Was the Walker witch hunt a union operation?

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is running a tight re-election race, in a state were powerful union bosses have never stopped trying to take him down, since the day he took office.  Maybe this time they’ll pull it off… and Wisconsin voters will sign themselves up for years of the disgusting corruption displayed by Democrats in the “John Doe” investigation that turned the state prosecutor’s office into a partisan political weapon.

There really should be more national attention paid to this story, because it’s simply breathtaking.  Democrat operatives spent years on a fishing expedition, trying to come up with something, anything, that could be used against the Governor.  They failed, leading to a grim little coda in which major media tried to insinuate the wide-ranging investigation uncovered something vaguely ominous before judges shut it down… then were obliged to clarify their stories to make it clear such was not the case.

Viewed from another perspective, the “John Doe” investigation – so-named because the prosecutors, under a unique feature of Wisconsin law, can swear everyone involved to secrecy, preventing the targets from defending themselves to the public – was quite effective.  It’s undoubtedly one of the reasons Walker’s re-election race is so close.  Not only did ketchup and mustard from this nothingburger get smeared on his reputation, but more crucially, it was also a crackdown on the entire conservative political culture of Wisconsin.  Organizations were suppressed, and donors were frightened away.  Lois Lerner must be beaming proudly at the results, as they mirror what she was able to accomplish on behalf of the Obama 2012 campaign by politicizing the Tax Exempt Organizations division of the IRS.

An out-of-control prosecution can intimidate the hell out of people without ever handing down indictments or achieving convictions.  Nobody wants to host the next midnight raid, then find themselves gagged by legal order the instant the flashlights are switched off.  Those intimidated organizers and donors weren’t going to sweep back onto the field the instant the “John Doe” circus was shut down.  The money siphoned out of these organizations in huge legal bills isn’t coming back.  It’s not like they have billionaire labor unions backing them up.  (Also, they have good reason to fear the circus might get rolling again, since appeals to the judge’s shutdown order are currently being heard, and some believe it could all end up at the Supreme Court.)

Which brings us to a startling report at Legal NewsLine, which includes an account from a former Wisconsin prosecutor who claims that Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm, Walker’s chief tormentor, might have been motivated in part by personal appeals from his wife, a union shop steward.

Author Stuart Taylor Jr. provides an interesting account of how the investigation got started.  It grew out of a request made by the Governor’s office:

The case began in 2009 when then-Milwaukee County Executive Walker???s staff uncovered that $11,242.24 had apparently been embezzled from a county charity. Walker???s staff asked the district attorney for a criminal investigation.

While the thief was ultimately convicted, District Attorney Chisholm took the opportunity to focus his investigation mainly on Walker???s personal staff.

Walker???s team would not learn of the secret investigation for more than a year, when Walker was first campaigning for governor in 2010. Walker???s then-chief of staff, the late Tom Nardelli, learned that Chisholm???s staff had won a court order in May 2010 to start a secretive ???John Doe??? probe into the ???origin??? of the allegedly embezzled $11,242.24.

Which, as Nardelli pointed out in a letter to Chisholm, seemed rather excessive for a petty crime in which the only lingering question was the ultimate disposition of the money.

???Again, John, why is this a secret John Doe???? wrote Nardelli. Noting that Walker???s office had requested an ordinary investigation of the apparent theft, he added: ???Why are you going this route? What is the motive????

Nardelli???s implication was that Chisholm???s people were improperly digging for dirt on Walker or his staff in an election year. Chisholm denied this.

Meanwhile, Walker became a national figure in 2011, when his ???Budget Repair??? bill cut state spending and sharply curbed public employee unions ??? perhaps the biggest reversal of public union power in U.S. history. Conservatives were delighted and liberals alarmed.

One liberal seems to have been particularly alarmed, and she happens to be married to the District Attorney:

Now a longtime Chisholm subordinate reveals for the first time in this article that the district attorney may have had personal motivations for his investigation. Chisholm told him and others that Chisholm???s wife, Colleen, a teacher???s union shop steward at St. Francis high school, a public school near Milwaukee, had been repeatedly moved to tears by Walker???s anti-union policies in 2011, according to the former staff prosecutor in Chisholm???s office. Chisholm said in the presence of the former prosecutor that his wife ???frequently cried when discussing the topic of the union disbanding and the effect it would have on the people involved ??? She took it personally.???

Citing fear of retaliation, the former prosecutor declined to be identified and has not previously talked to reporters.

Chisholm added, according to that prosecutor, that ???he felt that it was his personal duty to stop Walker from treating people like this.???

Chisholm was referring to Gov. Walker???s proposal ??? passed by the legislature in March 2011 ??? to require public employee unions to contribute to their retirement and health-care plans for the first time and to limit unions??? ability to bargain for non-wage benefits.

Chisholm said his wife had joined teachers union demonstrations against Walker, said the former prosecutor. The 2011 political storm over public unions was unlike any previously seen in Wisconsin. Protestors crowded the State Capitol grounds and roared in the Rotunda. Picketers appeared outside of Walker???s private home. There were threats of boycotts and even death to Walker???s supporters. Two members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court almost came to blows. Political ad spending set new records. Wisconsin was bitterly divided.

Still, Chisholm???s private displays of partisan animus stunned the former prosecutor. ???I admired him [Chisholm] greatly up until this whole thing started,??? the former prosecutor said. ???But once this whole matter came up, it was surprising how almost hyper-partisan he became ??? It was amazing ??? to see this complete change.???

The culture in the Milwaukee district attorney???s office was stoutly Democratic, the former prosecutor said, and become more so during Gov. Walker???s battle with the unions. Chisholm ???had almost like an anti-Walker cabal of people in his office who were just fanatical about union activities and unionizing. And a lot of them went up and protested. They hung those blue fists on their office walls [to show solidarity with union protestors] ??? At the same time, if you had some opposing viewpoints that you wished to express, it was absolutely not allowed.???

What a coincidence – the same damn thing happened at the IRS.  There were complaints about agents hanging Obama campaign propaganda on their walls, and reading little “vote Obama” sermons to people who called for tax advice.  It’s amazing what happens when the Party of Big Government gets its claws into a civic institution, and how confident they are that there will never be any repercussions for their activism.

It’s also interesting how the Democrat Party is becoming institutionally hostile to free speech.  The mask is off, and they’re not shy about abusing every government power at their disposal to criminalize political dissent.  As national Democrats make fools of themselves with a showboating attempt to repeal the First Amendment, it’s interesting to follow the civil suit filed by Eric O’Keefe of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, who found himself on the business end of a “John Doe” raid:

O???Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth launched their so-far successful federal civil rights suit against District Attorney Chisholm, his assistants Bruce Landgraf and David Robles, and Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz. Their court papers accuse Chisholm and the others of using a frivolous and unconstitutional theory of ???illegal coordination??? to target and ???silence political speech [they do] not like.???

Chisholm and his colleagues lost that case in May, when Judge Randa issued his surprisingly strong opinion, rejecting the prosecutors??? legal theory that conservative activists had illegally coordinated with Walker???s 2012 campaign as ???simply wrong.???

Even if the Club and other groups did collaborate closely with Gov. Walker in raising and spending money, Judge Randa found, they had a legal right to do so under both Wisconsin law and the U.S. Constitution.

The prosecutors had argued that coordinated issue ads are tantamount to a campaign contribution and thus subject to the laws limiting contributions and requiring disclosure of donors, even if they stop short of urging a vote for a candidate.

But, Judge Randa held, coordinated ads can constitutionally be regulated only if they contain ???express advocacy??? or its ???functional equivalent.??? That???s campaign-finance-law jargon for a clear appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.

Flashing outrage at the investigators??? pre-dawn raids by armed officers who carried off files and computers, cellphones, and more from the homes of conservative activists, Randa wrote that ???attempts to purify the public square lead to ??? the Guillotine and the Gulag.???

Guillotines and Gulags?  You say that like it’s a bad thing, Judge Randa, say Democrats.  Elaborate laws to control campaign finance and political speech naturally create huge vacuums of prosecutorial discretion, which invite politicized abuse.  One of the complaints made by Wisconsin Republicans is that while they were spending four years and untold amounts of money fending off swarms of inquisitors, no one seemed terribly concerned about similar campaign conduct by Democrats.  That complaint will sound familiar to students of the IRS scandal, in which Lois Lerner and her crew belatedly realized it looked very bad for them to be persecuting hundreds of conservative groups with intrusive questions and endless delays, so they threw in some liberal buzz words on their “Be On the Lookout” lists too, and eventually five left-wing groups ran into trouble with their applications for exempt status – for extremely logical reasons, mind you, and they got nothing like the perpetual holding-pattern non-answers and donor-list anal probes given to conservatives, but hey, it gave liberals something they could spin.

There’s a lot more at Legal NewsLine about the legal fallout from the “John Doe” operation, including the rather astounding fact that even with a four-year open-ended super-secret investigation, the witch hunters never found anything they could pin to either Walker or the Wisconsin Club for Growth.  You’d think they could have found some tiny scrap of dubious coordination, maybe even something done by accident, but no.  An interesting observation about the dangers of prosecuting vague notions of political “coordination” is advanced by a lawyer who once served as counsel to President Obama:

Bob Bauer, one of the nation???s leading election law experts, counters that however valid the reformers??? concerns may be, the Wisconsin investigation raises important constitutional and policy issues. ???There are serious problems with the effort to prohibit or limit issue ad coordination,??? Bauer said. ???I???m very wary of using the criminal law to enforce them.???

Punishing coordination, Bauer said, would ???drive apart natural allies who should be free to collaborate on common political goals.??? As an example, he suggested that Planned Parenthood and the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee might want to pair their fundraising and ads for maximum effect, if it would help defeat an anti-abortion Republican candidate in 2016.

Bauer’s right in theory, but in practice, ho seriously thinks anyone in this corrupt Big Government power structure would enforce such standards against Planned Parenthood?  Union bosses own Wisconsin Democrat politics lock, stock, and barrel – the entire Democrat caucus of the legislature once fled the state to avoid tough votes at Big Labor’s command – but that doesn’t seem to have raised the slightest concern among the horde of gumshoes who spent years trying, without success, to find a single instance of conservative issue advocates improperly mentioning Governor Walker by name.  The Wisconsin “John Doe” saga ended – for now – with the New York Times running a breathless report on what Walker’s persecutors allege, while waiting ten paragraphs to casually mention they couldn’t prove any of it, so they got smacked down by a federal judge.  Who thinks a hypothetical Republican abuse of power to intimidate liberal organizations or smear a top Democrat official would get that kind of media treatment?

Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but I’m starting to think that allowing the government to micro-regulate dissent is a bad idea, which tends to invite abuse by the Party of Government.