MADISON -- Governor Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers protected lead paint manufacturers after one of their owners helped Republicans win elections. That's according to documents leaked to the British newspaper The Guardian.
The documents are from the former John Doe investigation into Walker's 2012 recall campaign. It comes as prosecutors are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to re-open the case.
Who released them, and why now?
It could be a crime. But what's in the documents is just as controversial.
In the wake of Act 10, as recalls loomed against Governor Scott Walker and several Republican state senators, the governor's effort to defeat them ramped up.
Documents published by The Guardian newspaper show Walker went after corporate donors, directing them to the Wisconsin Club for Growth -- where there was no limit to how much they could give.
One man wrote a $10,000 check "because Scott Walker asked."
But there was bigger money to be had, according the The Guardian.
Harold Simmons, then-owner of NL Industries, sent one check, then another, then another -- totaling $750,000. Documents show the governor was warned that Simmons was controversial.
NL Industries had made lead paint before the U.S. banned it in 1978, and now faced lawsuits over health effects. The next year, in 2013, Republic Lawmakers and Walker passed legislation that retroactively protected lead paint makers from lawsuits.
Democrats called it "payback."
"I'm anxious for that Paul Harvey moment, 'now the rest of the story,' because I think there's a lot more to this story we still don't know about," said Peter Barca.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Walker in the 2012 recall race, said he was shocked by the lead paint details.
"I have to admit, my reaction was 'wow,'" said Mayor Barrett.
Before the Wisconsin Supreme Court shut down the John Doe last year, investigators were looking into whether Walker's campaign illegally coordinated with the Club for Growth.
Three prosecutors want the U.S. Supreme Court to look at the case.
In the meantime, the John Doe materials were supposed to be kept secret.
Democrats responded Wednesday at the Capitol, "If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it looks like a duck, it's most likely a duck," said Senate Minority Leader Peter Barca. "It's up to Scott Walker to tell us why this isn't a poisoned duck."
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, one of the John Doe prosecutors, says whoever leaked the documents to the The Guardian committed a crime.
Walker's campaign spokesman, responded to the story, saying "there is absolutely no evidence of any wrongdoing" in the John Doe case.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office released the following statement in regards to the leaked documents:
"John Doe materials are secret materials. The public release of this John Doe evidence without court authorization is not merely a violation of the John Doe secrecy order; it is a crime under Wisconsin law. As Special Prosecutor Fran Schmitz has done in the past when other secret materials have been publicly disclosed, we support any effort that may be undertaken to determine the source of these newest leaks."
Assembly Democrats responded to the investigation with the following:
In the aftermath of an investigative journalism report from The Guardian released this morning, Assembly Democrats responded to the shocking and explosive documents the newspaper uncovered. The report raises serious questions regarding whether Gov. Walker was partaking in pay-to-play politics and illegally coordinating with corporations and special interests to raise funds for the Club for Growth. Following the press conference, Assembly Democratic leaders Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) released the following statement:
“This explosive investigative piece brings to light the incredibly questionable behavior by the governor and the Republican legislature,” Rep. Barca said. “Because Scott Walker asked, the era of clean and open government is over. Now we know why the Republicans worked so mightily to keep these documents from the public. Now we know why the Republicans have been passing legislation to keep their jobs instead of serving the people of Wisconsin. Now we know why Wisconsin has some of the worst campaign finance laws in the country. Because Scott Walker asked.
“Democrats have been pushing back against this contemptable assault on our democracy by the governor and legislative Republicans. We need to continue to tirelessly fight to bring transparency and openness back to Wisconsin, especially in light of the air of corruption surrounding the Capitol,” said Barca.
Rep. Shankland added, “Today’s report from The Guardian brings into serious question the integrity and character of Scott Walker and those legislative Republicans who knew of these troubling allegations while they were unfolding. In Walker’s Wisconsin, money speaks. Our democracy hinges on our ability to maintain transparency and serve the people’s interests, yet the allegations revealed today point to bills going to the highest bidder in Walker’s Wisconsin. The report released this morning leaves us with more questions than answers.
“According to the report, millions of dollars were funneled to the shadowy Club for Growth at Walker’s request. Who knew? Did Republican legislators know about it when they voted to exempt themselves from John Doe investigations, blast open the doors to corporate campaign donors, and neuter the nonpartisan government watchdog into a partisan lapdog? The appearance of quid-pro-quo corruption and illegal coordination between the governor and corporate interest groups is extremely damning and deserves further scrutiny. Assembly Democrats will continue to fight for clean and transparent government and speak out against Republican efforts to rig the rules to keep their jobs,” Shankland concluded.
CLICK HERE to read the Supreme Court of Wisconsin's opinion in this case
CLICK HERE for further coverage of the two "John Doe" investigations involving Governor Scott Walker