Last month, there was a bit of excitement in Wisconsin, as both state and federal judges stepped in to close down a wide-ranging campaign finance investigation targeting Republican Governor Scott Walker and conservative groups. The investigation was characterized by detractors as a “witch hunt” or “fishing expedition.” Under the remarkable “John Doe” rules of engagement, prosecutors were able to fire off a blizzard of subpoenas, conduct secret raids in which they seized just about everything that wasn’t nailed down, and require the targets of the investigation to keep quiet. Writing about the federal court action in early May, I thought the whole thing had a whiff of Lois Lerner’s IRS crusade against the Tea Party about it.
It’s little shot of astonishing that they didn’t find anything that could be used to justify continuing the investigation, because even squeaky-clean folks who haven’t done anything wrong can usually be portrayed as some sort of miscreant after such an intensive shakedown. We’re all guilty of three felonies a day, as the title of Harvey Silverglate’s book has it.
But the prosecutors couldn’t find anything on Governor Walker or the conservative groups they were hassling, a state judge nixed a bunch of the John Doe subpoenas for lack of probable cause, and the whole thing eventually wound up in federal court, where Judge Rudolph Randa said the whole thing was an assault on the First Amendment rights of targeted groups such as Wisconsin Club for Growth, who were being intimidated out of participation in the political process. He rejected the campaign finance arguments in rather lively terms, as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported at the time:
Randa wrote of the urgency of the case, because prosecutors essentially shut down Wisconsin Club for Growth’s right to free speech during an election year.
Prosecutors contend that the Wisconsin Club for Growth is acting as a subcommittee of Walker’s campaign ??? and thus must report its spending on behalf of Walker and adhere to fundraising limits, Randa wrote. He called that viewpoint “simply wrong.”
When it comes to political speech, Randa wrote, the government may regulate only “express advocacy” ??? that is, ads or other communications that explicitly urge people to vote for or against a candidate. But Wisconsin Club for Growth and groups like it engage in “issue advocacy” ??? communications that promote or denigrate candidates without coming right out and saying how people should vote.
The government can regulate express advocacy only because of the danger of “giving government an expanded role in uprooting all forms of perceived corruption which may result in corruption of the First Amendment itself,” Randa wrote.
“As other histories tell us, attempts to purify the public square lead to places like the Guillotine and the Gulag.”
Campaign finance laws can be used to prevent tit-for-tat corruption or the appearance of it, but nothing else, Randa wrote. The activities at issue in the investigation don’t rise to that level, he found.
“O’Keefe and the Club obviously agree with Governor Walker’s policies, but coordinated ads in favor of those policies carry no risk of corruption because the Club’s interests are already aligned with Walker and other conservative politicians,” Randa wrote. “Such ads are meant to educate the electorate, not curry favor with corruptible candidates.”
“Guillotines & Gulags” sounds like the most depressing fantasy role-playing game ever. The judge not only shut the John Doe investigation down, but he ordered the return of all property that had been seized, and the destruction of all information gathered.
This whole thing is really about union bosses and their Democrat Party representatives trying to get Scott Walker, who has been elected to the same term as Governor four or five times already. I’ve long referred to the Democrats’ antics in Wisconsin as the “War on Taxpayers,” and it’s not over yet, not by a long shot. Not only does the astounding success of Governor Walker’s reforms portend a seismic political shift in Wisconsin, but he’s a threat on the national stage too – either as a 2016 presidential candidate, or as a powerful asset to whoever runs. Rarely as a Democrat mess been cleaned up by a conservative Republican as thoroughly as Wisconsin was reformed under Scott Walker.
And so, the War on Taxpayers grinds along, as the John Doe hit squad appeals the rulings against them, the appeals court orders the disclosure of some documents relevant to the case… and the media swiftly cooks it up into a drive-by character assassination of Governor Walker, trying to sink him with the very same allegations (they never even rose to the level of “charges”) that got laughed out of court.
Thus, you’ve got the Journal-Sentinel writing a headline that “John Doe prosecutors allege Scott walker at center of ‘criminal scheme,'” as if this was some new bombshell that could bury the Governor any minute now, not a bunch of finely-aged hooey that already got thrown out of state and federal courts. You’re nine paragraphs into the story before you learn that judges have already dismissed these wide-ranging allegations… and you hear it from Walker himself, who is quoted patiently explaining the situation to reporters.
The Washington Post likewise plays funny little games with tenses by asking, “How big could the Scott Walker scandal be?” (Answer: not big enough to persuade either state or federal judges to let the witch hunt continue.)
“Wisconsin Governor at Center of a Vast Fund-Raising Case,” blares the New York Times headline, followed by three paragraphs of simply masterful misdirection, conjuring a story out of thin air by referencing lawsuits and allegations and what “prosecutors say,” lions and tigers and bears, oh my:
Prosecutors in Wisconsin assert that Gov. Scott Walker was part of an elaborate effort to illegally coordinate fund-raising and spending between his campaign and conservative groups during efforts to recall himand several state senators two years ago, according to court filings unsealed Thursday.
The allegations by five county district attorneys, released as part of a federal lawsuit over the investigation into Mr. Walker, suggest that some of the governor???s top campaign aides directed the political spending of the outside groups, most of them nonprofits, and in effect controlled some of them.
The documents made public on Thursday threatened to cloud the political prospects of Mr. Walker, who is seeking election to a second term this fall and is mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016. They provided a rare view of the inner workings of a far-flung network of conservative nonprofit groups that have come to play a decisive role in national and state elections, secretly moving hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns by avoiding traditional political action committees, which typically face tougher disclosure requirements.
After four more paragraphs of hyperventilating, the Times finally gets around to casually informing readers that “no criminal charges have been brought, and the case has stirred an intense legal debate over what exactly constitutes illegal coordination in such cases.” Three paragraphs later, after the NYT hacks pause to genuflect in respect for the Internal Revenue Service’s tireless efforts to crack down on tax-exempt organizations, bamboozled readers finally learn how state judge Gregory A. Peterson “quashed subpoenas, saying he had found no probable cause of campaign finance violations.” Then we finally get to Judge Randa’s preliminary injunction, which of course the Times is careful not to quote from, because that would be like rolling up the car windows in the middle of a drive-by shooting.
USA Today goes with the ominous headline “Prosecutors: Wis. Gov. Scott Walker in criminal scheme,” which sure does make it sound like he’s in some pretty hot water… until the sixth paragraph. “No charges have been filed against Walker or any of his staffers,” comes the sad-trombone disclaimer. “The allegation may pose more immediate political than legal problems for the governor, who is up for another term in November and has been considered a possible 2016 presidential contender.”
“More immediate political that legal problems” means “Democrat partisans in the media will flood the zone with bombshell headlines, then maybe take a few polls, and if Walker’s numbers are down, we’ll put the results on the front page.”
All of these stories take time to wonder what the non-story they’ve concocted might mean for Walker’s 2016 presidential hopes, a phenomenon known to students of media bias as “wishcasting.” Gosh, maybe if we write a thousand stories about how Walkers’ possible presidential campaign should be damaged by unproven allegations that got thrown out of court, the public might start getting the idea that Walker’s possible presidential campaign has been damaged! There’s also an element of the Obama era’s big new political idea, “stray voltage,” in which even badly-written stories and refuted allegations can still push an idea into the public mind, with hack reporting and shoddy statistics falling away behind the meme like booster stages dropping off a rocket as it achieves orbit.
So it’s “guilty until proven innocent… heck, screw that, you’re guilty even before we can dig up enough dirt to file charges that a judge doesn’t stuff into a crosscut shredder.” Governor Walker wrote an op-ed pushing back:
Abraham Lincoln once said, ???Truth is generally the best vindication against slander.???
The truth on the widely covered ???John Doe??? is that two judges, one state and one federal, reviewed the accusations of partisans within a Democrat District Attorney???s Office and determined their theories have no merit or basis in law.
Each of these judges explicitly issued judicial orders that these partisan prosecutors must end their investigation immediately.
These are the truths that need to be stated over and over again to fight the slander directed at me and our campaign by my political opponents.
Still, many in the media proceed as though the opinion of the partisan prosecutors is new information and ignore the truths I have stated above. It is not. It is old news that has already been discounted by two judges. No charges. No case.
In reaction to the information that was released to the public and seized on by the media, the federal judge just this week sharply criticized the prosecutors. He said that they are now seeking ???refuge in the Court of Public Opinion, having lost in this Court on the law.???
Watching the media frenzy it is clear that this is what happens when someone takes on the big government special interests. They push back. No wonder so many politicians are afraid to make tough decisions.
I will not back down. We will continue to fight using the truth to keep the hard working taxpayers of Wisconsin in charge of their state and local governments. We will continue to fight to make life better for the good people of Wisconsin.
To listen to all the liberal whining, you’d almost think Walker had some huge financial advantage during the recall battle. But he didn’t. Yes, he got a million dollars from the eeeevil Koch Brothers… which is about five percent of what Big Labor poured into the unsuccessful effort to unseat him. But that doesn’t matter, because liberal special interests aren’t really “special interests,” you see. They’re just concerned citizens with pure motives, and their dollar bills are sparkly and clean, like fresh snowflakes.
Like most other Big Government regulations, campaign finance laws have a way of becoming protection rackets for the existing power structure. What Scott Walker has been able to accomplish against the special interests that were bleeding Wisconsin dry gives them plenty of reasons to hate him.
Update: It’s a full-court press against Walker, since just a few days ago, The New Republic was trying to smear him as a racist, or the preferred candidate of racists, or something. Jonthan Tobin at Commentary has it right: “Liberals are afraid of Scott Walker.”
Update: David Harsanyi has a great piece comparing the Hillary Clinton bummer of the week, her legal defense of a child rapist, to the media hit on Scott Walker. The conclusion he draws from the Left’s double standards: “Child rapists deserve due process. Conservative governors, not so much.”
I would add another observation about the contrast between the two stories: the Hillary story is about things she indisputably said and did, recorded on audio tape and court documents. It’s not about allegations of wrongdoing. As a very minor side point, there has been some grumbling that the interview she gave back in the Eighties could be construed as an unethical violation of attorney-client privilege, because she says some candid things about the child rapist she defended. That’s not at all what makes the story a big deal, and it’s not the reason Hillary’s clique has been trying to keep it buried.
Update: There’s a difference between mentioning something, and flood-the-zone coverage. That’s how the media sometimes defends itself by claiming it “covered” an Obama scandal, by mentioning it once on page A-6. But when the subject is someone the media doesn’t like, the intensity of coverage is rather different…
PSYCHOTIC: The @WashingtonPost has run 17 pieces attacking Scott Walker in just the last 24 hours.
??? Donny Ferguson (@DonnyFerguson) June 20, 2014