Taxpayer costs have topped $1.2 million for private lawyers to defend state officials against lawsuits stemming from a secret investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign, according to the Department of Administration.
The amount is likely to grow because there is at least one ongoing lawsuit. Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O’Keefe sued the Government Accountability Board and director Kevin Kennedy in Waukesha County. That lawsuit has cost the state $187,410 for private lawyers through August.
That’s more than the outside costs incurred by the state during the investigation itself, known as a John Doe, which the GAB voted to close in August 2014 pending the outcome of court challenges to its validity. The investigation cost the state $179,071, according to a GAB motion filed last month in the O’Keefe lawsuit in Waukesha County.
The John Doe investigation costs include outside investigators and forensic computer services but don’t include day-to-day salaries and other expenses incurred by GAB staff and other public employees during the investigation.
The GAB asked the state Department of Justice for representation in the O’Keefe lawsuit in May 2014, but DOJ declined because it was already representing the judges involved in the John Doe, GAB spokesman Reid Magney said. As a result, Walker’s office appointed the private lawyers who are representing the GAB.
The GAB’s lawyers have argued the case should be dismissed because a recent law ending John Doe investigations into alleged campaign finance violations or misconduct in public office makes the case moot. On Monday, a judge agreed to hear arguments on Dec. 22 before ruling on other motions related to the case, said Paul Schwartzenbart, one of the GAB’s lawyers.
The DOA tally includes $1.04 million paid to three law firms as part of a federal lawsuit brought by O’Keefe against Francis Schmitz, the lead John Doe investigator, and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and investigators in his office, which initiated the probe.
That lawsuit was dismissed by a federal appeals court in November, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take it up in May.
The amount also includes about $5,000 for a private law firm to represent Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomburg and Columbia County District Attorney Jane Kohlway, and $1,800 for a different law firm to represent Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson, whom O’Keefe threatened with a lawsuit, according to DOA.
Those four district attorneys also opened John Doe investigations into four individuals as part of the probe into Walker’s campaign. Those inquiries were consolidated into one case led by Schmitz, who was investigating whether the Wisconsin Club for Growth was acting as a hub for undisclosed donations that were then used to help Walker and Republican senators beat back attempts to recall them in 2011 and 2012.
The state Supreme Court halted the investigation in July saying Schmitz’s legal theory violated the First Amendment free speech rights of those under investigation.
DOA released the information in response to an Oct. 5 State Journal request, after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a petition by Kelly Rindfleisch, who was convicted for campaigning during county work hours as part of a previous John Doe investigation into Walker’s Milwaukee County office. In that case, DOJ defended the conviction.
DOA spokesman Cullen Werwie noted the $1.2 million doesn’t include costs incurred by any DOJ lawyers, district attorneys or third-party lawyers the GAB hired who worked on the John Doe case.