Yesterday, The Guardian published roughly 1,500 pages of documents from an investigation into whether Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker illegally coordinated with conservative non-profit groups in an effort to get around campaign finance laws while fighting against recall elections in the state during 2011 and 2012.
The investigation effectively ended in 2015 when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that it was not illegal for “issue” groups and campaigns to coordinate, but prosecutors have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to announce in the near future whether it will hear the case. In their petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, the prosecutors argued that two of the Wisconsin Supreme Court justices should have recused themselves from the case because their own elections benefited from the work of the Walker-allied groups. The documents obtained by The Guardian include evidence about the role those groups played, including an e-mail from Gov. Walker describing one of them as “the key to retaining” Justice David Prosser.
The documents reveal political fundraising in stark detail and open a rare window into how money works its way into the political system, especially through tax-exempt social welfare organizations that can spend millions to influence elections without disclosing their donors. Below are the five money-in-politics lessons CREW identified in a review of the documents.
- Politicians Expect “Significant Money” from the Special Interests Who “Benefit” from Their Actions. In September 2011, after state Senate recall elections were over, Gov. Walker’s fundraising consultant, Kate Doner, wrote an informal memo on “raising money for Walker’s possible recall efforts.” The memo included recommendations to have the Wisconsin Club for Growth “[t]ake Koch’s money” and for Walker to “[g]et on a plane to Vegas and sit down with Sheldon Adelson. Ask for $1m now” for the Club for Growth. The fundraiser also said Gov. Would should “[c]reate a list of legislation that passed and benefits whom.” Doner used the national tort reform community as an example, saying “Civil Justice Reform Group, ILR, AJP etc should give significant money.” PP. 58-59:
- Fundraisers Tell Potential Donors That Giving Money Is in “Your Interests and the Interests of Your Company.” In June 2011, Gov. Walker met with Chris Lofgren, the president and CEO of truckload carrier Schneider National, in order to pitch him on contributing to the recall efforts. Talking points prepared for the meeting show that Gov. Walker was encouraged to ask Lofgren if he would “reach out to his peers” in the American Trucking Association “to assist with raising $200k” (P. 42). Six months later, a fundraising letter for Gov. Walker and the Wisconsin Club for Growth was written in Lofgren’s name. The letter from Lofgren included this admonition: “I sincerely believe that it is in your own interests and the interests of your company, that Governor Walker withstands the recall effort.” P. 17:
- Anonymous Non-Profit Giving is Encouraged if Corporate Donors Are Concerned About Blowback Against Their Interests. In April 2011, Gov. Walker’s political consultant R.J. Johnson, who coordinated the work of outside groups in the recall elections, met with a political adviser to billionaire T. Boone Pickens to solicit support for Gov. Walker’s electoral efforts. As part of the pitch, Johnson informed the adviser, Jay Rosser, that Pickens could contribute to a non-profit, Citizens for a Strong America, “as an alternative” that would have the “[s]ame net effect.” Rosser ultimately said Pickens wouldn’t be getting involved, with the “most significant” reason being “the potential secondary consequences it could bring to the passage of Boone’s proposed energy legislation.” At the time, Pickens was promoting legislation in Congress that would provide tax breaks to trucking companies that use natural gas instead of oil in their vehicles. Rosser acknowledged “the ability to participate anonymously,” but said, “frankly, that’s just not our style.” In a later e-mail, Gov. Walker’s fundraising consultant called it “a cop out that [Boone was] not giving due to Harry Reid and his energy policy.” PP. 3-5:
- Politicians Can Know Who Gave Contributions that Aren’t Disclosed to the Public. In preparation for an April 2011 meeting with advisers to hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, Gov. Walker’s fundraising consultant put together background information on the two Singer aides, Annie Dickerson and Dan Senor. As part of the paragraph on Dickerson, Doner noted that Singer “gave money to your election efforts thru a number of 501c4 groups.” Non-profits organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code are not required to disclose their donors, even when they spend money to influence elections. P. 95:
- If a Politician Can’t Ask Companies for Money, Karl Rove Can on Their Behalf. In May 2011, Doner prepared talking points for a call Gov. Walker was set to have with Karl Rove, the founder of major outside spending groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. In the talking points, Doner encouraged Walker to ask for $1 million from Crossroads and, since the governor couldn’t ask companies that lobby in Wisconsin for money, for Rove to solicit corporate contributions for the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the non-profit at the center of Gov. Walker’s effort to beat back recall campaigns against Republican state senators. PP. 34-35.