Matt Rothschild

Supreme Court Decision a Gift to Walker

Decision not to hear John Doe case a blow to democracy and legal precedent.

By - Oct 3rd, 2016 11:24 am
Gov. Scott Walker. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to take the Wisconsin campaign finance case is a major setback for democracy, transparency, and accountability.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was flagrantly skirting 40 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent on campaign finance by coordinating with outside groups, as the recent article in the Guardian amply demonstrated. And the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s corrupt decision in July 2015 to shut down the John Doe II investigation of Walker was based on a blatant misreading of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this subject.

So I’m surprised and severely disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court did not take the case. It has an obligation, however, to revisit this issue of coordination between candidates and outside groups in the near future because the precedent that Walker and the Wisconsin Supreme Court have now set is disastrous. It undermines the ability of legislatures to impose meaningful limits on donations to candidates or to require adequate disclosure of donations – both of which are keys to a well-functioning democracy.

Here’s why.

Say I’m running for governor, and I’ve got a billionaire friend. The most he can give my campaign, under Wisconsin law, is now $20,000—and I’d have to disclose that. So instead, I’m going to tell him, “Don’t be a chump. Don’t give me the $20,000. Give $20 million to this outside group I’m coordinating with, Badgers for Eternal Victory (BEV). Give it to BEV. And then I’ll tell BEV what ads to run, how many times to run them, and what stations to run them on. It would be just as if he gave me the $20 million, which is 1,000 times the legal limit! And the kicker is, BEV doesn’t have to disclose that you gave BEV a penny.”

This is precisely what Walker was doing by going around the country begging billionaires to write out six-figure or seven-figure checks to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which Walker then used essentially for his own campaign and the campaigns of other Republicans in Wisconsin, with his campaign strategist all the while overseeing the ads being paid for by the money Walker raised.

Now billionaires and the politicians who depend on them have an easy end-around our campaign finance laws, and we’ll never know about it.

Thank God for the whistleblower who gave the evidence to the Guardian, otherwise we would never have known the monumental scale of Walker’s scheming. (And now it appears that the leak may have come because the leaker was afraid that if the Court didn’t take the case, all the evidence would be destroyed, which is what the Wisconsin Supreme Court had initially and astonishingly ordered.)

There remains one hope for justice in this scandal. Walker can still be prosecuted by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, as 16 Democratic legislators in Wisconsin urged last week.

Otherwise, Scott Walker is off scot-free. Meanwhile, the campaign finance system of controlling the size of donations and requiring disclosure lies in shambles.

Matthew Rothschild is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

13 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Supreme Court Decision a Gift to Walker”

  1. The justices probably split 4-4 on this.

  2. Pat Small says:

    It’s clear now that the recent John Doe document dump in The Guardian was made by someone who anticipated that the Supreme Court might decline to re-open the investigation. Here’s the rationale: since Scott Walker was unlikely to see the inside of a courtroom (let alone a jail cell) for his nefarious scheming to stay governor, there was/is still a compelling case to be put on public display about his illegal fund-raising activity. There was no good, honest, ethical reason NOT to reveal what the investigation learned about Scooter and his cronies.

    All the blather from Brad Schimmel about NOW prosecuting whomever leaked the Doe documents is piffle. There’s no way Walker and his ilk want their dirty dealing to be revisited. Prosecution of the person/people responsible would pull open the curtain on Walker’s theater of the absurd that he turned Wisconsin into. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Schimmel to indict anyone.

    If the leak had been delayed until after the Supreme Court demurred, it would have been seen as sour grapes and old news. The leak to The Guardian was strategically brilliant and prescient.

  3. WashCoRepub says:

    When you think of the time, money and effort wasted by Governor Walker’s political enemies on both the recall election and now this failed investigation trying to bring him down, it’s staggering.

    Justice prevails. Forward, Wisconsin.

  4. M says:

    When you think of the money “invested” in Governor Walker by the Koch brothers, the road builders’ lobby, and others “buying” favors from him and other legislators, it’s staggering.

    And then there’s the Best State Supreme Court Money Can Buy–to make sure anything resembling Clean Government is a thing of the past.

    Just because Walker et al have been able to high-jack this once-great state and are getting away–for now–with driving it into the ground, except to benefit a few cronies, does not mean any of us or our descendants will want to live with the havoc they wreak.

  5. Bill Marsh says:

    So after all this huffing and puffing, early dawn raids, and wasted taxpayer money, the only crime committed was from within John Chisolm’s office from which someone illegally leaked private, supposedly sealed, emails, clearly in violation of the John Doe law and a court order. Time to investigate the criminal investigators.

  6. Pat Small says:

    @ Bill Marsh: Don’t you get it?

    Scott Walker wants all this embarrassment to go away.

    Attorney General Brad Schimel subjecting some whistle-blowing schmo from D.A. Chisholm’s office to a perp walk across our mobile screens and front pages does nothing to diminish the undeniable radioactive glow that resulted from the fusion of the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the Walker Administration.

    This entire, sordid period of backwards state governmental history should be long-remembered by beleaguered citizens. However, for Walker’s paymasters, handlers and legislative henchmen, it will best be forgotten–and the sooner the better, as far as they are concerned.

  7. PMD says:

    Hey Bill March conservative Eric O’Keefe was openly leaking documents to the Wall Street Journal. Should he be prosecuted? Why no mention of that from you?

    What about pay-to-play and our governor? You have no problem whatsoever with that? I bet you would if he didn’t have R after his name.

  8. Bill Marsh says:

    You may call the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Walker Administration actions whatever you want, but they were not illegal.

    I say let the Attorney General do his job and investigate any known crimes. The left was all behind law and order with regards to this case until now, when they themselves are known to have broken the law. What documents did Eric O’Keefe leak? And if so, who did he harm? We do know one or more of the investigators abused their power and illegally infirnged on the privacy rights of several Wisonsin citizens by maliciously leaking their private email messages.

    Time to investigate the criminal investigators. I look forward to the day the criminal investigators are personally sued for their illegal actions that infringed on the privacy rights of Wisconsin citizens.

    PS- Pay to play is illegal, if Chisholm had that on Walker we would have heard about it. Is anyone concerned about pay-to-play with the Clinton Foundation/State Department activities?

  9. PMD says:

    Why wasn’t it illegal for O’Keefe to leak documents to the Wall Street Journal? That’s what he did. “Before filing the lawsuit, which has resulted in the release of hundreds of documents detailing the investigation, O’Keefe disclosed much of what was known about the John Doe to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Ah yes of course you spin and dodge and bring up Clinton. All those documents released and not one shows any pay-to-play at the Clinton Foundation. So you don’t care that Walker and GOP legislators did the bidding of huge donors like the lead paint company and the mining company?

  10. Bill Marsh says:

    As I stated, let the Attorney General investigate the known illegal actions with regards to this case. If someone violated the law, they should be punished accordingly. My guess is that citizen O’Keefe, who was not in a position of power but was subjected to illegal leaks to the press by the investigators with a requirement not to publicly defend himself, would come off as a sympathetic figure. As to the investigators- if they are found to have illegally abused their power, they should be personally sued for damages by the citizens who had their privacy illegally and maliciously infringed upon. Let the legal system work.

    Please read my comment about pay-to-play. If Chisholm had Walker on illegal pay-to-play, we would have known about it in the form of criminal charges being brought against Walker. Where are the charges?

    Time to investigate the criminal investigators.

  11. Bill Marsh says:

    PS- As to Walker and any embarassment that would come to him by an investigation of the criminal investigators, I say let the chips fall where they may. The more important issue is the integrity of the legal system with respect to illegal activities by district attorney offices.

  12. PMD says:

    O’Keefe was the one illegally leaking information! He did something illegal but shouldn’t be prosecuted because conservatives like you think he’s sympathetic? That is some twisted and partisan logic right there. You have a serious case of selective partisan outrage syndrome Bill.

    Yeah I figured you wouldn’t answer. If it’s a Democrat you see pay-to-play everywhere. If it’s Walker, no big deal because there are no criminal charges. Different standards. You’re a partisan hack.

  13. rewriter says:

    If the Supreme Court of Wisconsin hadn’t shut down the investigation, we’d probably have the proof of crimes beyond a reasonable doubt, but that court is corrupted by the millions of dollars spent to elect GOP partisans, so instead we have a truncated investigation of pay-to-play and campaign finance violations, followed by a legislature that rushed to prevent any further investigations of political crimes via a John Doe, and a change in the law to retroactively make Walker’s conduct lawful. Disgusting. And AG Schimmel is one of the gang. He’s a GOP operative, not an independent broker, so don’t hold your breath waiting for him to pick up the case. Nor will he prosecute any leakers; that will just keep the story alive for months or maybe years. And the civil suit that O’Keefe had the brass to bring, will be a problem for the GOP because the defense is going to demand production of all that evidence in the civil discovery process. At least now, thanks to the Guardian, independent Wisconsinites can see how they’ve been fooled by the corruption of our current GOP leaders. Perhaps the federal authorities will execute their responsibility to ensure prosecution of violations of federal law, which the culprits seem to have overlooked while the governor was busy threatening county DA’s who might dare to pick up the case with cuts to their budgets.

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