Gov. Scott Walker announced on Friday that he has formed a legal fund to pay for expenses related to the ongoing John Doe investigation into his close associates and former aides, a move that suggests he is being investigated.
"I have repeatedly pledged my cooperation with that inquiry," Walker said. "To fulfill my commitment, I have today formed a legal fund to pay for the expenses incurred in cooperating with the inquiry."
Wisconsin statutes allow government officials to seek or obtain contributions to so-called defense funds only if they are being investigated for or charged with a violation of either campaign finance or other election laws.
To date, nobody has said Walker is a target of the investigation, and Walker has said repeatedly that he does not believe he is the target.
"The fund has been set up under the guidance of the (Government Accountability Board)," Walker campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said. "We reiterate again that the governor has been told he is not the target of the investigation."
GAB spokesman Reid Magney said the board cannot comment on any discussions or advice it may have given to an official.
Former Walker staffer Kelly Rindfleisch, 43, has been charged with four felony counts of misconduct in public office, and Darlene Wink, 61, has been convicted on two misdemeanor counts of political solicitation by a public employee. Both worked for Walker during his time as Milwaukee County executive, and both are accused of fundraising activities while at their taxpayer-funded jobs.
In the criminal complaints against them, made public in late January, were accusations leveled toward Walker's close associates, including the use of personal laptop computers and an unofficial "secret email system" to solicit money for the campaigns of Walker and Brett Davis, who was running for lieutenant governor. Investigators say they kept the system hidden from all but a close group of Walker's insiders.
Walker has said he agreed to meet with prosecutors, and last month he announced he had hired two high-powered attorneys to assemble background information and ensure he's "in the best position possible to continue aiding" the investigation.
Mike Steinle is a Milwaukee criminal defense attorney with the firm Terschan, Steinle & Ness. And former federal prosecutor John Gallo is a partner at Sidley Austin in Chicago who specializes in representing criminal defendants and grand jury targets, according to the firm's website.
The state law governing legal defense funds says campaign contributions can be added to such funds if donors give their permission. Lobbyists cannot contribute to the funds. And an official who forms a fund needs to file a document listing each person who contributed more than $50 to it.
Democrats seized on the news as evidence that Walker is the target of the investigation, despite his previous comments.
"It looks more and more like Scott Walker will be charged with crimes," said Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. "His corruption was born in Milwaukee and imported to Madison, and this is another reason for his recall."