If you remember the IRS scandal, where the IRS slow-walked unnumerable applications for non-profit tax status of conservative groups, you probably will see what is happening in Wisconsin as the next step. Last weekend, The Wall Street Journal featured a brief look at what is essentially legal persecution of virtually every group that helped Governor Scott Walker survive his recall election last year.
A bit of background is in order. Public unions had dominated local politics, especially school boards, for years. They had so much power at the school board level that the teachers’ union had their own health insurance company able to overcharge for health insurance. Further, even though the Milwaukee County public employees’ union did not ask for the pension enhancers that led Walker to run for and become Milwaukee County Executive back in 2002, they refused to give them up and were otherwise thorns in Walker’s side throughout his 8-plus years as County Executive.
Near the end of his run as County Executive, Walker asked the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, headed by Democrat John Chisolm, to open a John Doe investigation into an appointee suspected of embezzeling funds intended for veterans. That morphed into a multi-year investigation of Walker’s county staff and donors to his 2010 gubernatorial campaign headed by assistant district attorney Bruce Landgraf. Despite the fact that the John Doe proceedings are supposed to be secret, many tidbits that were played by the media, and specifically the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as the Democrat Party of Wisconsin as embarrassing to Walker leaked out during the run-up to his recall election in 2012. After plea-deal convictions of 6 low-level people including the original target, and rather questionable tactics against several people later exonerated, including jailing a businessman for contempt of court because he refused to break state law and turn over credit-card information, that John Doe investigation quietly ended shortly after Walker won his recall election.
Landgraf, apparently unsatisfied that the first John Doe investigation wouldn’t get Walker out of office, opened up a second John Doe targeting virtually every vocal group supporting Walker and the 11 Republican state senators who faced recall elections even before the 2012 set of elections. M.D. Kittle of Wisconsin Reporter has been doing yeoman’s work on the various aspects of this, and I will refer you to Wisconsin Reporter for the 13 pieces (so far) he has written.
In short, the groups are being targeted with subpoenas asking for all communications they made since 2011 and their donor lists, something that is, if memory serves, not a public document in Wisconsin. The fact that it is a John Doe investigation means that the targets are not to disclose that they are targets under penalty of law.
Three unnamed targets of the second John Doe have tried to get it stopped as an overly-broad overreach of prosecutorial power. A 3-judge panel on the Madison-based 4th District Court of Appeals shot that down yesterday. One of the judges was Joanne Kloppenberg, last seen failing to steal a Supreme Court seat from Justice David Prosser in 2011. A second was Brian Blanchard, architect of the Capitol caucus “scandal” in 2002 that attempted to make the Dane County branch of the DPW the dominant power in Wisconsin politics.