Campaign Finance

Speech Crimes in Wisconsin

How a campaign finance investigation became a war on conservative activists

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Last week the Wisconsin Supreme Court shut down a secret criminal investigation that featured early-morning raids on the homes of innocent people and indiscriminate seizures of email, documents, and personal property. You may be surprised to hear that the Brennan Center for Justice, which usually defends Fourth Amendment rights, denounced the court's decision.

Since this unconstitutional inquisition was prompted by the targets' exercise of their First Amendment rights, the Brennan Center's position is especially puzzling. It shows how the attempt to control corruption by controlling speech has corrupted the principles of civil libertarians.

The Wisconsin investigation, which was initiated by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm in 2010, eventually encompassed "all or nearly all right-of-center groups and individuals in Wisconsin who engaged in issue advocacy from 2010 to the present," as U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa explained in a 2014 ruling. The targets, which included about 30 conservative organizations, were suspected of coordinating their activities with Gov. Scott Walker, who at the time was engaged in a bitter struggle with Democrats over public employees' bargaining rights that culminated in an unsuccessful recall campaign against him.

There was little evidence of such coordination, which in any event was not a crime. That's right: As Randa concluded in response to a lawsuit brought by conservative activist Eric O'Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the entire investigation was based on an offense that does not exist.  

"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," Randa said, calling the prosecutors' interpretation of campaign finance law "simply wrong." Finding that "the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that the defendants' investigation violates their rights under the First Amendment," he issued a preliminary injunction.

Randa's injunction was overturned by an appeals court based on a law that limits federal judges' authority to intervene in state proceedings. But a state judge who took over supervision of the investigation after the original judge recused herself already had reached the same conclusion, and last week the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed: In light of the relevant First Amendment decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, Wisconsin's rule against coordination must be read as applying only to "express advocacy"—i.e., speech explicitly calling for a candidate's election or defeat.

Since prosecutors never even alleged that the Club for Growth or any of the other groups had engaged in express advocacy, there was no crime to be investigated. The targets were nevertheless treated like criminals.

"The search warrants were executed at approximately 6:00 a.m. on October 3, 2013, in pre-dawn, armed, paramilitary-style raids in which bright floodlights were used to illuminate the targets' homes," the Wisconsin Supreme Court noted. It added that "the breadth of the documents gathered pursuant to subpoenas and seized pursuant to search warrants is amazing." They included "wholly irrelevant information, such as retirement income statements, personal financial account information, personal letters, and family photos."

In an eye-opening National Review report last April, David French described the lasting psychological impact of this heavy-handed scrutiny. One woman, awakened by armed men demanding entry, rushed to the door half-naked and had no time to put her dogs out. She was terrified, with good reason, that the cops would shoot them. "I no longer feel safe," she told French, "and I don't think I ever will."

Afterward, although the investigation was hardly a secret anymore, the targets were legally forbidden to discuss it or defend themselves. The cloud of suspicion and the fear of criminal liability by association crippled their political activities and sent a chilling message to other supporters of Walker's policies.

These are the sort of abuses that the Brennan Center would condemn in the context of the War on Drugs or the War on Terror. Evidently the War on Conservative Activism requires sterner measures.

© Copyright 2015 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. “How a campaign finance investigation became…”

    Umm, it was never that. You don’t raid multiple suburban homes at gunpoint, at dawn, and take everything when you’re really trying to investigate something as mundane as campaign finance violations. The feds didn’t even do that to D’Souza.

    1. you have no clue what you are talking about.

      there have been SWAT raids in this country over traffic infractions and unpaid student loans. If you think this articles claims are incredible you havent been paying attention.

      1. I assume he’s not doubting the actual SWAT raid, but instead doubting it’s truly about a campaign finance violation.

  2. It shows how the attempt to control corruption by controlling speech has corrupted the principles of civil libertarians.

    This assumes they had principles in the first place.

    1. By “corruption” don’t the looters really mean fiscal noncompliance?

  3. I am sure the NYT and Sunday news shows are going to discuss this new American fascism in breathless, outraged detail.

    1. Yeah, did you hear what Trump said?

  4. The Brennan Center? You mean, somebody actually expected something connected with NYU to criticize the Democratic party machine? Right when the chosen one has brought us THIS CLOSE to establishing glorious New Soviet Man paradise on earth?! Everybody needs to be brought in for the big win, at gunpoint and in chains if necessary.

  5. I a just world, Chisholm would be getting ready to spend a long, long stretch in federal pound-you-in-the-ass prison. And honestly, I hope whoever wins in ’16 makes it a vendetta to make sure that he, and everyone else involved winds up in that situation by any means, fair or unfair.

    I don’t care if you’re a conservative, liberal, libertarian, progressive, or whatever, this is a line you don’t cross. When politics starts becoming a blood sport, we’re on our way to banana republic status. And the violence doesn’t stop with those who initiate it. These motherfuckers need to be made an example of, if only to preserve the basis of civil society.

    1. Perhaps, if you tried you could sound more emotionally hysterical and delusional. The law under which they operated was signed into law by Tommy Thompson, a Republican. Nailing yourself to a cross doesn’t make you a martyr, it makes you a douche-bag asshole.

      1. but has i understand the article they weren’t working under any laws and if they had been they far exceeded their authority. the law may or may not be fine the issue here is the abuse by officials claiming a law to silence people they disagree with.

      2. “The law under which they operated was signed into law by Tommy Thompson, a Republican. Nailing yourself to a cross doesn’t make you a martyr, it makes you a douche-bag asshole.”

        Making the claim that they operated under a law makes you a fucking ignoramus.

        1. Spoken like an emotionally hysterical Republicans who is too dumb and lazy for facts.

          1. “Spoken like an emotionally hysterical Republicans who is too dumb and lazy for facts.

            Posted like a lefty ignoramus who can’t read.

      3. I get it. You think it’s cute. Your team is throwing out the rulebook to get the other team. And you have a semi-plausible claim of using a law the other team passed to do it.

        Haha. Funny.

        What happens the next iteration? When it isn’t your team using the law? When it’s the bastards you hate? What do you do when the police knock down your door in the middle of the night and – Oh! Sorry! Your kid made a “furtive move” and his brains are now covering the back bedroom wall….

    2. I would love for Chisholm to one day have to hear the words “President Walker”. That should be his cue to flee the country and never return.

      1. As much as I’m not a huge Walker fan, I’m inclined to agree.

        This has got to become a no-go zone. And it’s one of those areas where I’d compromise principle to enforce. Because if we go here, it’s the beginning of the end. When power becomes a license to use the state to squash your enemies, to send armed men to their homes in the middle of the night, we’re looking at the breakout of open civil war.

  6. By the way, can someone tell me why I should consider this anything other than an act of political terrorism?

    1. It’s not terrorism when it’s directed at a Republican. Duh! /prog

    2. Because the law under which they operated was signed into law by a Republican dumbass.

      1. You mean the law under which they did not operate, dumbass?

        1. Nice try bitch, but you are dumber than a rock which is obviously offensive to rocks.

          1. LibertariansRLiars|7.22.15 @ 12:24PM|#
            “Nice try bitch, but you are dumber than a rock which is obviously offensive to rocks.”

            Gee. shitstain, maybe you could try reading next time

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  9. Coordinating violates federal law as well as state law. A quick Google search reveals a number of Republicans who have been convicted for such coordination. The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision was false because several of the justices were involved in a ruling that involved their donors, which is a conflict of interest everywhere but in Wisconsin apparently. In fact, the ruling was 4-2 and not 4-3 because one of the liberal judges appropriately recused herself.

    You will note that the article states that there was “little” evidence that coordination takes place, which means that there is evidence of this illegal activity. In fact, Walker’s people had set up a secret and separate communications network while Walker was working for the county. If they aren’t breaking the law, why do they need a secret and separate communications network. Because they knew what they were doing is illegal. At the time, they just didn’t have the right number of justices. Once Prosser was elected after 10,000 votes were miraculously found in Brookfield, Walker would be able to have the law destroyed based on nothing but pure partisan politics and not any legally established precedent.

    The law under which the prosecutor operated was signed in law by Tommy Thompson, a Republican.

    1. “If they aren’t breaking the law, why do they need a secret and separate communications network.”

      Are you really this fucking dumb?
      Get lost.

      1. Take your meds old man, you sound like a lunatic.

        1. LibertariansRLiars|7.22.15 @ 12:25PM|#
          “Take your meds old man, you sound like a lunatic.”
          So you are that fucking dumb? Why is this not surprising? Maybe because you’re a lefty imbecile?
          Why, of course!
          Fuck off.

    2. So, it’s OK when Federal bureaucrats with an agenda coordinate with the activist groups that sue their agency to make it persue that agenda, but Gods forbid that anyone who isn’t a Liberal use finctional politcal tactics.

      I swear, it might almost be worth putting up with the New Soviet America to watch idiots like you getting rounded up and lquidated by the Stalin your stupidity put in power. You really can’t imagine the opression you champion being turned against you, can you? You DESERVE to dissapear into a Gulag.

      But the rest of us don’t deserve to have to live with the fallout of you getting run over by your Karma. I know this makes you head hurt, but try to imagine that The State isn’t automatically on your side. Try thinking about how,an enemy would make use of the authority you want to grant the government.

      Really. Try.

      Before you put all of us in the dunny.

      1. Imaginary bureaucrats and imaginary activists you can’t name don’t prove anything except that you have forgotten to take your meds.

        Stalin is dead, idiot.

        1. Tony?

          I mean at this level of stupid Tony must be fishing for a new handle, right?

          I agree with the comments you are responding too. If things play out like you wish on all your political enemies, someday they’ll come looking for you and take you away.

          1. JWW|7.22.15 @ 2:52PM|#
            “Tony?”
            Dunno, but likely one of the regular lefty low-watt bulbs trying to look clever under the new handle.
            And failing.

    3. Note to UK readers: American intellectuals of both the blimp and pansy looter persuasions use the term “liberal” to mean “closet communist”.

  10. I (stupidly) read a Salon article on this subject after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, and it was a rant over Citizen’s United and right wing judges protecting their buddy Walker. They made a big to do on how the investigation had led to convictions even though the on-going investigation had absolutely nothing to do with the embezzlement the prosecutors used to go on a wild goose chase. Of course, nothing on the use of no-knock raids or other basic infringements.

    The comment section ate that shit up. Lots of comments on Walker being corrupt from the same group who say there’s nothing but accusations against Hillary.

    1. Why waste time reading Salon when Salon will come to us?( see the troll upthread)

    2. Only a Mission Accomplished Republican thinks that stealing from veterans isn’t a big deal. Six people were convicted, which means that Walker can be convicted for racketeering. While I understand that Republicans are dumber than rocks, that isn’t an excuse for allowing yourself to be surrounded by the criminals you hired.

      As there article state, there is evidence that Walker broke the law. You aren’t just normal stupid, you are sofa king stupid.

    3. Agreed. Right here in this comments section, we have the argument “If they aren’t breaking the law, why do they need a secret and separate communications network?”

      Slightly correct that to: “”If she isn’t breaking the law, why does Hillary need a secret and separate email server?”

      I don’t know the political leanings of LibertariansRLiars, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they were caught sputtering trying to deny Hillary’s culpability in response to the statement above…

      1. Insults and non sequitors, guessing it is a prog.

      2. It’s a near certainty that LibertariansRLiars is a Progtard, can he be anything else?

        I already mentioned that he might actually be Tony.

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  13. John Doe investigations can be mounted against any one, any organization, for any reason or for no reason.
    After all, they’re doing it for the children.
    It is time to end the immunity that LE wraps itself within.

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  15. “…early-morning raids on the homes of innocent people and indiscriminate seizures of email, documents, and personal property.” This is exactly what the Moral Majority wrought all over Amerika immediately after Tricky Dick Nixon was sworn in! So now their karma catches up? Pardon me while I struggle to stifle some serious guffawing as a token of my sympathy.

  16. I am sure the NYT and Sunday news shows are going to discuss this new American fascism in breathless, outraged detail.

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