MILWAUKEE (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker said Friday he has set up a legal defense fund to pay for two attorneys representing him in a Milwaukee County investigation, under a state law that allows such a move for officeholders if they're charged or under investigation for election or campaign violations.
The move appears to indicate for the first time that Walker himself is being investigated by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.
Walker had previously said he was cooperating with the investigation but never said he was being investigated directly. He has not been charged with wrongdoing. He has also said he's agreed to meet with prosecutors, but has repeatedly declined to be specific about its timing.
"The only thing I can say is that the fund had been set up under the guidance of the GAB (Government Accountability Board)," campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said. "And we reiterate that Gov. Walker has been told he is not a target of this investigation."
Even if he isn't a direct target of investigation, prosecutors could still investigate him in the course of probing others.
The secret investigation has already led to charges against five people who worked for or were associated with Walker's county executive office in Milwaukee before he was elected governor in 2010.
One former aide pleaded guilty to working on Walker's gubernatorial campaign on county time, and his former deputy chief of staff is charged with felony misconduct in office. Two other former Walker associates were charged with embezzling more than $60,000 from veterans and their families, and a fifth is charged with child enticement, evidence of which was allegedly discovered while investigating one of the others.
A message left with Chisholm was not immediately returned.
Walker's campaign initially announced the fund Friday afternoon, hours after the liberal group One Wisconsin Now demanded to know who is paying Walker's legal bills. The campaign released a statement quoting Walker as saying no public money has been used, or will be used, to pay for his attorneys in the matter.
"To fulfill my commitment, I have today formed a legal fund to pay for the expenses incurred in cooperating with the inquiry," the statement said.
But according to Wisconsin statutes, a legal defense fund can be set up for state government officials only if they are being investigated for or are charged with a violation of campaign-finance laws or prohibited election practices.
Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, directed reporters to the agency's web page detailing the relevant Wisconsin statutes. He said he couldn't comment beyond that.
According to the website, officials can transfer a donation into a legal defense fund only if they have the contributor's consent. Lobbyists can't contribute to the funds, and the official creating the fund has to release the names of all donors who give at least $50.
Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said the announcement of the legal fund suggests Walker is "central to the criminal investigation."
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