The John Doe investigation looking at the 2011 and 2012 recall elections in Wisconsin is heating up. Dozens of conservative groups, both local and national, have been hit with subpoenas demanding documents in recent weeks, and law enforcement officials have been conducting dawn raids, seizing computers and documents.
This news comes from an unlikely place: an unsigned Wall Street Journal editorial. In a piece first published Friday, and updated over the weekend, the Journal quoted Eric O’Keefe, the director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, who confirmed receiving a subpoena. As TPM has previously reported, John Doe investigations are generally secret, and parties involved are ordered not to discuss it publicly. O’Keefe came forward despite the “personal risk” because he “wants the public to know what is going on,” according to the Journal.
O’Keefe told the Journal he received a subpoena in early October. According to O’Keefe, at least three other targets of the investigation had their homes raided at dawn.
The Journal reported that it had reviewed copies of two subpoenas related to the investigation, which demanded “all memoranda, email … correspondence, and communications” — both internal and between the subpoena target and nearly 30 conservative groups. According to the Journal, those groups included nonprofits, political vendors, and party committees, among them the League of American Voters, Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, American Crossroads, the Republican Governors Association, Friends of Scott Walker and the Republican Party of Wisconsin. One subpoena asked for “all records of income received, including fundraising information and the identity of persons contributing to the corporation.”
Media reports in Wisconsin had previously suggested that conservative groups were the target of the John Doe. The investigation, which involves multiple Wisconsin counties and is reportedly looking at a number of issues, is being led by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Francis Schmitz. A previous John Doe investigation, which closed in March, uncovered misdeeds including illegal campaign contributions, illegal campaign activity, and embezzlement of veterans’ funds from Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) time as Milwaukee County executive.
According to the Journal, the new subpoenas do not indicate any particular allegation being investigated, but “the demands suggest the government may be pursuing a theory of illegal campaign coordination by independent groups during the recall elections.” Additionally, a source told the newspaper that the search warrants in the investigation were executed based on the request of Dean Nickel, a former head of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Public Integrity Unit and a current contractor for the state’s Government Accountability Board. The GAB regulates political speech.
On Tuesday, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that former state Appeals Court Judge Gregory Peterson had been named the new presiding judge in the investigation.
“I can confirm that I’m the John Doe judge,” Peterson told the newspaper. “But that’s all I’m going to say.”