Supporters of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker are being targeted by a state’s special prosecutor with subpoenas, demanding they turn over documents dealing with the 2011 and 2012 recall campaigns that were designed to unseat Walker.
The Wall Street Journal reports that there are two subpoenas from special prosecutor Francis Schmitz requiring the release of “all memoranda, email . . . correspondence, and communications” both inside the subpoena targets and also between the subpoena targets and roughly 30 conservative groups. Some of the groups involved are the Friends of Scott Walker and the Republican Party of Wisconsin, the League of American Voters, Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Americans for Prosperity–Wisconsin, American Crossroads, and the Republican Governors Association.
One subpoena also wants to ferret out who the donors to the conservative groups are, stating its demand for “all records of income received, including fundraising information and the identity of persons contributing to the corporation.”
The beginning of this latest action against conservative groups originated in the office of Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf. Landgraf works for Milwaukee County Democratic District Attorney John Chisholm, and the timing is highly suspicious, because the subpoenas were issued just before Democrat Mary Burke announced her candidacy for Governor. Because the investigation is taking place under Wisconsin’s John Doe law, which forbids the subpoena’s targets from disclosing its contents publicly, the targets cannot publicly defend themselves, which makes it difficult to ascertain how severe the action is.
But Eric O’Keefe, the director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, confirmed he received a subpoena in early October and revealed that at least three of the homes of the targets of the subpoenas were raided by law-enforcement officers who grabbed their computers and their files.
The attempt by the prosecutor to bully conservative groups into silence is reminiscent of the 2012 effort by the Cincinnati office of the IRS to publish the tax-exempt applications of several conservative groups by releasing them to the ProPublica news website.
The Journal writes:
The subpoenas don’t spell out a specific allegation, but the demands suggest the government may be pursuing a theory of illegal campaign coordination by independent groups during the recall elections. If prosecutors are pursuing a theory that independent conservative groups coordinated with candidate campaigns during the recall, their goal may be to transform the independent expenditures into candidate committees after the fact, requiring revision of campaign-finance disclosures and possible criminal charges.
In 2010, Chisholm’s office tried to pursue Walker by investigating his staffers, In three years they came up with very little: one aide sent campaign emails while he was on the clock and two aides confessed to stealing money. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who was running against Walker in the recall, bloviated, “I have a police department that arrests felons, he has a practice of hiring them.”
One of the search warrants apparently came from Dean Nickel, a who has worked as an investigator for the Government Accountability Board (GAB). The GAB has fought with Eric O’Keefe’s Wisconsin Club for Growth over the GAB’s push for harsher regulations of issue advertising.
The Journal concludes, “Perhaps the probe will turn up some nefarious activity that warrants this subpoena monsoon and home raids. But in the meantime the effect is to limit political speech by intimidating these groups from participating in the 2014 campaign. Stifling allies of Mr. Walker would be an enormous in-kind contribution to Democrats. Even if no charges are filed, the subpoenas will have served as a form of speech suppression.”
Mr. O’Keefe said that the subpoenas “froze my communications and frightened many allies and vendors of the pro-taxpayer political movement in Wisconsin and across the country.” He finished by noting that even if there was no crime involved, “the process is the punishment.”