Par­ti­san Supreme Court ends John Doe II probe with a whim­per

Wisconsin Gazette - - Flashback: The Year’s Top Stories - LOUIS WEIS­BERG

Repub­li­can-backed con­ser­va­tives dom­i­nate Wis­con­sin’s Supreme Court and, dur­ing 2015, they handed sev­eral ma­jor le­gal vic­to­ries to Scott Walker, who seemed un­daunted by the stench of politics at­tached to the de­ci­sions.

The big­gest was John Doe II, a case brought by the Koch-backed Club for Growth and the big busi­ness-backed Wis­con­sin Man­u­fac­tur­ers and Com­merce. They claimed the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cam­paign co­or­di­na­tion of their PACs with Scott Walker’s re-elec­tion ef­fort vi­o­lated their free­dom of speech, even though the state had a law pro­hibit­ing such ac­tiv­i­ties.

The court’s right-wing ma­jor­ity not only ruled for the PACs, which are the same dark money groups that do­nated big bucks to their ju­di­cial cam­paigns, but also over­turned the state’s elec­tion law in or­der to ac­com­mo­date those donors. Now it’s le­gal in Wis­con­sin for PACs, whose donors are anony­mous, to co­or­di­nate their ad­ver­tis­ing strate­gies with can­di­dates’ cam­paigns, so long as PAC ad­ver­tis­ing doesn’t overtly name a can­di­date to vote for or against.

Af­ter the rul­ing, the court’s GOP ma­jor­ity or­dered all the ev­i­dence com­piled in the case to be de­stroyed.

Pros­e­cu­tor Fran­cis Sch­mitz, a Repub­li­can and a Walker donor, went back to the bench say­ing he had ev­i­dence Walker’s 2014 cam­paign did in­deed co­or­di­nate with PACs on pre­cisely the kind of ad­ver­tis­ing the court said re­mained il­le­gal. The jus­tices said it was too late for that now. Then they fired him.

The Leg­is­la­ture’s Repub­li­can lead­er­ship am­pli­fied the furor over this ex­tra­or­di­nary case by out­law­ing John Doe in­ves­ti­ga­tions of elected of­fi­cials, de­mol­ish­ing the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Board — a non­par­ti­san watch­dog group that pro­vided in­for­ma­tion to pros­e­cu­tors — and vastly in­creas­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion lim­its.

The Wis­con­sin GOP, which ger­ry­man­dered the elec­toral map in 2011 so that it can­not lose, ei­ther plans to re­main in power for­ever or be­lieves Democrats will never try the kind of shenani­gans Repub­li­cans em­ployed should they re­gain power.

That’s a grave er­ror. Just ask the Repub­li­cans in Congress who gave president Ge­orge W. Bush ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers. Now that Demo­crat Barack Obama is us­ing them, the GOP is brand­ing him a fas­cist.


Next up for the court is an elec­tion to re­place con­ser­va­tive Jus­tice Pa­trick Crooks, who dropped dead in cham­bers in the fall. Walker handed over the po­si­tion to Re­becca Bradley, a fer­vently anti-choice donor to the gov­er­nor who’s been a judge for four years. The gov­er­nor ap­pointed Bradley to both the ju­di­cial po­si­tions she’d held in her me­te­oric rise to the top of Wis­con­sin jus­tice.

Bradley was so con­fi­dent Walker would ap­point her that she reg­is­tered the do­main name “jus­ticere­bec­ca­” be­fore the dead­line for ap­ply­ing for the va­cancy.

Bradley now has the ad­van­tage of run­ning as an in­cum­bent. She’s also backed by the Repub­li­can Party and the same mon­eyed groups as her con­ser­va­tive col­leagues on the bench. They’re ex­pected to fight to the last mil­lion to keep the court — Bradley’s loss would leave the court split.

Her two com­peti­tors are far more ex­pe­ri­enced jus­tices and nei­ther is con­sid­ered a con­ser­va­tive. One op­po­nent is 4th Dis­trict Ap­peals Judge JoAnne Klop­pen­burg, who came to fame for very nearly beat­ing anger-chal­lenged Judge David Prosser in 2011. In fact, she was de­clared the win­ner be­fore Wauke­sha County Clerk Kathy Nick­o­laus mys­te­ri­ously found thou­sands of votes for Prosser that she’d some­how mis­placed. The other lead­ing chal­lenger is pop­u­lar Mil­wau­kee County Cir­cuit Judge Joe Donald.

A Feb. 16 pri­mary will nar­row the field to two can­di­dates for the April 5 gen­eral elec­tion.

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