A conservative news website is reporting that right-wing organizations are the target of a new John Doe probe launched by the Milwaukee County district attorney.
"For the second time in three and a half years, a Democrat District Attorney of Milwaukee County has launched a secret investigation into conservatives, with the apparent goal of bringing down Gov. Scott Walker," writes Wisconsin Reporter, which is part of a national network of conservative investigative news websites run by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a libertarian group based in Virginia.
Targeted organizations include the Republican Governors Association, the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity, a group largely financed by Charles and David Koch. WR reports that Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf is investigating these groups for alleged campaign finance law violations, likely in connection with efforts that benefited Gov. Scott Walker or legislative Republicans.
It is not surprising, perhaps, that Wisconsin Reporter broke the news. The Franklin Center has close ties to the organizations that are alleged targets of the investigation. The website regularly coordinates events with Americans for Prosperity and Eric O'Keefe, the CEO of WR's parent organization the Sam Adams Alliance, was until recently the director of Club for Growth Wisconsin.
The revelations come on the heels of a record fine levied in California against two groups with close ties to the Kochs for illegally funneling money to other groups fighting tax measures and supporting a measure that sought to cripple the ability of unions to spend money on political activities. In both instances, the Koch-supported initiatives lost.
However, according to what sources are telling WR, the potential violations in Wisconsin focus on employees of organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, which are supposed to be nonpartisan, assisting Republican campaigns.
Whether violations are ultimately uncovered, it is hardly a secret that state (and national) politics are heavily influenced by nonprofit groups that are nonpartisan in name only. These groups' messaging is often nearly identical to party communications. For instance, during last year's gubernatorial recall election, AFP championed the "Stand with Walker" slogan at rallies and in its large ad buys on TV and radio.
Government watchdogs have complained that AFP abuses its tax-exempt status to engage in partisan politics — the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed a complaint to the IRS over AFP ads in the run-up to the 2012 recall election.
A notable exception to the typical Republican-friendly messaging: Recently David Fladeboe, the state director of AFP, penned a letter-to-the-editor extolling the controversial Madison "Snuggle House" as evidence of vibrant free-market capitalism. It is hard to imagine Walker doing the same anytime soon.
Republican operatives often shift between working for nonpartisan groups like AFP and jobs with Republican legislators or campaigns. For example, both Fladeboe and his deputy director, Sean Lansing, were staffers for former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford. Suder's plans to join the Walker administration were scuttled after it was reported that he had pushed to award a state grant for hunting and fishing training to a conservative group, United Sportsmen, that had no training experience.
Leaders of other conservative groups that regularly supplement Republican messaging, such as the MacIver Institute, American Majority and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, often get started as Republican staffers.