Home / News Features / John Doe #2 Looking at Walker’s Campaign Committee and Dozens of Conservative Groups
Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013

John Doe #2 Looking at Walker’s Campaign Committee and Dozens of Conservative Groups

Wisconsin Club for Growth, WMC, Rove and Koch groups

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According to a weekend report in the Wall Street Journal, the new John Doe investigation into special interest spending in the 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin recalls is wider than first thought.

The newspaper reported that special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, a former federal prosecutor who President George W. Bush had considered for a U.S. Attorney appointment, has sent subpoenas to “dozens” of conservative groups, including Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign committee.

Up to 29 conservative groups are in the prosecutor’s sights, including the state’s big business lobby, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC); the free market advocacy group Wisconsin Club for Growth; Karl Rove’s American Crossroads; the state chapter of the Koch brothers-launched tea party Astroturf group Americans for Prosperity; the anti-gay Wisconsin Family Action; and Dick Morris’s League of American Voters.

“The subpoenas don’t spell out a specific allegation, but the demands suggest the government may be pursuing a theory of illegal campaign coordination by independent groups during the recall election,” the unsigned article states. “If prosecutors are pursuing a theory that independent conservative groups coordinated with candidate campaigns during the recall, their goal may be to transform the independent expenditures into candidate committees after the fact, requiring revision of campaign-finance disclosures and possible criminal charges.”

Eric O’Keefe, a director of the Sun Prairie-based Wisconsin Club for Growth, confirmed that he received a subpoena in early October and that “at least three of the targets had their homes raided at dawn, with law-enforcement officers turning over belongings to seize computers and files,” the Journal reported.

As the Shepherd reported exclusively last week, Wisconsin Club for Growth received $225,000 from the Koch-connected Center to Protect Patient Rights in 2011; the Phoenix-based group just paid a record-breaking fine in California for failing to disclose its donors.

According to its 2011 tax filings, Wisconsin Club for Growth sent $4.6 million to Citizens for Strong America, a phony interest ad group that operates out of a post office box in Columbia County, in central Wisconsin. Citizens for a Strong America has ties to Americans for Prosperity operative John Connors and the wife of the Club for Growth’s spokesman.

 

Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Close Ties to Walker

Not surprisingly, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal attacked the new John Doe investigation as a “political speech raid” and alleges that it’s timed to support Democrat Mary Burke’s campaign for governor in 2014.

But the groups named in the report have longstanding ties to Walker and were heavily involved in supporting him and his fellow Republicans in the 2011 and 2012 recalls. It appears that the John Doe is looking at how closely intertwined these groups were during the recall period.

For example, O’Keefe’s Wisconsin Club for Growth spent an estimated $9.1 million on the recalls, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Its longtime spokesman is R.J. Johnson, who also worked as an advisor to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign and beyond. Walker’s campaign paid R.J. Johnson and Associates more than $130,000 between July 2009 and January 2012.

When Walker hired Johnson in April 2009, many Walker critics questioned whether Johnson actually cut ties with Wisconsin Club for Growth. Candidate campaigns and independent outside groups are not allowed to coordinate fundraising, messaging or advertising.

After Walker took office in January 2011, Johnson appeared in the media as Club for Growth’s spokesman.

Wisconsin Club for Growth began airing an anti-public employee union TV ad on Feb. 11, 2011; Johnson and his consulting business partner Deb Jordahl appeared as representatives for the group in a Feb. 18, 2011, PolitiFact Wisconsin feature.

In a Feb. 22, 2011, Journal Sentinel article, Johnson is called “a former political strategist for Walker” and promised that the Club for Growth would stay “actively engaged in the budget debate.”

In June 2011, the group filed a complaint against Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi for striking down Walker’s collective bargaining bill; Johnson’s business partner Jordahl spoke on behalf of the organization.

Johnson represented the Club for Growth in PolitiFact Wisconsin features in July, August and September 2011 to defend the group’s opposition to state Rep. Sandy Pasch, a Democrat, then running against Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling in her recall, and to refute former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s claim that the group endorsed him in his run for U.S. Senate.

 

‘Governor, You’re in Trouble’

In his just-released book, Unintimidated, Walker makes special mention of Johnson in the acknowledgments, writing, “In the political world, R.J. Johnson and I have worked together for more than two decades. He and [campaign manager] Keith Gilkes laid out the plan to win our 2010 election and they both have keen political instincts.”

A closer read of Walker’s book reveals that Johnson was advising the new governor at the same time Johnson was defending Club for Growth in the press.

“Not long after the unions made their announcement [on Feb. 18, 2011], my chief political strategist, R.J. Johnson, took me aside and said, ‘Governor, you’re in trouble,’” Walker wrote in Unintimidated about his dismal poll numbers.

Later, Walker claims that he was getting “killed in the air wars with the unions vastly outspending us in paid advertising. The situation was so bad that my chief political advisor, R.J. Johnson, called the Wisconsin airwaves a ‘no-fly zone’ for us, such was the union saturation.”

Although campaign finance statements show that Walker’s payments to Johnson stop in January 2012, Johnson appears in Walker’s book on the night he won his recall in June 2012. It seems that Walker’s wife, Tonette, wouldn’t believe that Walker won the election until Johnson, watching the voting results in Walker’s “war room,” confirmed it.

“She threw her arms around him and sobbed,” Walker wrote. “All the pressure of the past eighteen months came spilling out. Then R.J. started crying, too.”

Just two weeks ago, Tonette Walker appeared on an email invitation from the Johnson-headed nonprofit group the World Orphan Fund, to promote the organization’s Nov. 25 fundraising gala. The gala is headlined by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and WTMJ-AM’s Charlie Sykes.

“They are truly doing God’s work and I hope you’re able to help this incredibly worthy cause,” Mrs. Walker wrote in her invitation.

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