A secret investigation into illegal campaign activity by former aides and associates of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, R, quietly closed last week without any charges against the Republican darling of the national conservative movement.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced on March 2 that the so-called John Doe investigation ended on Feb. 20, the same day Walker delivered his budget address to the state Legislature.
The investigation has hounded Walker – a possible 2016 presidential candidate – throughout his first two years in office. Walker steadfastly and repeatedly denied he had done anything wrong, even as six people around him were charged with crimes stemming from activity in the Milwaukee County executive’s office when Walker held that position between 2002 and 2010.
The investigation began in May 2010, six months before he was elected governor.
The governor said he was glad the investigation is over.
“We appreciate the effort that was undertaken and to bring appropriate matters to justice,” Walker said in a statement issued through his campaign.
Walker reiterated those comments following an awards ceremony in the Capitol, saying he didn’t feel he owed anyone an apology.
“The process was pretty clear. We’re glad the process is done. We think it speaks for itself,” Walker said. “We’re ready to move forward. This is just one more thing that allows us to move forward.”
Walker hired high-profile criminal defense attorneys from Chicago, started a legal defense fund that grew to $200,000 through the end of 2012 and met voluntarily with prosecutors in April. He always maintained his innocence and said he did not know that county workers were illegally campaigning while on the job. Walker said he had built a firewall to ensure county workers were not ordered to do campaign work while on county time.
Democrats insisted that evidence uncovered during the investigation showed that Walker was involved in illegal campaigning.
“It’s not a feather in Scott Walker’s cap that he was not charged with a crime,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski. “This is unprecedented in Wisconsin history and it speaks to the poor values of this governor.”
Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate said he hoped all documents related to the case would be made public to present a complete picture of Walker’s involvement. But the judge overseeing the case, in his order closing it, also kept in place a secrecy order affecting documents and other information gathered during the probe.
Chisholm, the district attorney, said in a press release that he was satisfied that all charges supported by proof beyond a reasonable doubt have been brought and concluded.
Democratic Rep. Peter Barca, the Assembly minority leader, said it was good for the stability of the state that the investigation was over. However, he called on Walker to take responsibility for the criminal activity that happened while he was county executive.
“While the governor was not charged, he must make a statement accepting responsibility for the people he trusted, hired and supervised and apologize to the taxpayers, particularly the veterans, who were cheated,” Barca said.
The people charged in the probe were:
– Kelly Rindfleisch: Walker’s deputy chief of staff. She was sentenced to six months in jail after pleading guilty to felony misconduct in office for doing campaign work on county time.
– Tim Russell: Walker’s deputy chief of staff, Russell, was sentenced to two years in prison in January after he was convicted of stealing more than $20,000 from a nonprofit group Walker appointed him to lead.
– Darlene Wink: The former Walker aide pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of working on Walker’s gubernatorial campaign on county time. She was sentenced to a year’s probation.
– Kevin D. Kavanaugh: Walker named Kavanaugh to the county Veterans Service Commission. Kavanaugh was found guilty of stealing more than $51,000 that had been donated to help veterans and their families. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
– William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., was sentenced to two years’ probation in July after being found guilty of exceeding state campaign donation limits and laundering campaign donations to Walker and other Wisconsin politicians.
– Brian Pierick: The longtime domestic and business partner of Russell was found guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor after investigators examined his and Russell’s phones and computers. The criminal complaint said Pierick exchanged text messages with a 17-year-old boy and tried to entice him into his van, but the boy declined, according to the criminal complaint.