Governor Walker may be subject of John Doe probe - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Gov. Walker forming legal defense fund, apparent subject of investigation

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MADISON (WKOW) – Gov. Scott Walker's campaign announced Friday it created a legal defense fund for him.

The announcement comes during an ongoing John Doe investigation in Milwaukee County that's targeted several of Walker's former aides.

Earlier Friday night, it appeared to mean the Governor was under criminal investigation, but we dug deeper and found that's not the only explanation for the fund.

"I think the people of Wisconsin deserve some clarification on this," said Jay Heck, Executive Director for Common Cause Wisconsin.

Walker's campaign said it created a legal defense fund to pay for expenses while cooperating with a secret Milwaukee County investigation.

That means he can transfer campaign money into the fund with consent from his campaign contributors.

"He will have no shortage of money to be able to use for his legal defense," Heck said.

The Government Accountability Board wouldn't comment but referred us to its summary of the law on legal defense funds for elected officials.  That summary seemed to say the only way the governor could set up a defense fund was if he was the target of an investigation.  

George Dunst, who worked as legal counsel for the Wisconsin Elections Board and the GAB for about 20 years, said otherwise.

"It is possible that it's an agent of his campaign being investigated, at least that's what the statute lays out," Dunst said.

He points out the law also allows for a fund if a dependent or a staff worker's dependent is being investigated.

Governor Walker's campaign spokesperson would only say, "It would be unwise to draw an opinion about what the statute means in terms of the action the campaign has taken setting up the defense fund."

"If the governor is not being investigated, then he has to explain why he set up a legal defense fund," Heck said.

The nearly two-year-old investigation has already resulted in criminal charges against four of Walker's former aides.

"I think the longer it drags out the less helpful it's going to be for Walker politically certainly," Heck said.

Governor Walker's spokesperson, Ciara Matthews, tells us Walker has not been told he's the target of the investigation.

When we asked if the governor was available today, she told us he was on public business not campaign business.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- It appears Governor Scott Walker took a step Friday to defend himself against possible criminal charges in the Milwaukee County John Doe investigation.

The Governor's campaign set up a "legal defense fund" for him.

That strongly suggests that Gov. Walker is a subject of that investigation.

There are very limited rules under which an elected official can set up a legal defense fund in Wisconsin and they all have to do with criminal violations.

Those guidelines are spelled out by the Government Accountability Board.

They state: "Wisconsin statutes permit a state government official who is being investigated for or charged with a violation of campaign finance laws or prohibited election practices, to establish a 'legal defense fund' for expenditures supporting or defending the candidate while that person is being investigated for, or charged with, or convicted of a violation of those chapters."

27 News talked with Gov. Walker's Campaign Spokesperson Ciara Matthews about that fund and she told us: "The defense fund was set up under the guidance of the GAB. Its important to reiterate that Gov. Walker has been told that he is not a target of the investigation."

When 27 News pointed out what the GAB's limited guidelines for such a fund are, Matthews said: "It would be unwise to draw an opinion about what the statute means in terms of the action the campaign has taken setting up the defense fund."

The John Doe investigation in Milwaukee County has been going on for more than a year.

It has already resulted in criminal charges against several of Scott Walker's former aides when he was the Milwaukee County Executive.

Kelly Rindfleisch faces four felony counts of misconduct in public office while Darlene Wink pled guilty to two misdemeanors of soliciting campaign funds on county time.

Another former aide in the County Executive's Office, Tim Russell, is charged with felony theft, as is Kevin Kavanaugh, who Walker appointed to the Milwaukee County Veterans Committee.

No one from the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office has said Gov. Walker is a target of their investigation, but it does appear the Governor would not legally be allowed to set up this legal defense fund if he wasn't.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker released a statement Friday saying he has formed a legal fund to pay for expenses related to the ongoing John Doe probe.

State law says elected officials can only set up such funds when they're being investigated for violations of campaign finance or election practices. To date, no one has said that's the case.

When asked about that, Walker campaign spokesperson, Ciara Matthews told 27 News the defense fund was set up under the guidance of the Government Accountability Board. 

Matthews also said,"It's important to reiterate that Governor Walker has been told that he is not a target of the investigation." Matthews added, "It would be unwise to draw an opinion about what the statute means in terms of the action the campaign has taken setting up the defense fund." 

Walker is still scheduled to meet with the Milwaukee County District Attorney about the county's ongoing investigation.

Five of Walker's former aides have been charged in the case.

Here's the statement from "The Friends of Scott Walker":

"For nearly two years,  Milwaukee County officials have been examining issues related to former employees of the County.  I have repeatedly pledged my cooperation with that inquiry.  I also made it clear that no public money has been used, or will be used, to pay for the attorneys needed to review documents and assist me in cooperating. To fulfill my commitment, I have today formed a legal fund to pay for the expenses incurred in cooperating with the inquiry. The fund will operate in accordance with the Wisconsin law authorizing these accounts, which was passed almost thirty years ago."

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