Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law on Wednesday measures that transform campaign finance rules and a government accountability board — two bills pushed by the very same conservative political groups implicated in an investigation into his campaign.
The new laws arrive five months after Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court closed a three-year investigation into whether Walker and moneyed conservative nonprofits illegally coordinated campaign strategy during the Republican's 2012 recall campaign for governor. The court cleared Walker and conservative allies of any wrongdoing on the basis that Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws were “unconstitutionally vague and broad,” opening the doors for legislative rewrite.
Then the same groups named in the investigation, Wisconsin’s Manufacturers and Commerce and Wisconsin Club for Growth, pushed for the bills through lobbying and robocalls.
Now, with the victory in hand, they and other groups will be permitted to coordinate more with candidates on campaign strategy, the same activity that prompted what was known as the John Doe investigation.
A separate measure dismantles the Government Accountability Board, the same state agency that launched the probe into Walker's purported coordination with his conservative allies.
“Wealthy, special interests are having a field day in Wisconsin,” said Daniel Tokaji, an election law professor at Ohio State University.
State records show only three groups registered to lobby in favor of the two measures, one of them a familiar name: Wisconsin’s Manufacturers and Commerce, the state chamber of commerce.
Its business advocacy arm — WMC Issues Mobilization Council — was one of the groups named in the John Doe investigation into Walker’s alleged coordination. The group spent an estimated $4.8 million on state-level ads in 2014, running more than 2,000 negative ads targeting Mary Burke, a Democrat who lost to Walker in the gubernatorial race.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin Club for Growth launched a robocall campaign asking voters to ask their legislators to support restructuring the Government Accountability Board, according to The Capitol Times. The conservative nonprofit filed the lawsuit to end the John Doe investigation into its communication with Walker’s campaign team.
Court documents from the John Doe investigation revealed that Walker and Wisconsin Club for Growth coordinated campaign activity in 2012. A Walker aide directed Walker’s donors to conservative nonprofit Wisconsin Club for Growth, which “can accept corporate and personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure,” as the aide said in an email revealed in court documents.
The two groups themselves are also connected to each other. WMC Issues Mobilization Council received $500,000 from Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2013, according to tax records. Both groups report to the Internal Revenue Service that they do not engage in any political activity.
Neither group responded to requests for comment.