Scott Walker's big-time mess: Why 2016 is the least of his problems now

Problems for Wisconsin's governor are about far more than a presidential run. Here's why he may never get that far

By Heather Digby Parton


Published June 20, 2014 11:43AM (EDT)

  (AP/Jeffrey Phelps)
(AP/Jeffrey Phelps)

Despite the fact that a couple of judges have found the "John Doe" investigation that's been dogging him for years to be without merit, the news for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is not good.  On Thursday, the Wisconsin Club for Growth got what they wanted and the court released secret documents underlying the case against the governor and the groups alleged to have been illegally coordinating with him during the 2011 recall election. If one assumes that everyone in the nation agrees that outside Big Money groups should be allowed to funnel money into politics using subterfuge and misdirection (while marching around self-righteously insisting they are defending the First Amendment) then perhaps this can be considered a victory.

Certainly the Wall Street Journal editorial page will see it that way. For them this case is a "civil rights case" in which the Club For Growth is their Rosa Parks being forced to sit in the back of the private jet and drink Perrier-Jouet instead of Dom. You'll recall that recently they almost had a full-blown breakdown at the rumor Scott Walker might settle this case rather than have it tied around his neck like a sack full of gold bullion as he was trying to run for president.

And now we know why Walker would have wanted to do that. The documents they've released show that the special prosecutor (a Republican, by the way) found evidence of a crime. And among that evidence? Emails between Scott Walker and none other than the big kahuna, Karl Rove himself:

“Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin,” Walker wrote. “We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities).”

R.J. Johnson is both a close associate of Walker and a consultant to Wisconsin Club for Growth, which makes for a very nice cozy relationship among all the players. These emails pretty much close the case that Walker and these big outside groups secretly coordinated. They clearly did. According to the documents released on Tuesday the special prosecutor found that Johnson used the Club for Growth as the hub that disbursed money and direction from the Walker campaign and back. And at the same time, Walker was raising money for the Club for Growth. How's that for synergy?

He said that in March of 2011 they began to openly discuss their need to coordinate with such groups as the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth and various permutations of the National Republican Party. Conference calls were held between the campaign and various groups. There's even some evidence that a couple of years before the recall, the National Club for Growth expressed concerns about all this coziness between Wisconsin Club and Scott Walker.

But the legal defense for this hinges on what the right-wingers usually sneeringly call a technicality (when a poor defendant benefits, anyway): Did these groups expressly "advocate" for Walker and other Republicans in the recall? Two judges in this case (so far) have said they did not because none of the groups said explicitly to "Vote for Scott Walker." Evidently, as long as you don't say those specific words and simply say something like "Scott Walker is a living God who must be worshiped by all while his opponent  is a lying sack of pig manure" you aren't considered to have "advocated." That's not even a loophole. It's the Grand Canyon. In fact, it makes the law a complete farce.

This chart from Sourcewatch shows how some of the money was laundered through the scheme Walker outlined in his email to Karl Rove. It was estimated that nearly 140 million dollars was spent by outside groups in that election.

It must have been some kind accident that had the Wisconsin Homeowners alliance accidentally funneling some chump change to the wrong side -- where it ended up in the hands of Planned Parenthood! One assumes that the Big Money Boyz were not amused by that. But then, when you have such a byzantine structure it's hard to keep track of where all the millions are going.

It is undoubtedly the case that Wisconsin Club for Growth and Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal editorial page are beside themselves with glee at the direction this case has taken. After all, the judge in this case ordered all these documents to be released because he didn't find that any law has been broken. Now everyone can see that this great "civil rights" issue of our time has been decided in favor of the downtrodden wealthy: the First Amendment guarantees a rich man's right to secretly spend millions to buy and sell politicians. Is this a great country or what?

Meanwhile, Scott Walker, the Martin Luther King of this Millionaire Civil Rights Movement, has to deal with the public fallout of these emails showing that he was personally conferring with none other than Karl Rove about coordinating tons of money flowing in from outside Wisconsin. Maybe the voters won't care about that and will think it's nice that their governor has such great friends in high places. Maybe they admire a politician who is willing to push the edge of the legal envelope in order to help his pals and have his pals help him.

But if voters actually think this whole thing looks sleazy and dishonest, whether it's strictly legal or not, there's a good reason why he might not have wanted his dirty laundry hanging out for all of Wisconsin to see. He's got a real race on his hands just to keep his seat in November:

A new Marquette Law School Poll finds that the Wisconsin governor’s race has tightened to a dead heat, with both Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Mary Burke receiving the support of 46 percent of registered voters, while 6 percent are undecided or say they do not know whom they would support.

If he loses this race he can kiss 2016 goodbye. The Wall Street Journal editorial crowd may not care about that -- they are fighting for a "cause" and using Scott Walker as their test case. But you have to wonder if Scott Walker knew he might be signing on to be a martyr to their cause.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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