Foiled Again

Liberals Lose to Scott Walker in Wisconsin Again

Conservative justices in Wisconsin handed the governor’s allies a win Thursday in the ‘John Doe’ election scandal. But liberals say the deck was stacked against them from the beginning.

Ethan Miller/Getty

The gods are smiling on Scott Walker.

And by the gods, I mean four of the six Badger State’s supreme court justices, who just put the kibosh on a lengthy and secret “John Doe” investigation that targeted some of the governor’s top allies and like-minded groups.

The investigation was sparked over allegations that outside independent groups who supported Walker secretly coordinated with Wisconsin Republicans during the run-up to the 2012 recall vote.

John Doe refers to a Wisconsin law that lets prosecutors investigate suspects to determine whether or not they have probable cause, according to Marcus Berghahn, of Hurley, Burish, and Stanton Law Firm.

This particular John Doe proceeding—conducted in secret—investigated got kicked off in 2012 because, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes, prosecutors suspected that Walker’s gubernatorial campaign illegally coordinated with the Wisconsin Club for Growth.

The special prosecutor referred to it as an “a criminal scheme” and to prove it, investigators pointed to documents that seemed to show Walker urging donors to contribute to the advocacy groups, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The court’s decision—split 4-2 along ideological lines—ruled that the state’s anti-coordination law is too broad and vague to comply with the First Amendment.

But even though Team Walker won and progressives lost, Wisconsinites on both sides are not ready to move on. And prosecutor Francis Schmitz has indicated he may try to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Progressives say the justices should have recused themselves, because they benefited from issue-advocacy ads.

“The four justices whose opinion halts an investigation and possible prosecution of Walker’s campaign and allies and orders records to be destroyed were the beneficiaries of at least $10 million in campaign spending by parties named in the investigation,” said a statement from progressive group One Wisconsin Now issued after the decision.

As you might expect, conservatives strongly back the state’s top court—and are univocal in their support of the conservative justices who moved to call off the secret investigation. Rick Esenberg, the president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, said the four made the right call by choosing not to recuse themselves. His group filed an amicus brief for the side that ultimately won.

“I don’t think it can be the case that the mere fact that somebody has spent money on issue advocacy means that you can never hear a case in which they’re involved,” he said.

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The John Doe investigators targeted a number of members from throughout Wisconsin conservatives’ infrastructure in the state—an infrastructure whose operations that has been remarkably efficient and effective.

“They issued subpoenas or search warrants to virtually every conservative or libertarian 501(c)4 advocacy organization in the state,” he continued. “So they were all involved, in a way, almost every one of them.”

To assert that investigating conservative advocacy organizations means conservative justices can’t rule on the case, Esenberg argues, is unfair.

“It’s a little bit like the guy who kills his parents and then pleads for clemency because he’s an orphan,” Esenberg said. “They don’t get to remove one side of the political spectrum from the bench because they’ve attacked the entire advocacy structure on that side of the political spectrum.”

And investigators’ use of SWAT teams and no-knock raids drew criticism from both ends of the ideological spectrum. Salon’s Heather Digby Parton called the no-knock raids “disturbing.”

Matt Kittle, the editor-in-chief of the conservative news site Wisconsin Watchdog, characterized the investigation as Nixonian.

“This was, based on our investigation over the last few years, one of the more abusive probes in our lifetimes in the state of Wisconsin, and I think it goes up against any nationally,” he said. “This was politically motivated, the court made that clear today.”

But Wisconsin progressives argue that that all misses the point.

State Senator Chris Larson said the ruling is “the definition of corruption.”

“If you asked the average person on the street, ‘Draw me a picture of what a corrupt system looks like,’ this would be too obvious to them,” he said. “This is it. This is what they would draw.”

“This is our state,” he continued. “And hey, if Walker keeps going, this will be the country.”