were part of some pay-to-play scheme, Walker said, “That’s a ridiculous argument.”
Walker said he had long been supportive of easing regulations on mining.
Court documents released last week by a federal appeals court show that prosecutors believe Walker solicited donations for Wisconsin Club for Growth to get around campaign finance limits and disclosure requirements as he fended off the recall attempt.
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.
It’s not clear from the documents 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.
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. The probe has dogged Walker as he is locked in a dead heat with Democratic Mary Burke in the governor’s race and considers a 2016 presidential run.
At a later Racine stop over the weekend, Walker said he helped solicit contributions to Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 primarily to help Republican state Senators who faced recalls.
He said he is not raising funds for Wisconsin Club for Growth in the current election. He also said he doesn’t believe he raised funds for the group during his 2010 campaign for governor.
A federal judge in Milwaukee halted the secret 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 restart 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.
The documents became briefly available on a federal court website last Friday. Attorneys have been arguing over which ones should be made public, and the records were quickly removed.