MILWAUKEE (CN) - The Milwaukee district attorney has "paraded six convictions around in support of (the) legitimacy" of a politically biased attack on Gov. Scott Walker's administration, the right-wing Wisconsin Club for Growth claims in a federal lawsuit.
The Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director Eric O'Keefe accuse Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, assistant district attorneys Bruce Landgraf and David Robles, investigator Dean Nickel and presiding Judge Gregory Peterson of constitutional violations.
The 76-page lawsuit in stems from the unsuccessful recall election against Walker, who severely limited the rights of public workers and their unions in a "budget repair bill."
"Of the many efforts to attack Governor Walker tried by his opponents, none proved so persistent as the investigation conducted continuously for nearly four years by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office under the guidance of John Chisholm, Bruce Landgraf and David Robles," the lawsuit states. "Begun on pretextual grounds in 2010, the investigation grew into an ongoing audit of the Walker campaigns, allowing prosecutors an inside track to scrutinize actions of Walker staffers as they were taken, despite that they were unrelated to the original purported purpose of the investigation. It also allowed the Milwaukee District Attorney's office to influence public opinion through leaks of selective information meant to embarrass Walker and his campaign. The investigation became a rallying cry for Democratic Party members and candidates and a central issue in the Walker recall right up until the [recall] election."
Chisholm, a Democrat, is supported by unions that were affected by the bill, the heavily redacted complaint says.
Of the 226 paragraphs in the lawsuit, 74 are completely blacked out and 35 are blacked out in part.
"(I)nformation from the investigation routinely reached the public at critical times during the 2010 gubernatorial election, the 2011 budget battle, and the 2011 and 2012 recall elections," according to paragraph 157, about 45 percent of which is blacked out.
O'Keefe calls the first phase of the probe, from May 5, 2010 to Feb. 21, 2013, a "fishing expedition" that allowed the prosecutors to "engage in intimidating behavior and harassment to achieve the goals of their politically motivated quest."
A section of the lawsuit captioned, "The Convictions Obtained from the Investigation Do Not Legitimize It" states:
"The investigation has, to date, been a complete failure. Although the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office paraded six convictions around in support of its legitimacy, none of these convictions in any way implicated Walker's staff for campaign-finance violations, the county bidding process, or Walker's conduct of his gubernatorial administration, and, thus, the convictions can in no way legitimize these detours. Thus, the convictions are entirely unrelated to the politicized bent of the investigation - which turned up nothing" - a line and a quarter are then blacked out.
The next paragraph begins: "In October 2012, Kevin Kavanaugh was convicted of embezzlement from the funds belonging to Operation Freedom. Kavanaugh's conviction simply represents what would have been the result of a disciplined, ethical investigation undertaken without political motivation."
Kavanaugh, a Walker appointed, was convicted of stealing $51,000 from veterans' groups.
O'Keefe claims that he and his group have been "singled out" in the "second phase" of the investigation, which was announced in October 2013, spans more than five counties and involves "29 conservative groups."
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Sources have said prosecutors are looking at whether groups such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth coordinated illegally with GOP candidates during the 2011 and 2012 recall races. In the most prominent contest, Walker in June 2012 became the first governor in the nation's history to win a recall election."
O'Keefe claims the investigation is "calculated to chill protected speech" and has him O'Keefe and his club until the investigation ends.
"As the investigation is ongoing throughout the 2014 legislative session and campaign period, the investigation will have the intended effect of silencing plaintiffs' in Wisconsin during the 2014 legislative session and election cycle," O'Keefe claims
He seeks compensatory damages for constitutional violations, and an injunction stopping the investigation.
O'Keefe, a longtime supporter of conservative causes, is represented by David Rivkin with BakerHostetler, in Washington, D.C.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office did not return a request for comment.