By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. – In the wake of growing concerns about the legality of a secret John Doe probe into conservatives, two Republican lawmakers say it’s time to “turn over some rocks and do a thorough review” of the state Government Accountability Board – particularly examining the agency’s role in the politically charged investigation.
“After seeing these activities in conjunction with the John Doe, I think this government needs to review GAB, get some answers, and consider reforms, if necessary, in the next legislative session,” he said.
The accountability board, which oversees Wisconsin campaign and election laws, has been tight-lipped about its involvement in the five-county investigation into dozens of conservative organizations. But court documents in recent months have shed more light on the GAB’s role, beginning with its shadowy contracted investigator, Dean Nickel
GAB’s role efforts first came to light in November, when the Wall Street Journal reported on court records it had obtained that showed Nickel, former head of the state Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Unit, signed off on the affidavits asserting probable cause for search warrants. In the early morning hours of Oct. 3, 2013, law enforcement officials pounded on doors of the homes of multiple conservatives around the state, in what sources have described to Wisconsin Reporter as “paramilitary-style raids.”
Investigators seized business papers, computer equipment, phones and other devices. During these very bright, very noisy raids, these conservatives, targeted in a secret John Doe probe launched by a Democrat district attorney, were “restrained under police supervision and denied the ability to contact their attorneys,” according to a federal judge’s order this week.
Nickel, along with Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs, and John Doe Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz, are defendants in a civil rights lawsuit brought by conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, both targets of the nearly three-year probe.
U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa this week – on two separate occasions – issued a preliminary injunction shutting down the John Doe. Randa’s ruling raises serious questions about the prosecutors’ probe, their potential abuse of power, and their understanding of campaign finance law.
Last month, Nickel filed documents in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Wisconsin in Milwaukee claiming that the GAB authorized the John Doe probe.
Nickel said the accountability board approved the five-county probe on a 5-to-nothing vote. He said such approval, plus substantial evidence gathered refutes the “witch-hunt theory” by the Wisconsin Club for Growth.
Prosecutors have pursued a theory that the conservative organizations illegally coordinated with Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign during Wisconsin’s partisan recall campaigns. Randa said their interpretation is “simply wrong.”
State Rep. Dave Craig, R-Town of Vernon, who along with Tiffany is proposing a thorough review of the GAB, told Wisconsin Reporter that too much disturbing information about the John Doe probe and the accountability board’s role in it has surfaced in recent months.
“When you’re reading of people having their homes basically ransacked, of investigators scaring these people’s children, that’s something we should be concerned about,” he said. “My concern is, has the law been complied with?”
Beyond the civil liberties’ concerns, Craig and Tiffany say, are the fiscal questions that GAB has not answered. How much is all this costing Wisconsin taxpayers?
Craig said that question was driven home in a Wisconsin Reporter investigative report on Nickel, noting the state is paying the contracted sleuth’s legal bills, but the public has no idea just what Nickel has done.
A state contract obtained by Wisconsin Reporter shows Madison lawyer Patrick J. Fiedler was appointed Nickel’s attorney. Fiedler is to be paid $175 per hour, at a blended attorney rate, which is hourly fee generally based on the average rate of two or more lawyers working on a case. The attorney’s bill cannot exceed $25,000, according to the contract, effective Feb. 7.
Asked whether his client possessed an investigator license or law enforcement certification, Fiedler told Wisconsin Reporter, “I don’t know the answer to that question one way or the other.”
A review of state records could find no proof that Nickel has an inspector’s license or certification to work as a law enforcement officer in the state.
“My biggest concern is, are they (the GAB) spending taxpayers’ dollars wisely?” Tiffany said. “What I understand, basically, is they have an open checkbook. “As fiscal hawk I don’t think any agency should have open checkbook. We need answers into the activities of Dean Nickel and how money is being spent by the GAB.”
The agency’s biennial budget for 2013-2015 is around $14 million.
As of Thursday, the agency has spent $2,038,041.21, the vast majority of that, $1,550,073.04, on Professional and Contractual Services, according to OpenBook Wisconsin, the state expenditure tracking website.
Between Aug. 16, 2013 and March, GAB made 25 separate payments, totaling $55,584.20,from its general funds– each transaction listed to “name withdrawn.”
The website explains why some Employee names are not listed for some transactions.
“The names of some state employees have been redacted to protect their safety and welfare. For example, there are undercover officers in the Division of Criminal Investigation, and including their name would blow the agents’ cover. These transactions have a vendor of ‘Name withdrawn’ listed instead.”
As conservative news organization Media Trackers reported earlier this year, for fiscal year 2013, the OpenBook database lists 15 transactions by the GAB to a “name withdrawn” in the contracted legal services category. The payments totaled $42,034.45.
GAB spokesman Reid Magney told Wisconsin Reporter that GAB would not comment on the lawmakers’ call for a review of the agency.
Magney on many occasions has said that state law prohibits the accountability board from talking about its investigative activities.
In April, he pointed to the state statute, which prohibits GAB from disclosing any information related to investigations. “Were I to respond, I could be charged with a felony and face nine months in jail, a $10,000 fine or both,” Magney said.
Tiffany asserts GAB’s investigations wouldn’t be impeded by the taxpayers’ right to know how the agency spends all of its money.
“It really appears that there’s something to hide,” he said. “We as a legislature must do something.”
Milwaukee County prosecutors, too, have refused to release the costs of their John Doe investigations into conservatives over the past four years. They have told Wisconsin Reporter those costs would be impossible to track.
Craig said taxpayer money spent must be reportable to the elected representatives of the people, particularly money used in secret investigations.
“For that to be thrown up as an obstacle, I say that part of the law does need to be changed,” Craig said. He said he wants to know whether there is a limitation on the amount of money that the GAB can spend, or if the agency has a blank check. Craig expects that answer by Friday.
But the representative insists he isn’t in a rush to change Wisconsin’s unique John Doe law, which features an investigative procedure that is much like a grand jury process, without the benefit of a jury of peers. One judge invested with extraordinary power to compel witness to testify presides over the probes, which often are conducted through strict secrecy orders.
State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, last month told Wisconsin Reporter that he will work to change the law next legislative session, if he’s still in a position to do so.
“If I’m still in Madison and I am (still) chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I will look at the John Doe law,” he said, adding that he doesn’t support gutting the law, but amending it.
“I think there is a purpose for the John Doe, but I think it’s gone way over the top.”
Grothman is running for the 6th District Congressional seat being vacated by long-time U.S. Rep. Tom Petri, R-Fond du Lac.
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sources: Secret probe targeting conservatives is abuse of prosecutorial powers
- Scary! Phantom prosecutor in Dems’ war on conservatives disappears inside courthouse
- EXCLUSIVE: Judge in Democrat-led John Doe probe recuses herself
- Democrats’ ‘intelligence-gathering’ spreads in Wisconsin
- Democrats tap anti-terror expert to head secret probe of Wisconsin conservatives
- Sheriff Clarke: John Doe case shows Milwaukee DA is ‘weaponized for political purposes’
- Clarke: John Doe into conservatives ‘unbridled,’ ‘dangerous’ and ‘tainted’
- Sources: New judge named in Democrat-led secret probe
- Vendetta justice? Criticism growing about John Doe prosecutor Bruce Landgraf
- Will Wisconsin’s own ‘Miserable’ inspector jail conservative activist for speaking out about Dem probe?
- Conservative targets bring in big guns to Democrat-led John Doe fight
- ‘Dangerous’ game: Former FEC official blasts Democrats’ secret investigation of conservative groups
- Center for Media and Democracy: Liberals are morally superior
- Wisconsin Dems suddenly support political investigations
- WI Republican attorney general to represent judges in Democrat-led John Doe probe
- Republicans speak out about silent John Doe targeting conservatives
- Biggest secret in John Doe may be just how judges and special prosecutors are selected
- WSJ: John Doe judge deals body blow to secret probe targeting conservatives
- Vos: Wait until John Doe in ‘rearview mirror’ before revisiting law
- Lawsuits looming in Wisconsin’s crumbling John Doe probe?
- Conservative to Democrat prosecutors: Shut down secret political probe or face civil rights lawsuit
- John Doe target O’Keefe taking on IRS, too
- Lawmaker: Wisconsin’s John Doe like Christie’s ‘Bridgegate’
- Target files civil rights lawsuit against Wisconsin’s John Doe prosecutors
- Disparate treatment: Civil rights lawsuit claims conservative speech trampled
- Liberal group looking to take Wisconsin’s John Doe national
- John Doe judge: ‘Results of the John Doe speak for themselves’
- John Doe special prosecutor appeals judge’s ruling quashing subpoenas
- John Doe prosecutor pushed for brain-damaged man’s conviction in ATF debacle
- Conservatives counterpunch John Doe prosecutors’ move to stall injunction
- Shadowy John Doe investigator invokes federalism in civil rights lawsuit
- John Doe prosecutors wanted higher-priced lawyers, source says
- Secret agent Dean Nickel’s defense: ‘Dean Nickel is not responsible’
- D’oh! John Doe prosecutors claim secrecy protection – after filing secret documents
- Recusal in John Doe case raises questions of fairness, purpose
- Absolute immunity makes it tough to prosecute the prosecutors of John Doe
- Poll suggests Dems’ big ‘secret’ weapon against Walker is backfiring
- ‘Easy target': Kelly Rindfleisch breaks silence about John Doe probe
- SCOTUS ruling on campaign finance shows abuse of John Doe, targets say
- Nobody will say what John Doe’s shadow man did, but taxpayers are paying his legal bill
- Judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ move to dismiss civil rights suit
- Civil rights expert: John Doe law is ‘un-American,’ like something from ‘Nazi Germany’
- Target: John Doe prosecutors making up campaign law as they go along
- John Doe, as it is being used, must go, WI senator says
- John Doe target says prosecutors latest move another delay tactic
- John Doe prosecutors sound defensive in latest court filings
- Federal judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ motion to stall civil rights case
- Media coalition asks judge to open sealed John Doe documents
- Are John Doe prosecutors sweating out federal judge’s decision?
- John Doe is dead: Judge stops WI prosecutors’ probe into conservatives
- This is what the Fourth Amendment looks like?
- What’s next for now-defunct John Doe probe?
- Appeals court stalls judge’s order halting John Doe probe
- Federal judge’s ruling could open up sealed John Doe records
- Federal judge orders John Doe probe shut down again
- Lawmakers call for review of GAB’s secret John Doe activities, funds
- Lawyers, lawyers everywhere and other dispatches from John Doe Land
- Secret’s out: The world is beginning to learn more about WI’s John Doe
- Still their little secret? Questions remain on John Doe gag order
- Appeals Court declares portions of Wisconsin campaign finance law unconstitutional
- John Doe prosecutors suddenly support opening sealed court records
- Expert: It’s as if GAB decided ‘Citizens United didn’t exist’
- John Doe prosecutors voice phony outrage, legal source says
- GAB still reviewing court ruling declaring WI campaign finance law unconstitutional
- State Farm still doesn’t want to cover John Doe prosecutor’s legal bills
- For the Walker-hating left, John Doe is ‘Mission Accomplished’
- Sources: No urgency in WI Supreme Court on John Doe
- Would Walker settlement with John Doe prosecutors be a deal with the devil?
- Contempt questions surround reported John Doe deal talks
- Walker’s John Doe response raises more questions than answers
- Sources: Attorney General passes on defending GAB in John Doe cases
- Attorney to judge: Don’t let John Doe prosecutor ‘moot’ injunction
- John Doe targets sue Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board
- Federal judge says his order halting John Doe probe should be clear to prosecutor
- John Doe special prosecutor’s bill still shrouded in secrecy
- ‘Are these kind of armed pre-dawn raids standard operating procedure?’
- John Doe special prosecutor obeys judge’s order
- ‘Never-ending’ John Doe never ended, WSJ reports
- Appeals court upholds judge’s order shutting down John Doe probe
- O’Keefe keeps collecting big wins in John Doe lawsuit
- John Doe I judge says he’s not responsible for John Doe II
- Will taxpayers have to pay for frivolity of John Doe prosecutors?
- John Doe prosecutors jump back into the dark?
- What about those prosecutors? Questions surround other John Doe DAs
- Humiliated in court, WI Dems take their anti-conservative John Doe probe to the media
- Federal judge blasts John Doe prosecutors – again – as he denies records release
- Right on cue: Document dump fuels anti-Walker donation drive
- Wall Street Journal points out ‘disgrace’ of mainstream John Doe reporting
- Expert: John Doe raids raise ‘troubling’ Fourth Amendment questions
- Kelly Rindfleisch tells conservatives, ‘Don’t back down’
- Mainstream media forced to walk back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ narrative
- John Doe prosecutors engaged in premature justification, conservatives say
- Is John Doe probe a case of a mini NSA in Wisconsin?
- AG opinion means accountability board’s John Doe secrets are safe — for now
- Senator asks attorney general to compel GAB to open up its books
- GAB now playing secrets in state John Doe lawsuit
- Will John Doe prosecutors launch lengthy probe against Trek Bicycle?
- John Doe prosecutors engaged in war of words — lots and lots of words
- Judge denies conservatives’ request to add GAB to civil rights lawsuit
- Oral arguments set in John Doe prosecutors’ appeal
- In John Doe Land, the left doesn’t illegally coordinate
- John Doe document blitz must have broken mainstream media’s heart
- Senator: Looks like accountability board is hiding something
- Kelly Rindfleisch appeal to test validity of John Doe digital searches
- Conservatives in John Doe battle know disclosure comes with a heavy price
- Appeals court orders release of some John Doe documents
- Taxpayers on the hook up to $25,000 for GAB’s legal maneuvers
- Overheated media erroneously bring back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ theme
- ‘Retaliation': Docs show state prosecutors launched mini-NSA probe of WI conservatives
- John Doe prosecutors take desperate, unethical slap
- Walker ‘smoking gun’ story has tiny glaring flaw
- Wisconsin prosecutors aim to shut down conservatives
- Conservatives appeal to common sense in John Doe appeals case
- Conservatives say ‘incorrect disclosure’ of John Doe docs no ‘tiny error’
- First Amendment big guns back targets of John Doe probe
- Was John Doe judge a rubber stamp?
- $25,000 and counting: WI taxpayers’ bill so far to defend GAB and its ‘monster’
- Another blow for Wisconsin’s restrictive campaign finance law
- Wisconsin prosecutors appeal for protection from blowback in partisan probe
- Is John Doe story colored with a bit of ‘Macbeth?’
- GAB director says agency just following the law in John Doe probe
- Kelly Rindfleisch: Where are the tears for the kids the Milwaukee school system failed?
- Rindfleisch attorney: Appeals court can protect the Fourth Amendment in Digital Age
- Source: Wisconsin Supreme Court doesn’t want political heat of John Doe case
- Appeals court reverses John Doe injunction, but Wisconsin’s secret war far from over
- A whistleblower’s story: Taking on a ‘hyper-partisan’ district attorney
- Conservative O’Keefe seeks investigation into John Chisholm and his John Doe
- Who’s paying the bill? Report casts questions on GAB and John Doe payments
- Target of secret John Doe probe is fighting back and speaking out
- The day John Doe rushed through the door
- Rindfleisch: ‘Rape’ not too strong a word for how violated John Doe targets feel
- Conservative group asks court to stop John Doe ‘constitutional injury’
- Conservatives to appeals court: ‘You don’t know Doe’
- Armed and growing: Milwaukee County DA beefs up his ‘police force’
- Federal judge stops John Doe prosecutors from bothering conservative group
- Wisconsin Supreme Court takes another pass on John Doe case
- No surprise: Bice buries the lead, Walker follows the law
- Federalism v. individual rights: A conversation with Eric O’Keefe
- Report: No district attorney will investigate District Attorney John Chisholm
- Appeals court denies request to rehear John Doe civil rights case
- Voters say ‘yes’ to Walker, ‘no’ to John Doe, law expert says
- Vos: There will be reforms to John Doe, GAB
- GAB, Milwaukee County DA bail on key provision behind war on conservatives
- John Doe lawsuit could be headed to U.S. Supreme Court
- Kelly Rindfleisch will fight on in Fourth Amendment case
- John Doe froze conservative speech, targets say