Judge Blocks Anti-Conservative Witch-Hunt in Wisconsin

scott-walker-cover-why-we-chose-620x395The relentless efforts by Wisconsin leftists to undermine Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow conservatives—by any means necessary—has taken another hit. In a 26-page decision, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa granted a preliminary injunction halting a politically-motivated John Doe investigation that probed campaign spending and fundraising by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign, Eric O’Keefe, his Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCFG), and other conservative entities. “The Defendants must cease all activities related to the investigation, return all property seized in the investigation from any individual or organization, and permanently destroy all copies of information and other materials obtained through the investigation,” Randa wrote.

Randa illuminated his contempt for the investigation. “The defendants are pursuing criminal charges through a secret John Doe investigation against the plaintiffs for exercising issue advocacy speech rights that on their face are not subject to the regulations or statutes the defendants seek to enforce. This legitimate exercise of O‘Keefe‘s rights as an individual, and WCFG‘s rights as a 501(c)(4) corporation, to speak on the issues has been characterized by the defendants as political activity covered by Chapter 11 of the Wisconsin Statutes, rendering the plaintiffs a subcommittee of the Friends of Scott Walker (―FOSW‖) and requiring that money spent on such speech be reported as an in-kind campaign contribution. This interpretation is simply wrong.” 

As a result, Randa ordered that the plaintiffs “and others” are “hereby relieved of any and every duty under Wisconsin law to cooperate further with Defendants‘ investigation. Any attempt to obtain compliance by any Defendant or John Doe Judge Gregory Peterson is grounds for a contempt finding by this Court.” 

The ruling completely undermines the efforts of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, a Democrat, who launched the probe in mid-2012, shortly after Democrats’ failure to remove Walker in a recall election prompted by the passage of Act 10. That piece of legislation limited the power of unions to collectively bargain, setting the stage for a ferocious pushback that included Democratic state legislators fleeing the state to prevent a vote on the issue, an effort to effect a liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the purpose of overturning the law, and the attempt to remove Walker in the aforementioned recall vote that ultimately failed.

The unseemly probe, led by special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, targeted Walker and 29 conservative groups. Dozens of subpoenas were issued demanding documents related to the 2011 and 2012 campaigns aimed at recalling Walker and several Republican state legislators. The probe itself expanded into a five-county investigation as a result of cooperation with the Government Accountability Board (GAB), that operates as Wisconsin’s election and campaign speech regulator. Besides Walker and the WCFG, other targeted groups included the League of American Voters, Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Americans for Prosperity—Wisconsin, American Crossroads, the Republican Governors Association, and the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Because the investigation took place under the state’s John Doe law, prosecutors were empowered to issue subpoenas and conduct searches, even as gag orders prevented the targets of the probe from publicly defending themselves.While the investigation was ongoing, O’Keefe told the Wall Street Journal that he was aware of at least three of the investigation’s targets being subjected to dawn raids of their homes, with law-enforcement officers seizing computers and files.

In a testament to Democratic relentlessness, this was the second probe of Walker in the last four years. In 2010, Chisholm spearhead a Joe Doe effort to investigate whether staffers used their offices for political purposes when Walker was Milwaukee County Executive. After three years Walker emerged unscathed when retired Appeals Court Judge Neal Nettesheim signed an order shutting down that secret investigation.

Randa described the heavy-handed tactics employed by law-enforcement officials in the second probe. “Sheriff deputy vehicles used bright floodlights to illuminate the targets’ homes,” he wrote. “Deputies executed the search warrants, seizing business papers, computer equipment, phones, and other devices, while their targets were restrained under police supervision and denied the ability to contact their attorneys. Among the materials seized were many of the Club’s records that were in the possession of Ms. Jordahl and Mr. Johnson,” Randa continued. “The warrants indicate that they were executed at the request of GAB investigator Dean Nickel.”

The latest injunction was a response to the civil rights lawsuit filed in February by O’Keefe and the WCFG against Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs, Schmitz, and an investigator contracted by the Government Accountability Board. That suit alleged that the John Doe investigation constituted a violation of the targeted groups’ First Amendment rights in what amounted to a partisan witch-hunt aimed at punishing Walker, et al., for their recent political success. 

The prosecutors-turned-defendants attempted to derail Randa’s ruling with an emergency stay filed Monday with the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. It followed Randa’s rejection the previous week of a motion to stay his ruling that allowed the civil rights suit against these prosecutors to move forward. In that ruling, Randa contended the effort was nothing more than an attempt to “derail” his decision, and that he was “inclined to agree” with O’Keefe’s contention that efforts to obtain relief were frivolous. Prosecutors had contended that the federal court had no jurisdiction in the matter, citing the U.S. Constitution’s Eleventh Amendment limitation on federal judicial powers with regard to the states.

Randa didn’t buy it, asserting that “if the defendants are violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, the Eleventh Amendment does not apply and the plaintiffs are entitled to injunctive relief.”

In this latest ruling, Randa shot down the John Doe investigators’ assertion that, even though issue advocacy that rightfully omits direct advocacy for or against a candidate is permissible, it “does not create a free-speech safe harbor when expenditures are coordinated between a candidate and a third-party organization.” They sought to portray the WCFG and other targeted organizations as a “subcommittee of the Friends of Scott Walker,” and thus subject to Chapter 11 of Wisconsin campaign finance statutes, “requiring that money spent on such speech be reported as an in-kind campaign contribution.”

“This interpretation is simply wrong,” the judge wrote drawing on the recent Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC that invalidated aggregate limits on campaign donations. Describing that ruling as a “a ringing endorsement of the full protection afforded to political speech,” Randa explained that while issue advocacy may involve like-minded entities sharing the same political philosophies as a candidate, such advocacy does not constitute quid quo pro. 

“O‘Keefe and the Club obviously agree with Governor Walker‘s policies, but coordinated ads in favor of those policies carry no risk of corruption because the Club‘s interests are already aligned with Walker and other conservative politicians,” the ruling states. “Such ads are meant to educate the electorate, not curry favor with corruptible candidates.”

He further characterized the prosecutors’ attempt to conflate issue advocacy and express advocacy as “interpretive legerdemain.” “If correct, this means that any individual or group engaging in any kind of coordination with a candidate or campaign would risk forfeiting their right to engage in political speech,” Randa wrote.

Schmitz said late Tuesday he expects to challenge the decision by appealing to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. “I’m virtually assured we will appeal this decision,” he declared. “I have to consult with the others and my attorney” before making a “final decision.” His attorney, Randall Crocker, issued a statement saying he “will carefully review the decision of Judge Randa and address with our client his responsibilities pursuant to his appointment and his options.”

University of Wisconsin professor Donald Downs, who was stunned by the decision, predicts a reversal of Randa’s ruling could prompt a move to the U.S. Supreme Court. “If the Seventh Circuit reverses, it’ll go to the Supreme Court, believe me. And they’ll take it because they’re hot to trot on these issues right now,” he said.

In the meantime, another effort to derail Gov. Scott Walker has crashed and burned. Moreover, he remains favored in the 2014 race against Democrat Gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke by an average margin of 5.2 percentage points. It will be interesting to see what happens to that margin now that Judge Randa has unshackled conservative advocacy groups from their would-be oppressors—oppressors who have never put Democratic advocacy groups under the same prosecutorial microscope, or subjected them to the same paramilitary raids conducted here.

“The plaintiffs have been shut out of the political process merely by association with conservative politicians,” Randa wrote. “This cannot square with the First Amendment and what it was meant to protect.” Exactly.

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  • tickletik

    Not enough. Lawsuits such as these are still effective by acting as a means of inflicting pain on the innocent.

    There must be painful and harsh consequences for this kind of thing. Somehow Wisconsin conservatives must associate this vicious attack with those responsible, bring it to the public mind AND MAKE IT STICK.

    • CaoMoo

      there needs to be fines and jailtime for such serious abuses of power. The Prosecutor should be disbarred as well.

    • spyeatte

      The left has learned well from Soviet criminal justice procedures. The only thing missing is a Gulag network.

  • truebearing

    The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the lower court’s ruling, so it looks like it is headed to the Supreme Court.

    The Left will do anything to get revenge on Walker and reverse the end of collective extortion, aka Act 10. The Madison Left is snickering about the stay, knowing full well that the John Doe is an abuse of power and totally without merit. That means nothing to the scum that make up Madison’s hate-obsessed Maoists, Leninists, Socialists, Gramscians, and every other perverted political cult that ever derived from Marxism.

    • bigjulie

      Amen, TB! Most people have no idea how seriously Wisconsinites take their unionism! I was born and raised there. I have a brother who was big in a Union there for decades. We don’t even speak anymore. Despite all the really remarkable things Scott Walker has done to turn freedom and state finances around to benefit Wisconsin citizens, he is roundly hated by Unionists, including my brother!
      A lot of these Wisconsin union folk sincerely believe that, once a union makes a decision, it has the force of law and the unions have some kind of “right” to do whatever the hell they want…unchecked by laws that govern ordinary citizens. Governor Walker has a lot of courage to take them on, but worse, take them on and WIN!
      Scott Walker has the rare, but absolutely necessary mix of Common Sense combined with sheer guts that all of us could benefit from if he were a Presidential candidate. He saw a lot of wrong in what unions were doing in Wisconsin and to Wisconsin and he has made great strides in righting those wrongs.
      Wisconsin is at once a hotbed of union activity and a haven for extreme Leftism, particularly in Madison. That’ll keep the pot boiling there for decades to come.

    • keith

      This country needs a constitutional amendment, banning the communist party as inimical to a free people.

  • http://www.kosmetyk.nl/ serrok

    Wypatrujesz sklepu, który sprzedaje kosmetyki? Posiadasz dość kupowania drogich preparatów w prostych drogeriach? Jeżeli odpowiadasz twierdząco, to na pewno spodoba Tobie się stworzona przez nas strona internetowa, która oferuje sprzedaż wysyłkową kosmetyków. Prowadzimy polski sklep, w którym sprzedajemy preparaty. Jeżeli w takim razie pragniesz nabyć coś dla Ciebie bądź jako prezent – nie czekaj. Czekamy na witrynie polskie kosmetyki. Tutaj możesz wybrać dowolny produkt, tutaj możesz skoncentrować się na tym, co najlepsze oraz najtańsze. Gwarantujemy, że nie odnajdziesz bardziej odpowiedniej do Twoich wymagań oferty. Gwarantujemy, że nasze kosmetyki są optymalne oraz

  • adumbrate

    I agree with Tickle – there needs to be a serious penalty for this nonsense.

    An 8 figure fine. These are parasites who believe conservatives (people whom disagree with their Oppression) are evil – so must be stopped. Like this professor and his kind – they actually believe they are some kind of crusaders out to rid the world of people whom disagree or believe in individual choice. It is a disease that must be mocked and fined.

    • nomoretraitors

      no, it’s a disease that must be DESTROYED

      • Odin2

        A huge fine for their party, their organization, and the individuals with joint and sevral liability would be a start. The money collected could be used to fund charter schools in Wisconsin.

  • Elizabeth Cape Cod

    Liberals are pernicious bullies. Make them pay!

  • LoJoFo

    Sounds like a war zone. Coming soon to a town near you.

  • Red Baker

    Theh secret police are here. They are Democrats. Their motto is “by any means necessary”. As Reagan said “”Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

  • nimbii

    I think this was appealed last night to the 7th Circuit that held the John Doe investigation is not stopped at this time?

    • Rob Hobart

      Nope. The appeal was immediately reversed.

  • LisaPNevarez

    In the meantime, another effort to derail Gov. Scott Walker has crashed and burned. http://num.to/478878905061

    • keith

      Walker’s Campaign for Re-election should recap how much taxpayer’s money these UNelected leftists are wasting, and tie this around the Wisconsin Democrat’s necks.

      Wake up, Wisconsin. Wake up, America.

  • James_IIa

    Judge Randa is Republican while the court of appeals is Democratic. I know I’m not supposed to put it so bluntly, but it looks as though we’ll see additional procedural wrangling and delays, which all tend to hurt the plaintiff.

  • 1776Patriot

    Like I always say…..
    Obama and the DemonRATS are the PERSONIFICATION of HATE and EVIL!!!!!
    They prove it each and every day.

  • Judy Eaton

    Out for blood as usual.

  • Lanna

    Darn Straight! The Left has to go after Scott Walker who is a real reformer…he has made a huge difference in his state, creating jobs, budget surpluses, and lowering taxes….something the left does not like…..They spend other people’s money and continually want more revenues to feed their bad habits!

  • antioli

    The Left Wing abusers of due process can not proceed with their abuse says the 7th court. But they can keep the papers they stole.

    Next step go after the IRS. Just following orders is no defense .

  • Amanda P.

    Man the leftist freaks are getting vicious. Real conservatives need to stand united because if these megalomaniacs ever manage to seize total power, it’s not going to be pretty.