Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin quietly tried to slip through a bill that was "designed" to decriminalize campaign abuses after prosecutors began investigating Gov. Scott Walker's (R) associates over illegal issue ads during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, a report suggested this week.
For several years, prosecutors have been investigating the possibility that Walker's campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups, like the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, and the Wisconsin Club for Growth. In October of 2013, the so-called John Doe investigation executed search warrants on two of Walker's top associates, and subpoenaed the director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth.
The Center for Media and Democracy revealed on Tuesday that just weeks after those search warrants were executed, Senators Mary Lazich (R) and Zach Bemis (R) began working on a bill that "would have had the effect of legalizing the issue ad coordination under investigation."
When Republicans in the state Senate tried -- and failed -- to push through Senate Bill 654 in March of 2014, most experts thought it was simply an effort to limit disclosures in political campaigns. No mention was made of the Walker scandal, but the manner in which the bill was fast-tracked for a vote was puzzling.
"Forget, for a moment, the troubling provisions in these bills," the Wisconsin State Journal wrote at the time. "What's most offensive is their late unveiling and speedy hearings that are designed to dodge public scrutiny."
Lazich and Bemis also failed to disclose that three groups that were registered to lobby for SB 654 had been linked to the Walker scandal.
Common Cause Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck told the Center for Media and Democracy that it seemed "inconceivable" at the time that Republicans would try to change the law to influence an ongoing investigation.
"I'm just in disbelief at how brazen this is," he said.