A federal judge who stopped Wisconsin’s criminal investigation of spending during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections regularly attends all-expense paid junkets funded by a Koch brother and other conservative interests.
District Court Judge Rudolph Randa blocked the ongoing criminal probe into illegal coordination between nonprofit advocacy groups such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the recall campaigns of Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers.
The judge ruled May 6 that outside groups may freely coordinate with candidates and campaigns and remain free of contribution limits as long as they don’t “express advocacy” for the candidates themselves.
"The plaintiffs have found a way to circumvent campaign finance laws, and that circumvention should not and cannot be condemned or restricted," Randa ruled. "Instead, it should be recognized as promoting political speech.”
Randa sided in his ruling, which is under appeal and could go before the U.S. Supreme Court, with the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O’Keefe -- a longtime ally of the Koch brothers.
O’Keefe and his organization had asked the court to stop the criminal investigation, arguing that laws they were accused of breaking violated their right to free speech.
Randa ordered prosecutors to destroy all evidence gathered in the investigation, although the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals blocked that order for now.
An analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy shows the federal judge has ties to the Koch brothers and other conservative advocates who privately fund judicial seminars at George Mason University, reported The Progressive.
Randa attended these all-expense paid “judicial junkets” in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012, according to publicly available disclosure forms.
The disclosure form from last year has been requested but has not yet been posted online.
These seminars are funded by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and corporations such as BP, Exxon Mobil, and Dow Chemical.
Many of those interests have long opposed limits to campaign financing, although the analysis could not establish whether campaign finance reform was a topic at any seminars Randa attended.
The seminars, which are fully paid and typically held at swanky locations, promote corporate legal interests.
No other federal district judges in Wisconsin attended the events, according to the analysis.
The Judicial Conference of the United States, which oversees the conduct of federal judges, cautions against the appearance of improper influence and has required seminar organizers since 2007 to disclose the names of funders.
These disclosures do not require specifics of each judge’s expenses and who paid those, but foundation tax filings reveal some of those details.
The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation contributed $5.45 million to the George Mason University Foundation two years ago, and it gave $51,000 to the university’s Law and Economic Center.
The Koch foundation gave $4.7 million in 2010 to George Mason for "general operating support and education programs" and $2.78 million for “general operating support.”
The Koch network helped the Wisconsin Club for Growth, including $400,080 through their Center to Protect Patient Rights in the final weeks of the recall elections.
Other Koch groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, are believed to have been subpoenaed in the Wisconsin investigation ended by Randa.
The Bradley Foundation’s president and CEO, Michael Grebe, chaired Walker’s gubernatorial campaigns in 2010 and 2012, the most recent of which was part of the criminal probe halted by the judge.
The Bradley Foundation paid at least $105,000 to George Mason to help fund the junkets and other educational programs.
Randa’s own financial disclosure forms do not match those listed on the website of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, which does not list attendance at any seminars since 2011.
The judge reported no travel reimbursement in 2010, but the Center for Public Integrity reported he had attended a 2011 seminar at George Mason on “the rule of law.”
George Mason listed the only funding for the 2012 conference as “xyz corp,” with itself as the only donor, although Koch, Bradley, and Exxon have consistently participated.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]