Tag Archives: illegal coordination

Scott Walker backers set on ousting DA John Chisholm

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm may soon appeal the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that ended the five-county “John Doe” criminal investigation into whether Gov, Scott Walker illegally coordinated with supposedly “independent” dark money groups during the 2011–2012 recall elections to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As prosecutors ready their case, the secret money advocates at the heart of the investigation are planning their next move.

Dark money maestro Eric O’Keefe, who sits on the board of Wisconsin Club for Growth, has declared that Chisholm “is not fit for public office” and “should not be allowed to serve out his term.” He has threatened to get him disbarred, and he has tried to get Walker to fire him.

O’Keefe’s high-powered, D.C. lawyers are suing Chisholm in federal court on behalf of Cindy Archer. She claims to be a victim of a renegade prosecutor. But she was a top Walker aide caught up in Chisolm’s investigation of a sordid bid-rigging scheme detailed by the Center for Media and Democracy.

Now O’Keefe and his associates appear to be prepping to go after Chisholm in a low-turnout primary, using the new, relaxed electoral laws they worked so hard to pass in Wisconsin. They’re also expected to unleash a flood of coordinated secret money and phony “issue” ads.

Scott Walker John Doe headed to divided SCOTUS

In July 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court not only shut down the investigation of potentially illegal coordination between Walker and dark money groups, they took the extraordinary measures of firing the Republican special prosecutor, who was hired to coordinate efforts at the behest of a bipartisan group of five District Attorneys. They threw up roadblocks to any appeal by, for instance, telling prosecutors they could not use expert, outside counsel to help with the filing.

Those actions were unprecedented and reminded many of the Saturday Night Massacre, when Richard Nixon fired U.S. Attorney General Archibald Cox and his successors during the Watergate investigations.

“My career in the military and as a federal prosecutor fighting violent criminals and terrorists did not fully prepare me for the tactics employed by these special interest groups,” said special prosecutor Francis Schmitz.

“To somehow remove the lawyer representing one of the parties after the opinion (has been issued) is extraordinary,” said former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske.

The GOP-controlled legislature took action in 2015 to retroactively decriminalize the activities at the heart of the investigation. They made significant changes to Wisconsin’s campaign finance law, exempting political corruption from the John Doe statute and dismantling the nonpartisan Wisconsin elections board.

Now the three Democratic prosecutors are slated to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state Supreme Court ruling. At issue is the $10 million spent to elect the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the very same groups — Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce — that were under investigation in the John Doe probe.

According to the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Caperton v. Massey, outsized spending in a judicial election could be significant enough to demand that judges recuse themselves. Schmitz asked both Justice David Prosser and Justice Michael Gableman to recuse themselves from the John Doe, but they refused. Furthermore, they offered no explanation for their refusal.

It’s unknown whether prosecutors will also appeal on the merits of the case. It is notable that coordination between independent groups and candidates is prohibited in most states and at the federal level. In 2016, a state legislator in Montana was convicted of breaking state law after engaging in similar coordination and, in 2015, a political operative working on a federal campaign was sentenced to 24 months in prison after being prosecuted under federal law.

Common Cause’s Jay Heck tells CMD that it makes sense that O’Keefe would go after Chisholm this election cycle. “The dark money groups want to protect the gains they have made in Wisconsin, changing the law to allow coordination between candidates and issue-ad groups. They want to stop an appeal before it goes any further.”

The prosecutors’ appeal is sure to have Wisconsin’s far-right yelling “partisan witch hunt” again. Yet, the reality is that Milwaukee DA John Chisholm has a long record of prosecuting Democrats for political corruption.

In 2010, Chisholm used the John Doe process to prosecute Democratic Milwaukee County Supervisor Toni Clark on felony charges related to the use of just $6,300 in campaign funds. Scott Walker didn’t call that a witch hunt; instead he said the case was “a reminder to all others in office that we must maintain the highest ethical standards.”

Dark money advocates take aim at John Chisholm in re-election race

Chisholm announced on April 18 that he would run for re-election. The primary is Aug. 9.

John Chisholm’s Democratic primary challenger is Verona Swanigan, an attorney and Milwaukee native who is new to electoral politics. Swanigan holds a law degree from Northern Illinois University (2005), and has practiced law independently with her own firm, Swanigan Legal Services, for about a decade. She registered her campaign in August 2015, and released a video announcing her candidacy in November that focused on reducing crime and addressing domestic violence.

Swanigan is an African American who has participated in community rallies calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate police brutality. She calls herself a “conservative Democrat,” but her campaign is backed by the well-known GOP political operative Craig Peterson, who has worked closely with Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Eric O’Keefe on efforts to reshape Milwaukee politics in recent years.

According to news reports, Peterson has long been associated with Zigman Joseph Stephenson, a public relations firm, but has had financial troubles in recent years. Peterson has ties to former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was caught up in the “caucus scandal,” an earlier John Doe prosecution of campaign finance abuses, and who now works for big money groups trying to privatize public schools.

Peterson had reported $250 in monetary contributions and $1,681 worth of in-kind contributions to Swanigan’s campaign as of Dec. 31, 2015, a substantial part of the campaign’s $5,476 total take for the year. (Reports covering the first part of 2016 are not yet available.)

Earlier this spring, Peterson spearheaded an effort to reshape Milwaukee’s city government through a secretive group called “Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance,” which spent at least $200,000 on radio ads to influence mayoral and aldermanic races. The group, whose name strongly echoes that of the O’Keefe group “Citizens for Self-Governance,” has not been formally registered, and its funders have not been disclosed, but their impact is being felt.

“It really feels like we’re running against him, and not his so-called candidates,” Ald. Bob Bauman, a veteran Common Council member told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bauman’s opponent, who lost her race, was Peterson associate Monique Kelly, formerly known as Monique Taylor.

Using racial justice issues to advance a tea party candidate

In the 2014 Milwaukee County Sheriff’s race, a liberal dark money group spent big trying to unseat incumbent Sheriff David Clarke Jr. Clarke is a right-winger, a darling of Fox News and a Democrat in name only. The National Rifle Association rushed to his aid, and influential right-wing radio hosts urged Republicans in the county to turn out in the open Democratic primary.

Another unregistered Peterson group calling itself “Citizens for Urban Justice” also came to his aid, running radio ads attacking his opponent. In the ads, Monique Taylor presented herself as a community activist and listed the names of African-American men killed by Milwaukee police. “Now a lieutenant in that same police department wants to be our sheriff,” she said.

The ads had a big impact in the city’s predominantly African-American wards.

But Clarke, who is African-American, is famous for attacking the Black Lives Matter movement, which he has called “black slime.” He has never addressed police violence.

While he has been vague about the funding behind Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance and the city council takeover, Peterson has previously credited O’Keefe with arranging the funds to support Clarke. “Eric raised money for that campaign,” Peterson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “And I spent the money. That’s another benefit to our relationship: He’s good at raising it. I’m good at spending it.”

Peterson also worked with the Wisconsin chapter of David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity and Citizens for Responsible Government in an attempt to rally support against a modern streetcar project under development in Milwaukee. Instead of telling folks the truth — that the Kochs object to any type of clean energy transportation, including trolleys and electric cars — the Peterson crew slammed the trolleys for furthering segregation. Peterson paid for radio ads featuring the brother of police shooting victim Dontre Hamilton urging listeners to send Mayor Barrett and John Chisholm a message by writing letters opposing the streetcar.

While the ads stated they were “Paid for the Black Lives Matter Coalition,” Peterson paid for them himself, according to Urban Milwaukee.

With big money friends like O’Keefe and the Kochs, who are trying to turn secret election spending by wealthy special-interest groups into a principled fight for “constitutionally protected free speech,” Peterson is well positioned to unleash a tidal wave of phony “issue ads” at the last minute to sway a low-turnout election. In the August 2014 Milwaukee Democratic primary, less than 114,000 people voted. That compares with the 332,000 who voted in the November general election.

Stay tuned.

Jessica Mason contributed to this report. Learn more about Eric O’Keefe in the Progressive “Dark Money’s Front Man” and in Sourcewatch.

Justices contort prior rulings to stop John Doe appeal, protect Scott Walker and reward donors

“What a mess this court has wrought!” Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson declared in the latest chapter in the state’s John Doe legal saga.

On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s majority contorted itself to find a new way to protect both Scott Walker and the court’s biggest supporters — not to mention itself — following its decision in July rewriting the state’s limits on money in politics and ending the “John Doe” investigation into Walker’s campaign coordinating with dark money groups.

Wednesday’s ruling was supposed to be a straightforward decision on a motion to reconsider, in light of additional evidence, that Walker and his allies had violated the campaign finance laws that the court upheld in July.

The court denied that motion, but then (in a lengthy unsigned opinion) went further, rewriting its July decision to fire Francis Schmitz, the Republican special prosecutor who led the investigation, making it harder for him to challenge the justices’ conflicts-of-interest by appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Those conflicts arise from the fact that the same groups that coordinated with Walker’s campaign were among the majority’s biggest financial supporters, raising concerns under U.S. Supreme Court precedent about whether the justices should have heard the case at all.

“The miscalculation I made in this investigation was underestimating the power and influence special interest groups have in Wisconsin politics,” said Schmitz, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former counter-terrorism prosecutor.

The bipartisan John Doe probe has become a rallying cry for national organizations looking to overturn limits on money in politics, and for years has been subject to a legal and media assault, funded in part by the same groups that bankrolled the election of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority.

“My career in the military and as a federal prosecutor fighting violent criminals and terrorists did not fully prepare me for the tactics employed by these special interest groups,” Schmitz said in a statement.

Justices protect their supporters

Wednesday’s decision was “extraordinary,” said Janine Geske, respected former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who now teaches at Marquette Law School. “To somehow remove the lawyer representing one of the parties after the opinion

(has been issued) is extraordinary,” she told the Center for Media and Democracy.

“It puts the case in a very odd situation, removing counsel so he cannot file an appeal,” Geske said, with no clarity for how other prosecutors might be able to intervene.

The court’s July opinion upheld a lower court decision holding that Schmitz had been lawfully appointed as special prosecutor in 2013. Justice Prosser, writing separately in concurrence, had taken the position that Schmitz’ appointment was improper.

Yet after Schmitz asked the court to reconsider its decision on grounds it had overlooked coordination of express advocacy, the majority instead revised its ruling to rescind his authority and to block him from continuing involvement in the case.

“The special prosecutor’s authority to proceed would still be intact if he had not brought a motion for reconsideration,” Justice Abrahamson pointed out in her dissent. “Does this make sense? Not to me.”

The court’s rewriting of its decision and firing Schmitz might be viewed not only as the majority protecting their biggest financial supporters and Scott Walker, but also as an effort to protect themselves.

That’s because the court’s four-justice majority was elected to the bench with at least $10 million in spending from precisely the same groups accused of coordinating with Walker, and precisely the same groups that were under investigation in the John Doe — namely, Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

By rescinding Schmitz’ appointment as special prosecutor, it makes it much harder for him to challenge the justices’ conflicts-of-interest before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce have been the dominant spenders on Wisconsin Supreme Court races in recent years, in most cases outspending the justices themselves. In 2011, the groups and their offshoots together spent $3.7 million supporting Justice David Prosser, five times as much as Prosser’s own campaign, in an election decided by a mere 7,000 votes. Three years before, WMC’s spending in support of Justice Michael Gableman had come in at five-and-a-half times what Gableman’s own campaign spent, and WiCFG also surpassed the Gableman campaign’s spending, in a race he won by 20,000 votes.

In other words, if it weren’t for the millions spent by WiCFG and WMC, Justices Gableman and Prosser might not be on the bench at all. Schmitz specifically asked the two to step aside in light of this apparent conflict-of-interest, but they declined.

“This extraordinary action is, as far as I can determine, unprecedented and could have the effect of insulating the court’s decision from further review,” said Susan Crawford, an attorney at Cullen Weston Pines & Bach.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s majority might have reason to be scared about the prospects of a U.S. Supreme Court appeal. In the 2009 Caperton v. Massey decision, the nation’s highest court held that constitutional due process requires that judges recuse themselves in cases like this one.

When a donor “had a significant and disproportionate influence on the outcome” of a judge’s election, and when an election was decided by a small number of votes, among other factors, the risk of “actual bias is sufficiently substantial that it ‘must be forbidden if the guarantee of due process is to be adequately implemented,'” the U.S. Supreme Court held.

Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court barred Schmitz from representing the state in further proceedings, it may not necessarily bar an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Caperton grounds. If the justices should have recused in the first place and not heard the case at all, then a subsequent decision from those same justices canning the special prosecutor should have no merit.

But rescinding Schmitz’ appointment means he would have to work on the appeal for free. As special prosecutor, Schmitz is compensated for his legal fees by the State of Wisconsin. Without that appointment, Schmitz would be working without pay, making it exceptionally difficult to mount a complicated U.S. Supreme Court appeal.

“The Court, in terminating the special prosecutor’s appointment immediately, knew that its decision would compromise the ability of the special prosecutor — the sole party representing the prosecution — to seek review from the U.S. Supreme Court,” Crawford said.

Court defies its own rationale

Prosecutors in the John Doe case alleged that Walker’s campaign had violated the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws by asking donors to secretly funnel money to “independent” groups that don’t disclose their donors, and then telling the groups how to spend those funds. The Walker administration then prioritized the policies favored by those secret donors, records obtained in the investigation showed.

In its highly controversial decision from July, the Court declared that electoral “issue ads” that stopped short of expressly saying “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate were outside of the scope of Wisconsin law. Therefore, Walker’s campaign couldn’t have violated any laws by coordinating with dark money groups on “issue ads,” even if most viewers would understand the “issue ad” as designed to influence an election.

Only ads expressly advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate were subject to regulation, the opinion stated, and therefore only coordination between campaigns and express advocacy groups is illegal.

So when the Republican Special Prosecutor asked the court to reconsider its July ruling because there was evidence that the Walker campaign had coordinated with groups engaged in express advocacy, you might think the court would allow the investigation to proceed.

You would be wrong.

In Wednesday’s unsigned decision, the court’s majority declared that Schmitz had not raised evidence of express advocacy coordination early enough in the proceedings — which is false — so the court would not consider it now.

Dissenting from the majority ruling, Justice Abrahamson noted that “unlawful coordination, not merely unlawful coordinated issue advocacy, has been the focus of the John Doe investigation from the very beginning.” The Aug. 10, 2012, petition to commence the John Doe, for example, “focuses on coordination, and is not limited to express or issue advocacy.”

“I continue to believe that the investigation was justified,” Schmitz said. “The voters of Wisconsin have a right to know the identity of large donors, corporate and individual, which coordinate with campaign committees.”

(Even the court’s July decision was highly questionable. Schmitz pointed out that on the same day that the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its decision declaring issue advocacy could not be regulated, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that disclosure requirements are not constitutionally limited to express advocacy, declaring “there is not a rigid barrier between express advocacy and so-called issue advocacy.”)

Has the majority silenced prosecutors forever?

The majority’s “rationale simply seems invented to justify the pre-ordained desired result,” Justice Abrahamson wrote in dissent.

With Schmitz off the case, it is unclear who can represent the prosecution moving forward. The court previously denied motions by other members of the prosecution team to intervene in the case, even for the limited purpose of preserving evidence.

It is not clear who will implement the court’s mandate that prosecutors compile and catalogue all of the evidence gathered in the probe, and provide notice to each individual investigated in the case.

And, by blocking the other John Doe prosecutors from becoming parties to the case, it becomes more difficult for the prosecutors to defend themselves from the barrage of mysteriously funded lawsuits filed by Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Eric O’Keefe and other opponents of campaign finance limits. The majority suggested that prosecutors might be able to access some evidence but how and under what circumstances are unclear.

This is particularly important because the actual evidence in the court record appears to undermine many of the allegations made in those lawsuits — which, in turn, appear to echo dubious assertions from right-wing blogs rather than actual facts.

Even some Wisconsin Supreme Court justices have fallen for the right-wing rhetoric. Abrahamson’s dissent noted that, in July, “The majority opinion and Justice Ziegler’s concurrence to the majority opinion relied on facts that were not in the record, citing blogs and media reports as authoritative sources on how the search warrants were executed.”

Both Gableman’s majority opinion from July and Ziegler’s concurrence relied on factually challenged articles from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity’s “Wisconsin Watchdog” website, which produced literally hundreds of stories attacking the John Doe since 2013 but without routinely disclosing that it was launched and funded by Eric O’Keefe, WiCFG’s director and the chief plaintiff in the lawsuits challenging the probe. Franklin Center’s president until earlier this year, Jason Stverak used to work for O’Keefe. Its director of special projects John Connors is also president of Citizens for a Strong America, another group involved in the investigation and which was funded entirely by WiCFG. Connors also quietly left Franklin Center earlier this year.

The justices’ unquestioning endorsement of right-wing bloggers’ unsubstantiated claims about unconstitutional “pre-dawn, armed, paramilitary-style raids” were repeated in lawsuits by groups tied to the investigation — and subsequently undermined by actual evidence.

When former Walker aide Cindy Archer filed a federal lawsuit against prosecutors earlier this year, she claimed that the Wisconsin Supreme Court had “found” that prosecutors “subjected targets to ‘paramilitary-style home invasions conducted in the pre-dawn hours’ in retaliation for their free speech” (when in fact the court hadn’t “found” anything, but instead repeated unsubstantiated online rhetoric).

Those allegations fell apart after prosecutors released a recording of the 2011 search, which showed a cordial and professional investigation.

This matters, Abrahamson noted, because prosecutors are still being sued by the groups and individuals under investigation. The factual record in the John Doe case is necessary so prosecutors can mount a defense based on facts rather than the heated rhetoric advanced by the blogs and media outlets tied to the groups under investigation. But the prosecutors have been barred from intervening in the case.

The factual record can also help the public get a better sense of what was at stake in the decision — but the court has gone out of its way to keep most filings secret.

“The general rule is that court filings are presumptively open for public inspection,” Abrahamson wrote. “Placing filings under seal is the exception to the rule. In the face of virtually total secrecy of filings since July 16, 2015, the public cannot understand the basis for the four justices’ decisions,” noting that the sealings “raises significant First Amendment, state constitutional, statutory, and common law issues, and may be challenged as erroneous.”

“Why the secrecy?,” she asked.

Brendan Fischer is general counsel for The Center for Media and Democracy, an award-winning non-partisan government watch-dog group. Click here to donate.

Special prosecutor moves John Doe ruling a step closer to U.S. Supreme Court appeal

A special prosecutor has asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reconsider its decision ending an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign, a move that signals he may take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court ended the investigation into Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups on July 16, saying they had not violated campaign finance laws by working closely together. The ruling was a big win for Walker, coming just days after he officially launched his presidential campaign.

Online court records show Francis Schmitz filed a motion Tuesday with Wisconsin’s highest court to put that decision on hold and reconsider the ruling.

The state Supreme Court ended the investigation into Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups on July 16, saying they had not violated campaign finance laws by working closely together. The ruling was a big win for Walker, coming just days after he officially launched his presidential campaign.

Online court records show Francis Schmitz filed a motion Tuesday with Wisconsin’s highest court to put that decision on hold and reconsider the ruling.

The probe had been on hold for 18 months after the judge overseeing the investigation ruled that no laws had been broken. But the Supreme Court’s 4–2 ruling ended it for good. The court, which is controlled by a majority of conservative justices, broke along ideological lines to find in support of the Walker recall campaign.

Part of the court’s ruling ordered Schmitz and prosecutors to return all evidence collected during the investigation and destroy any copies. Schmitz’s request that the ruling be put on hold would delay that.

The original investigation, known as a John Doe, was secret and many of the court filings have not been publicly released. Schmitz’s actual motion was under seal pending a determination by the court as to whether it should be made public.

Schmitz did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday. Todd Graves, the attorney for the Wisconsin Club for Growth that filed a lawsuit challenging the probe that went to the Supreme Court, declined to comment.

The filing comes as Walker prepares to take part in the first Republican presidential candidate debate on Thursday night in Cleveland.

Schmitz’s filing is the clearest sign yet that he may ultimately ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case.

Schmitz had asked that two state Supreme Court justices — Michael Gableman and David Prosser — recuse themselves from the case because their campaigns for the high court benefited from millions of dollars spent by at least three groups that were investigated.

The court denied the request with no explanation the same day it issued its ruling, written by Gableman and supported by Prosser. That could form the basis of an appeal by Schmitz to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth is estimated to have spent more than $1 million for Gableman and Prosser. Another group that was part of the investigation, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, spent nearly $3 million for the campaigns of the same two justices. And a group funded entirely by Wisconsin Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, spent nearly $1 million to help Prosser.

The groups also contributed to the other Republican-backed justices who signed on to Gableman’s opinion, which did not deny that the groups coordinated their fundraising activities with Walker’s campaign, but rather that the law prohibiting it was unconstitutional.

Investigators: Walker’s office ‘obstructed’ probe of funds stolen from veterans charity

Investigators in the closed John Doe probe argued in a federal court brief filed on Friday that Scott Walker’s county executive staff “obstructed” its efforts to investigate missing donations to a veterans fund. The court brief includes recently unsealed investigative records.

Walker’s office did not respond to a message left Friday evening asking about the allegations that his office failed to cooperate in investigating the veterans-fund thefts. In 2012, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a Walker spokeswoman denied that his office was uncooperative with the probe, and Walker has denied the allegation in the past.

On Friday, chief investigator David Budde and investigator Robert Stelter reaffirmed that the John Doe investigation began after one of Walker’s top staff reported funds missing from “Operation Freedom,” an annual event held by Walker’s office to thank veterans for their military service.

The prosecutors maintained that the secret probe was necessary only because Walker’s office “was uncooperative and obstructed the District Attorney’s Office’s efforts to obtain documentation of the County’s receipt and disbursement of donations from Operation Freedom.”

“As a consequence, the District Attorney’s Office was forced to petition a John Doe proceeding in order to have legal mechanisms to obtain relevant documentation from the County Executive’s Office,” they argued.

Two Walker associates — former Deputy Chief of Staff Tim Russell and former veterans’ commission member Kevin Kavanaugh — were convicted of stealing more than $70,000 in donations from Operation Freedom. Four others, including Walker’s former deputy chief of staff, Kelly Rindfleisch, were convicted on a variety of other charges.

The filing in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee also revealed that Archer and Walker’s then-campaign treasurer John Hiller were under criminal investigation five years ago for their actions involving the proposed lease of office space by Milwaukee County that would have benefited real-estate clients of Hiller’s who had donated to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported in October that Archer had given Hiller inside information about a pending bid for office space and that Walker was aware of the activity. That report was based on thousands of pages of emails released from the investigation, which ended in 2013

Milwaukee County ultimately decided not to rent the additional office space, and no one was ever charged in connection with the 2010 request for proposals.

“A Democratic district attorney who’s looked at this issue for two years 20 months ago … closed that case because he didn’t find any reason to go forward. I think that speaks volumes,” Walker told the Wisconsin State Journal at the time.

A new look

The documents filed Friday came in response to allegations Archer made in a lawsuit filed July 1 in Milwaukee County Circuit Court alleging that prosecutors led by Chisholm have engaged in a “continued campaign of harassment and intimidation” against Archer and other Walker supporters.

But the newly released documents reveal that the criminal investigation into the activities of Walker and his staff began before he was elected governor in 2010.

Archer’s lawsuit claims she was subjected to unwarranted investigation, including a Sept. 14, 2011, “raid” of her Madison home, as retaliation for her work with Walker on writing Act 10. Walker introduced the bill in February 2011 shortly after taking office.

But Budde and Stelter provided John Doe records unsealed July 10 by John Doe judge Neal Nettesheim showing the investigation into Archer’s activities began months before Walker’s surprise introduction of the bill that sparked weeks of protests at the Capitol.

The federal court filing on Friday also revealed new information about the now-closed investigation into the activities of Scott Walker and his staff when he was the Milwaukee County executive.

Although the investigation initially was launched to probe the missing veterans funds, prosecutors repeatedly enlarged it as they came across illegal campaign activity by Walker staffers, possible bid rigging and improper campaign contributions. Walker was never charged.

The records show Archer’s Milwaukee County office was searched in December 2010 for evidence that she had worked on Walker’s gubernatorial campaign while on county time and at her county office on “multiple occasions over a sustained period of time” when she served as director of the County Department of Administrative Services.

The filing also included a tape recording made of Archer’s interactions with officers during the search of her home, which was conducted by the FBI and members of the Milwaukee County and Dane County district attorneys’ offices. The recording was not available online late Friday.

In their brief, Budde and Stelter revealed that the Archer investigation involved not only possible bid rigging and suspected illegal campaign activity but also possible violations of the state open records law, which Walker secretly attempted to repeal retroactively while drafting the 2015–17 biennial budget. The brief said a criminal complaint was drafted naming Archer “and others” with two counts of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office and one count of solicitation to commit misconduct in public office, but Chisholm’s office decided not to file it.

“While the District Attorney’s Office ultimately decided not to issue the draft criminal complaint, it reflects the good faith basis all defendants had in investigating Archer’s conduct for Milwaukee County,” the two argued.

The filing also showed that two weeks after the search of her home, Archer signed a proffer letter in which she agreed to provide information to the district attorney’s office of  “criminal activity in the Milwaukee area and elsewhere” in exchange for a promise that the interview would not be used directly against her in any criminal or civil proceeding.

The prosecutors being sued by Archer for alleged harassment want the case moved to U.S. District Court in Milwaukee. The prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman that the lawsuit belongs in federal court because the allegations involve alleged federal civil-rights violations.

A second John Doe investigation into coordination between Walker’s recall campaign and conservative political groups was halted in July by the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority, all four of whom had received a total of about $8 million in donations from the conservative groups under investigation. In Justice Michael Gableman’s majority ruling, he denied that coordination between campaigns and dark money groups was ever illegal, despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings to the contrary.