Public Unions

Inside the Raids and Investigations that Targeted Wisconsin's Conservative Leaders

Sunrise SWAT raids and secrecy orders


Totally not the target. Nope. Not at all.
Credit: Gage Skidmore / photo on flickr

Should Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker enter the race to snag the Republican Party nomination for president, it will be his huge battle with public sector unions that will separate him from other candidates. Other Republican governors (and certainly Democratic governors as well) have had their fights to try to rein in government employee unions as their costs (particularly their pensions and benefits) ramp up to dangerous levels. But the recall effort and other campaigns against Walker and union reform supporters brought it all to a whole new level.

Today National Review has a deeper look into the "lawfare" assault on conservative supporters of union regulation reform in Wisconsin. It's chilling in the sense that it's genuinely disturbing to read about massive SWAT-style raids called in on families as part of politically motivated effort to find some sort of crime to pin on conservative supporters. It's also about how these political attacks have been chilling the speech and activism of union reformers and conservatives in Wisconsin.

David French opens his lengthy look at what went down in Wisconsin surrounding Act 10 (that was the law that eliminated a significant amount of public sector union collective bargaining power) with eerily similar descriptions of three different police raids targeting families, complete with warnings not to speak publicly about what authorities had taken from them or to consult a lawyer:

Most Americans have never heard of these raids, or of the lengthy criminal investigations of Wisconsin conservatives. For good reason. Bound by comprehensive secrecy orders, conservatives were left to suffer in silence as leaks ruined their reputations, as neighbors, looking through windows and dismayed at the massive police presence, the lights shining down on targets' homes, wondered, no doubt, What on earth did that family do?

This was the on-the-ground reality of the so-called John Doe investigations, expansive and secret criminal proceedings that directly targeted Wisconsin residents because of their relationship to Scott Walker, their support for Act 10, and their advocacy of conservative reform.

Largely hidden from the public eye, this traumatic process, however, is now heading toward a legal climax, with two key rulings expected in the late spring or early summer. The first ruling, from the Wisconsin supreme court, could halt the investigations for good, in part by declaring that the "misconduct" being investigated isn't misconduct at all but the simple exercise of First Amendment rights.

The second ruling, from the United States Supreme Court, could grant review on a federal lawsuit brought by Wisconsin political activist Eric O'Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the first conservatives to challenge the investigations head-on. If the Court grants review, it could not only halt the investigations but also begin the process of holding accountable those public officials who have so abused their powers.

In conservative circles, the basics of this creepy legal fight have been known for a while, though if my Twitter feed is an indication, even they weren't aware of how oppressive these raids were or their larger impact. Here's how O'Keefe described the chilling effect the raids and investigations had on his group's work:

O'Keefe's associates began cancelling meetings with him and declining to take his calls, reasonably fearful that merely associating with him could make them targets of the investigation. O'Keefe was forced to abandon fundraising for the Club because he could no longer guarantee to donors that their identities would remain confidential, could not (due to the Secrecy Order) explain to potential donors the nature of the investigation, could not assuage donors' fears that they might become targets themselves, and could not assure donors that their money would go to fund advocacy rather than legal expenses. The Club was also paralyzed. Its officials could not associate with its key supporters, and its funds were depleted. It could not engage in issue advocacy for fear of criminal sanction.

The raids had the same traumatic effects on families that should be familiar to those who follow police tactics. Fortunately it doesn't appear that any people (or dogs) were injured, though one raid victim was well aware of law enforcement's reputation for killing canines and begged them, "Please don't shoot my dogs, please don't shoot my dogs, please don't shoot my dogs," according to French's report.

O'Keefe started speaking publicly about the nature of the raids last fall, and as is typical in today's political environment, he came under fire about the words he used to talk about it ("rape") and whether it would harm Walker's re-election effort (nope!) rather than the potential implications of what he was saying happened.

Read French's full story here. It's also in the May 4 print issue of the National Review.