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State ethics watchdog defends investigation of Walker, conservative groups

The AP

Wisconsin’s elections and ethics agency refuted in a court filing this week claims that it had improperly participated in a campaign finance investigation into Gov. Scott Walker and conservative groups that supported him. 

The Government Accountability Board’s filing comes after the Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the groups targeted in the probe, alleged in a complaint unsealed earlier in December that top GAB officials launched the investigation without first getting approval from the agency’s six-member board. The GAB then continued with the investigation, even after the board voted to end its involvement in July, the group’s complaint alleges.

In the GAB’s response, filed this week in Waukesha County Circuit Court, the agency said its board voted to authorize the probe after staff participation in it became “substantial.”

The GAB wrote that many of the Club for Growth’s allegations are based on inaccurate interpretations of the board’s authority. It also called the group’s claim that the probe continued after the board voted to stop it “groundless and frivolous and preposterous,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Madison State Journal reported.

Wisconsin Club for Growth is one of several organizations challenging the investigation into whether Walker illegally coordinated fundraising with conservative groups in 2011 and 2012. The probe began in secret, but details have filtered out through court documents.

The group sued the GAB in May, arguing the board overstretched its authority “by pursuing and funding a far-reaching criminal investigation into virtually every conservative-leaning group in Wisconsin.” Judge Lee Dreyfus Jr. unsealed much of the Club for Growth’s complaint on Dec. 19 at the group’s request.

The GAB denied in the Monday filing that it had “exceeded its statutory authority.”

A separate lawsuit pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court will determine whether the investigation moves forward or not.

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