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In John Doe Land, the left doesn’t illegally coordinate

By   /   August 6, 2014  /   No Comments

Part 101 of 146 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — As more light shines on the spiders in the left’s web of political coordination, one question increasingly begs to be asked: Where are the long, secret investigations into liberal organizations in Wisconsin?

Prosecutors in the politically charged John Doe investigation have spent years hunting conservatives in their secret probe, devoting more than a year and a half to investigating most of the right-leaning organizations in the Badger State.

The probe, launched in early September 2012 by Democrat Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, has labored under the theory that dozens of conservative groups may have illegally coordinated with Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign during the state’s partisan recall election drives.

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THE BIG QUESTION: With so much left-leaning money pumped into elections over the past few years, conservatives ask why there isn’t the same kind of scrutiny on liberal groups as there has been on right-leaning organizations.

The theory, to date dismissed by two judges, is that the groups may have violated state campaign finance law by running coordinated issue ads, viewed by prosecutors as akin to unreported in-kind contributions.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa in May shut down the investigation and called the prosecutors’ assertions “simply wrong,” in large part because the ads were not express campaign messages, meaning they did not directly support or oppose one candidate or another.

Randa also denied the prosecutors’ motion to dismiss a federal civil rights lawsuit, which claims that prosecutors — including Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs, and John Doe special prosecutor Francis Schmitz — violated conservatives’ First Amendment rights.

As conservative activist Eric O’Keefe and his Wisconsin Club for Growth point out in the lawsuit, Chisholm and crew haven’t gone after liberal organizations with the kind of prosecutorial vigor they unleashed in two overlapping John Doe campaigns — disparate treatment painstakingly outlined in the 76-page complaint, filed in February in federal court.

The plaintiffs say they can point to “numerous other activities materially identical to the activities giving rise to the manifold branches of this massive investigation … within Democratic campaigns and among left-wing issue advocacy and independent expenditure groups.”

A few years after the recall campaigns began, the same liberal groups and plenty of new ones are working to promote left-led causes and candidates. The question is, have they coordinated, and if so, have they done so illegally — at least under the John Doe prosecutors’ interpretation of illegal coordination?

Chisholm and Schmitz repeatedly have declined to answer that question publicly. Schmitz did not return a voicemail from Wisconsin Reporter. He and the Milwaukee County prosecutors have said many times that they cannot discuss anything related to the John Doe investigation, due to the strict secrecy order imposed on all of the players.

But the prosecutors-turned defendants, in court filings denying the allegations against them, have sounded incredulous that anyone could hold suspect the motives of these long-serving public servants.

“It is simply astounding that plaintiffs could accuse lifelong law enforcement professionals of intentional misconduct in office and then seek to deny them the opportunity to have those claims challenged by appeal,” Chisholm’s attorney writes in the prosecutors’ response denying any wrongdoing.

As Randa pointed out, under U.S. Supreme Court decisions in recent years expanding political speech, there is nothing wrong with like-minded groups working together for the purpose of promoting their political ideas and goals.

John Doe prosecutors, it seems, have a different idea about what constitutes illegal coordination, however.

What kind of coordination is this?

Some of the nation’s largest labor unions were some of the heftiest donors to the recall campaigns against Republican senators and Walker. Big labor wanted to take out the man and the party that dramatically changed Wisconsin’s public employee collective-bargaining law, a citadel of organized labor’s success in the public sector.

The National Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union dumped millions of dollars into the campaign to beat Walker.

In early April 2012, the SEIU “sent two contributions totaling $500,000 to the We Are Wisconsin PAC,” the galvanizing organization behind the recall movement that made direct donations to candidates and parties, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

We Are Wisconsin led all special interest groups in spending during Wisconsin’s recall season, pumping more than $14.4 million into the recall campaigns, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a left-leaning group that tracks campaign expenditures and advocates for restrictions on campaign funding.

Less than a month before the June 2012 recall election, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, a liberal political supermarket made up of a political action committee, an independent expenditure fund, a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization,  and a 527 special interest organization, picked up $1.3 million from We Are Wisconsin. It also took in $500,000 from AFSCME, and another $900,000 from the Democratic Governors Association to “fuel a final online, radio and TV ad push” in the closing days of the campaign, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

With so much money flowing in from the left and spent on a flood of issue ads, conservative targets of the multi-county John Doe investigation have found it more than peculiar that all of that campaign cash has apparently come out clean.

“… (T)he reason the (Government Accountability Board) and Democrat prosecutors selectively investigate and prosecute alleged campaign finance violations is because they can,” a conservative target of the probe told Wisconsin Reporter on condition of anonymity.

The source pointed to the legislation that in 2007 created the GAB, the state agency that oversees election and campaign finance law. Included in the legislation was a provision that required all charges of campaign finance violations be prosecuted by the district attorney of the county where the alleged violator resides.

It is to the sole discretion of the board and the DA to determine whether to investigate a case.

In the case of the John Doe probe in Milwaukee County, as was so often the situation in Democrat-controlled Dane County, prosecutors opted to investigate conservative groups and, by all accounts, mostly left liberal organizations alone.

Campaign finance and elections expert Hans von Spakovsky, too, questions why John Doe prosecutors haven’t targeted liberal groups seemingly working in concert for the same purposes. He said conservative groups under the John Doe spotlight were involved in issue advertising, where unions and other organizations were directly engaged in the recall campaigns.

“If these are a group of objective investigators looking at this, they would say, ‘We need to look at the groups working directly on an election, not the groups working on bringing issues to the public eye,’” he said.

“The fact that investigators did not … really makes it look like this was totally a partisan pursuit,” said von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and former member of the Federal Election Commission.

The response from the left and critics of the court-upheld idea that money counts as speech has been that special interest advertising is a gauzy veil over direct support of or opposition to a candidate, spending that requires disclosure under campaign laws.

But thwarting such speech hasn’t held up at the U.S. Supreme Court, or lower courts for that matter. In May, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals declared unconstitutional portions of state campaign finance laws restricting issue advertising.

The 88-page decision sides with Wisconsin Right to Life Inc. and its state political action committee, which sued to block the enforcement of multiple state statutes and rules against groups that spend money for political speech independently of candidates and parties — so called issue advocacy groups.

John Doe prosecutors are hoping the 7th Circuit will overturn Randa’s preliminary injunction on the investigation, and the district court judge’s denial to dismiss the civil rights lawsuit. The plaintiffs seek to hit the prosecutors in their official and personal capacities, meaning the defendants could be made to personally pay for damages to O’Keefe and the club.

Is this what illegal coordination looks like?

Many of the same groups reportedly involved in Wisconsin’s recall campaigns are actively involved in Gamechanger Salon, a members-only Google group for movers and shakers in liberal activism, according to documents obtained through an open records request by conservative news outlet Media Trackers.

Members include senior members of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, the SEIU, the AFL-CIO, among dozens of other players on the left, Media Trackers reported.

“Two of the goals listed are(,) ‘Recruit 200 key community-based organizers, especially women and people of color,’ and(,) “Recruit 100 key diverse bloggers, movement journalists, and pundits,” according to the report.

Gamechanger has the self-described goal of creating a “more coordinated” movement for liberals across the country, according to Media Trackers.

Is a John Doe investigation in the offing?

Part of 146 in the series Wisconsin's Secret War
  1. Sources: Secret probe targeting conservatives is abuse of prosecutorial powers
  2. Scary! Phantom prosecutor in Dems’ war on conservatives disappears inside courthouse
  3. EXCLUSIVE: Judge in Democrat-led John Doe probe recuses herself
  4. Democrats’ ‘intelligence-gathering’ spreads in Wisconsin
  5. Democrats tap anti-terror expert to head secret probe of Wisconsin conservatives
  6. Sheriff Clarke: John Doe case shows Milwaukee DA is ‘weaponized for political purposes’
  7. Clarke: John Doe into conservatives ‘unbridled,’ ‘dangerous’ and ‘tainted’
  8. Sources: New judge named in Democrat-led secret probe
  9. Vendetta justice? Criticism growing about John Doe prosecutor Bruce Landgraf
  10. Will Wisconsin’s own ‘Miserable’ inspector jail conservative activist for speaking out about Dem probe?
  11. Conservative targets bring in big guns to Democrat-led John Doe fight
  12. ‘Dangerous’ game: Former FEC official blasts Democrats’ secret investigation of conservative groups
  13. Center for Media and Democracy: Liberals are morally superior
  14. Wisconsin Dems suddenly support political investigations
  15. WI Republican attorney general to represent judges in Democrat-led John Doe probe
  16. Republicans speak out about silent John Doe targeting conservatives
  17. Biggest secret in John Doe may be just how judges and special prosecutors are selected
  18. WSJ: John Doe judge deals body blow to secret probe targeting conservatives
  19. Vos: Wait until John Doe in ‘rearview mirror’ before revisiting law
  20. Lawsuits looming in Wisconsin’s crumbling John Doe probe?
  21. Conservative to Democrat prosecutors: Shut down secret political probe or face civil rights lawsuit
  22. John Doe target O’Keefe taking on IRS, too
  23. Lawmaker: Wisconsin’s John Doe like Christie’s ‘Bridgegate’
  24. Target files civil rights lawsuit against Wisconsin’s John Doe prosecutors
  25. Disparate treatment: Civil rights lawsuit claims conservative speech trampled
  26. Liberal group looking to take Wisconsin’s John Doe national
  27. John Doe judge: ‘Results of the John Doe speak for themselves’
  28. John Doe special prosecutor appeals judge’s ruling quashing subpoenas
  29. John Doe prosecutor pushed for brain-damaged man’s conviction in ATF debacle
  30. Conservatives counterpunch John Doe prosecutors’ move to stall injunction
  31. Shadowy John Doe investigator invokes federalism in civil rights lawsuit
  32. John Doe prosecutors wanted higher-priced lawyers, source says
  33. Secret agent Dean Nickel’s defense: ‘Dean Nickel is not responsible’
  34. D’oh! John Doe prosecutors claim secrecy protection – after filing secret documents
  35. Recusal in John Doe case raises questions of fairness, purpose
  36. Absolute immunity makes it tough to prosecute the prosecutors of John Doe
  37. Poll suggests Dems’ big ‘secret’ weapon against Walker is backfiring
  38. ‘Easy target': Kelly Rindfleisch breaks silence about John Doe probe
  39. SCOTUS ruling on campaign finance shows abuse of John Doe, targets say
  40. Nobody will say what John Doe’s shadow man did, but taxpayers are paying his legal bill
  41. Judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ move to dismiss civil rights suit
  42. Civil rights expert: John Doe law is ‘un-American,’ like something from ‘Nazi Germany’
  43. Target: John Doe prosecutors making up campaign law as they go along
  44. John Doe, as it is being used, must go, WI senator says
  45. John Doe target says prosecutors latest move another delay tactic
  46. John Doe prosecutors sound defensive in latest court filings
  47. Federal judge denies John Doe prosecutors’ motion to stall civil rights case
  48. Media coalition asks judge to open sealed John Doe documents
  49. Are John Doe prosecutors sweating out federal judge’s decision?
  50. John Doe is dead: Judge stops WI prosecutors’ probe into conservatives
  51. This is what the Fourth Amendment looks like?
  52. What’s next for now-defunct John Doe probe?
  53. Appeals court stalls judge’s order halting John Doe probe
  54. Federal judge’s ruling could open up sealed John Doe records
  55. Federal judge orders John Doe probe shut down again
  56. Lawmakers call for review of GAB’s secret John Doe activities, funds
  57. Lawyers, lawyers everywhere and other dispatches from John Doe Land
  58. Secret’s out: The world is beginning to learn more about WI’s John Doe
  59. Still their little secret? Questions remain on John Doe gag order
  60. Appeals Court declares portions of Wisconsin campaign finance law unconstitutional
  61. John Doe prosecutors suddenly support opening sealed court records
  62. Expert: It’s as if GAB decided ‘Citizens United didn’t exist’
  63. John Doe prosecutors voice phony outrage, legal source says
  64. GAB still reviewing court ruling declaring WI campaign finance law unconstitutional
  65. State Farm still doesn’t want to cover John Doe prosecutor’s legal bills
  66. For the Walker-hating left, John Doe is ‘Mission Accomplished’
  67. Sources: No urgency in WI Supreme Court on John Doe
  68. Would Walker settlement with John Doe prosecutors be a deal with the devil?
  69. Contempt questions surround reported John Doe deal talks
  70. Walker’s John Doe response raises more questions than answers
  71. Sources: Attorney General passes on defending GAB in John Doe cases
  72. Attorney to judge: Don’t let John Doe prosecutor ‘moot’ injunction
  73. John Doe targets sue Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board
  74. Federal judge says his order halting John Doe probe should be clear to prosecutor
  75. John Doe special prosecutor’s bill still shrouded in secrecy
  76. ‘Are these kind of armed pre-dawn raids standard operating procedure?’
  77. John Doe special prosecutor obeys judge’s order
  78. ‘Never-ending’ John Doe never ended, WSJ reports
  79. Appeals court upholds judge’s order shutting down John Doe probe
  80. O’Keefe keeps collecting big wins in John Doe lawsuit
  81. John Doe I judge says he’s not responsible for John Doe II
  82. Will taxpayers have to pay for frivolity of John Doe prosecutors?
  83. John Doe prosecutors jump back into the dark?
  84. What about those prosecutors? Questions surround other John Doe DAs
  85. Humiliated in court, WI Dems take their anti-conservative John Doe probe to the media
  86. Federal judge blasts John Doe prosecutors – again – as he denies records release
  87. Right on cue: Document dump fuels anti-Walker donation drive
  88. Wall Street Journal points out ‘disgrace’ of mainstream John Doe reporting
  89. Expert: John Doe raids raise ‘troubling’ Fourth Amendment questions
  90. Kelly Rindfleisch tells conservatives, ‘Don’t back down’
  91. Mainstream media forced to walk back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ narrative
  92. John Doe prosecutors engaged in premature justification, conservatives say
  93. Is John Doe probe a case of a mini NSA in Wisconsin?
  94. AG opinion means accountability board’s John Doe secrets are safe — for now
  95. Senator asks attorney general to compel GAB to open up its books
  96. GAB now playing secrets in state John Doe lawsuit
  97. Will John Doe prosecutors launch lengthy probe against Trek Bicycle?
  98. John Doe prosecutors engaged in war of words — lots and lots of words
  99. Judge denies conservatives’ request to add GAB to civil rights lawsuit
  100. Oral arguments set in John Doe prosecutors’ appeal
  101. In John Doe Land, the left doesn’t illegally coordinate
  102. John Doe document blitz must have broken mainstream media’s heart
  103. Senator: Looks like accountability board is hiding something
  104. Kelly Rindfleisch appeal to test validity of John Doe digital searches
  105. Conservatives in John Doe battle know disclosure comes with a heavy price
  106. Appeals court orders release of some John Doe documents
  107. Taxpayers on the hook up to $25,000 for GAB’s legal maneuvers
  108. Overheated media erroneously bring back Walker ‘criminal scheme’ theme
  109. ‘Retaliation': Docs show state prosecutors launched mini-NSA probe of WI conservatives
  110. John Doe prosecutors take desperate, unethical slap
  111. Walker ‘smoking gun’ story has tiny glaring flaw
  112. Wisconsin prosecutors aim to shut down conservatives
  113. Conservatives appeal to common sense in John Doe appeals case
  114. Conservatives say ‘incorrect disclosure’ of John Doe docs no ‘tiny error’
  115. First Amendment big guns back targets of John Doe probe
  116. Was John Doe judge a rubber stamp?
  117. $25,000 and counting: WI taxpayers’ bill so far to defend GAB and its ‘monster’
  118. Another blow for Wisconsin’s restrictive campaign finance law
  119. Wisconsin prosecutors appeal for protection from blowback in partisan probe
  120. Is John Doe story colored with a bit of ‘Macbeth?’
  121. GAB director says agency just following the law in John Doe probe
  122. Kelly Rindfleisch: Where are the tears for the kids the Milwaukee school system failed?
  123. Rindfleisch attorney: Appeals court can protect the Fourth Amendment in Digital Age
  124. Source: Wisconsin Supreme Court doesn’t want political heat of John Doe case
  125. Appeals court reverses John Doe injunction, but Wisconsin’s secret war far from over
  126. A whistleblower’s story: Taking on a ‘hyper-partisan’ district attorney
  127. Conservative O’Keefe seeks investigation into John Chisholm and his John Doe
  128. Who’s paying the bill? Report casts questions on GAB and John Doe payments
  129. Target of secret John Doe probe is fighting back and speaking out
  130. The day John Doe rushed through the door
  131. Rindfleisch: ‘Rape’ not too strong a word for how violated John Doe targets feel
  132. Conservative group asks court to stop John Doe ‘constitutional injury’
  133. Conservatives to appeals court: ‘You don’t know Doe’
  134. Armed and growing: Milwaukee County DA beefs up his ‘police force’
  135. Federal judge stops John Doe prosecutors from bothering conservative group
  136. Wisconsin Supreme Court takes another pass on John Doe case
  137. No surprise: Bice buries the lead, Walker follows the law
  138. Federalism v. individual rights: A conversation with Eric O’Keefe
  139. Report: No district attorney will investigate District Attorney John Chisholm
  140. Appeals court denies request to rehear John Doe civil rights case
  141. Voters say ‘yes’ to Walker, ‘no’ to John Doe, law expert says
  142. Vos: There will be reforms to John Doe, GAB
  143. GAB, Milwaukee County DA bail on key provision behind war on conservatives
  144. John Doe lawsuit could be headed to U.S. Supreme Court
  145. Kelly Rindfleisch will fight on in Fourth Amendment case
  146. John Doe froze conservative speech, targets say

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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

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