By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Republican lawmakers are speaking out about what they see as the partisan nature of a secret investigation targeting dozens of conservative organizations.
“It seems as though the people out front in the investigation have strong Democratic connections,” Grothman told Wisconsin Reporter last week. “It leads one to question whether this is a fishing expedition designed to embarrass Republicans rather than an investigation built on factual evidence.”
Grothman’s sentiments are echoed by a lot of conservatives nearly two months after news of the probe was first leaked in the press.
“I am concerned that this process seems to have been used in recent years as a way to go on a partisan hunt,” said state Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson.
Particularly troubling to Knudson is that no liberal groups appear to be targeted in this John Doe, interesting in light of the tens of millions of dollars pumped into Wisconsin’s unprecedented spate of recalls in 2011 and 2012 by union and left-leaning groups.
Launched nearly two years ago by the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, the probe is digging for alleged campaign violations during the state’s recall elections, according to sources.
The court-sanctioned dragnet has subpoenaed more than 100 conservative and free-market activists. Though gagged by provisions of the subpoenas, several sources have told Wisconsin Reporter the manifold legal attack on nonprofit political organizations has included pre-dawn raids on homes and offices; confiscated equipment and files; and demands for phone, email and other records.
The sources have asked to remain anonymous due to their proximity to the investigation or to people connected to it. They say the investigation is an attempt by Democrats to derail conservative organizing in the run-up to critical Wisconsin elections, including Gov. Scott Walker’s 2014 re-election campaign.
Though he predicts the investigation will turn up no evidence of a crime, “the process is the punishment,” Eric O’Keefe, director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, and a target of the probe, told the Wall Street Journal.
It appears the latest John Doe, billed as John Doe II or the “son of John Doe,” is at least in part connected to a previous secret investigation led by the Milwaukee County DA’s office. That John Doe probe spanned nearly three years, beginning in May 2010.
John Doe I was a meandering dragnet that ended in the convictions of six people who were former aides or associates of Walker when he was Milwaukee County executive. The investigation closed without any charges of wrongdoing against Walker, and critics say prosecutors got little for the untold taxpayer money spent on pursuing the probe.
“It was all something other than what (prosecutors) were originally looking for, and it wasn’t very much for three years of looking,” a legal source connected to the current John Doe told Wisconsin Reporter.
But John Doe I, conservatives charge, certainly set the political narrative for Democrats in 2012, when Walker was wrapped up in the fight of his political life.
The campaign was peppered with leaked information about the John Doe. Much of the information was wrong, including reports that Walker was due to be indicted for one reason or another at any moment. Liberal issue ads focused on the John Doe as if the secret investigation alone were an indictment of the governor.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., a conservative who runs as a Democrat in a heavy Democrat county, has arguably been one of the sharpest critics of the investigations.
“The unchecked, unbridled scope of these investigations, to me, they’re dangerous,” he told Wisconsin Reporter last month.
Clarke has called for an investigation of the investigators. He’s not alone.
“I think the general feeling is this should only happen if there are legitimate leads,” Knudson said.
“After the fact, the investigators need to be held accountable for the decisions they made asking for search warrants or imprisoning someone to give testimony,” Knudson added.
Asked whether Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has received any calls to investigate the latest John Doe probe, Dean Stensberg, the No. 3 ranking official at the state Department of Justice, said the agency would have no comment.
As first reported by Wisconsin Reporter earlier this month, Van Hollen, a Republican, will represent the judges being sued by three targets in the current John Doe investigation. Responses in that case are expected by Dec. 23.
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org
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