Last we checked on Gov. Scott Walker, he was (a) knotted in the polls with his Democratic challenger, and (b) fending off mind-bendingly dishonest media coverage of the scurrilous investigation into Wisconsin conservative groups — which has been summarily thrown out of court by two different judges. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals took up the ‘Joe Doe’ circus yesterday, as twice-thwarted prosecutors sought to have their secret probe reinstated; lawyers for the Wisconsin Club for Growth, one of the targeted organizations, argued that a scathing lower court ruling shutting down the investigation and exposing the prosecutors to misconduct lawsuits ought to be be upheld. A press account of Tuesday’s oral arguments said the judges, “repeatedly quizzed lawyers…why the federal courts should weigh in on a state investigation” at all. Leading up to the proceedings, former FEC official Hans Von Spakovsky penned an op/edin the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel spelling out what’s at stake in the case:
The fact that such a secret persecution of citizen advocacy organizations even occurred ought to be an embarrassment to a state that prides itself on being a progressive bastion of individual freedom. It is more reminiscent of a banana republic than the world’s foremost democracy… The [conservative] group’s supposed “crime” was coordinating its efforts on public policy issues with elected officials such as Gov. Scott Walker and with other conservative advocacy organizations. This resulted in SWAT-like raids in the middle of the night by armed law enforcement officials to seize “evidence,” as if these organizations were dangerous drug cartels or mob operations. Last week, I joined three other former members of the Federal Election Commission in filing an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief for the organizations unfairly targeted.
Based on our extensive experience interpreting federal campaign finance law, we argue that issue advocacy is at the core of our rights to free speech, to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The right of citizens and their membership associations to directly engage elected leaders is all the more important on politically charged questions of public policy. Such collaboration is the norm in the political arena, where there is extensive interaction between citizens groups and elected officials about proposed legislation. In fact, such coordination is vital to a functioning democracy…I hope that the civil rights lawsuit filed against these prosecutors is successful and results in a large judgment that deters this type of investigation from ever happening again.
As we await the panel’s ruling — which is expected before the upcoming elections — a new report from respected journalist and Brookings senior fellow Stuart Taylor, Jr. sheds fresh light on the possible motivations behind the whole imbroglio. According to a source described as a former prosecutor with firsthand knowledge of the investigation’s inner workings, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisolm’s efforts have been driven by intense partisanship. The source says Chisolm’s wife is a fanatical anti-Walker agitator, and assesses the entire inquiry as a vindictive political crusade: