Burke put $5 million into race against Walker (copy)

Gov. Scott Walker speaks to employees of Vortex Optics in Middleton during a campaign stop at the manufacturing business on Monday. (AP Photo/John Hart, Wisconsin State Journal)

The Associated Press

Sometime around the end of March 2012, Gov. Scott Walker had a meeting with celebrity billionaire Donald Trump. A few days later, Trump deposited $15,000 into the bank account of the Wisconsin Club for Growth.

Compared to other donations, the Donald’s was conservative. Some, after meeting with Walker, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the pro-Walker group, and one forked over a cool million.

Court documents from a John Doe investigation into potentially illegal coordination between the Walker campaign and groups supporting him indicate that Walker's campaign had made the Club for Growth the de facto campaign engine for Walker's 2012 effort to fend off a recall. Walker himself, according to an April 28, 2011, email from campaign consultant Kate Doner, was "encouraging all to invest in the Wisconsin Club for Growth."

The group, Doner continued, "can accept corporate and personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure." She added that Walker "wants all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging."

The Center for Media and Democracy, as supporting evidence to its complaint to the IRS challenging Club for Growth's tax-exempt status, detailed some of Walker's fundraising successes on Club for Growth's behalf.

To connect the dots, the liberal watchdog group used documents that were released relating the John Doe investigation and the Club for Growth's lawsuit against John Doe prosecutors, some of which detailed transactions for Club for Growth's bank account. 

In order to maintain its tax-exempt status, the Club for Growth, a 501(c)4 "social welfare" organization, can only participate in limited political activity.

According to Brendan Fischer, the Center for Media and Democracy's general counsel, the documents show that the group's primary mission was securing Walker's victory and aiding Republican legislators who were also targeted in recalls. 

"Wisconsin Club for Growth told the IRS it spent zero dollars on political activity, but these financial records, I think, directly contradict that," Fischer said.

The records showed that Walker hit up wealthy conservatives who generously handed over cash from both personal and corporate acccounts.

"Walker and legislative Republicans can’t accept donations from for-profit corporations," said Fischer. "But as you look through these financial records, Walker was soliciting and Wisconsin Club for Growth was receiving donations from for-profit corporations like Devon Energy. And that’s something they would not be able to accept directly to their campaign."

Club for Growth, according to the records, then took the funds and channeled them to other groups backing Walker, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce ($2.5 million) and Citizens for a Strong America (at least $1.5 million), which then produced pro-Walker ads or ads attacking Walker's opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.  

Here are some highlights of the Center for Media and Democracy's findings on Walker's 2012 recall fundraising successes:

  • On Feb. 23, 2012, Walker's itinerary notes a conference call with software magnate David Hanna. Three days later the Club for Growth's showed a $50,000 wire transfer from the David William Hanna Trust.
  • In a March 7, 2012, email, campaign advisor Kate Doner advised Walker to connect with hedge fund manager Paul Singer. "Paul Singer: Grab him," the email read. On May 8, Singer transferred $250,000 to the Club for Growth's account.
  • In a March 10, 2012, email, Walker told Doner, "Bruce and Suzie Kovner said they want to give more." On March 22 Bruce Kovner, a successful hedge fund manager, deposited $50,000 into Club for Growth's account.
  • Walker's itinerary showed that on March 10, 2012, Walker met with Barry MacLean, CEO of the MacLean-Fogg manufacturing company. A week later a wire deposit from the MacLean-Fogg Co. for $100,000 landed in the Club for Growth's account.
  • Walker's itinerary indicated a March 10, 2012, meeting with Michael Sullivan of SAC Capital Advisors. On April 13 Stephen Cohen, founder and manager of SAC, deposited $1 million into the Club for Growth's account.
  • On April 10, 2012, campaign staffer Jennifer Bannister emailed Walker about a phone call between Walker and Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone. "How did the phone call with Langone go this morning?" she asked. It apparently went well — Langone contributed $15,000 to Club for Growth that same day.
  • On April 17, 2012, Walker was sent an email from an unidentified source advising him to hit up Larry Nichols, chairman of Devon Energy, for $250,000. On May 3 Devon Energy contributed $50,000 to the Club for Growth.
  • An April 20, 2012, email to Walker and others briefed recipients on a meeting with Richard Colburn and his son, Keith Colburn, who are vice president and president of Consolidated Electrical Distributors. On April 27 a deposit from "K. Colburn" for $25,000 landed in the Club for Growth's account, followed by a $50,000 deposit on May 7 from Richard Colburn.
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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.