The two most egregious examples of government interference in recent elections may share a link. More than two years after it got exposed, the IRS’ partisan probes of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status remains unresolved, thanks to the obstruction of the IRS in producing the relevant records to Congressional investigators — and the refusal of Lois Lerner, the central figure in the scandal, to testify. The status of the John Doe probe in Wisconsin that also attempted to derail conservative groups from participating in elections is similarly unresolved, but has been halted by judges who may end up killing it and the law on which it’s based altogether.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal editorial board noted a link between Lerner and the otherwise-unrelated John Doe probe, and argues that it demonstrates a project on the part of progressives to shut down political speech:
Former IRS tax-exempt director Lois Lerner ran the agency’s policy on conservative groups. Kevin Kennedy runs the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) that helped prosecutors with their secret John Doe investigation of conservative groups after the 2011 and 2012 recall elections of Governor Scott Walker and state senators.
Emails we’ve seen show that between 2011 and 2013 the two were in contact on multiple occasions, sharing articles on topics including greater donor disclosure and Wisconsin’s recall elections. The emails indicate the two were also personal friends who met for dinner and kept in professional touch. “Are you available for the 25th?” Ms. Lerner wrote in January 2012. “If so, perhaps we could work two nights in a row.”
This timing is significant because those were the years when the IRS increased its harassment of conservative groups and Wisconsin prosecutors gathered information that would lead to the John Doe probe that officially opened in September 2012. Ms. Lerner’s lawyer declined comment. Mr. Kennedy said via email that “Ms. Lerner is a professional friend who I have known for more than 20 years” but declined further comment.
The editorial also alleges that multiple sources have told the WSJ that John Doe investigators provided tips to Lerner’s tax-exempt unit about one of its targets. That would strongly suggest an attempt at coordination between the IRS and the GAB. The editors argue that these links form a pattern — a pattern that had its intended effect:
These interconnections matter because they reveal that the use of tax and campaign laws to limit political speech was part of a larger and systematic Democratic campaign. …
Conservative nonprofits like the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce were later subpoenaed and bound by secrecy orders as their fundraising all but ceased. Liberals worked together to turn the IRS and the GAB into partisan political weapons.
In Wisconsin, Republicans who now control state government have made it clear that a reform of the GAB is a top priority:
Republican leadership called on the Legislature to “double down” on finalizing reforms to the state’s Government Accountability Board, the agency that oversees, election, campaign finance and ethics laws. …
“Now is the time for the state Legislature to get control of the situation,” Craig said “Was there wrongdoing? Was the law abided by? Do officials need to be impeached from office?”
On that point, Rep. David Craig wants very specific answers as to why Kennedy and the GAB were sharing information with the IRS while blocking the state legislature from access to the data:
Craig called on GAB director Kevin Kennedy and the agency’s staff to produce records sent to or received by IRS officials from Jan. 1, 2010 to present.
The lawmaker said the Government Accountability Board “hid behind the law when shielding John Doe investigation documents from legislators and the Legislative Audit Bureau, all the while sharing information with an unrelated federal agency that has nothing to do with the administration of elections.”
“Even more disturbing is the fact that the very IRS officials in communication with the GAB were the same IRS officials at the heart of a scandal targeting conservative political groups,” Craig added.
The linking of the two scandals could not come at a worse time for the GAB. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the John Doe case and potentially the entire structure used by the GAB for those investigations. Kennedy et al may find themselves out of work anyway, but now even a somewhat favorable ruling from the top state court may end up being moot. The coordination between two politicized agencies will give Republicans all the cover they need to strip the GAB of its authority to conduct secret probes and hushed-up raids, even if a court found them to be legal.
On the larger point from the WSJ, this joint effort does demonstrate the progressive Left’s animus toward First Amendment rights. And politics is not the only venue in which that has been demonstrated of late, either, as I wrote this week for The Fiscal Times:
This didn’t just start with last week’s ruling in Obergefell v Hodges, in which the Supreme Court declared a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The decision did inspire opponents of religious doctrines that cast sex of any sort outside of sacramental marriage as a sin to ramp up their efforts to narrow religious liberty to the smallest possible context. For instance, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) told MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki that the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion only extends as far as the outside walls of houses of worship.
“Certainly the First Amendment says that in institutions of faith that there is absolute power to observe deeply held religious beliefs,” Baldwin explained, “but I don’t think it extends far beyond that.” Baldwin objected to the idea that religious liberty applies to the manner in which Americans choose to live their lives. “They’re talking about expanding this far beyond our churches and synagogues to businesses and individuals across this country,” she warned. “I think there are clear limits that have been set in other contexts and we ought to abide by those in this new context across America.” …
True tolerance would allow Americans of all sexual orientations to serve openly – but also all people of faith to serve with exactly the same amount of openness. It would allow all people to access the market without government restriction, but give people the leeway to decide for themselves in which events they wish to participate and when without government penalty, either.
Instead of tolerance and liberty, though, the government appears ready to conduct a hunt of heretics in the pursuit of ensuring total compliance with cultural doctrine, while promising that churches can hide within their own four walls to escape the ruling class’ wrath.
How long will it take for that remnant of liberty to be extinguished?
It depends on how much coordination occurs between government bureaucracies to undermine and attack it.
Update: The comments below saying that there’s no reason to vote for Republicans are pretty amusing, considering the context of this story. It was the “why bother to vote for Romney” crowd that gave us a second Obama term. It was the Republicans who turned out to vote in Wisconsin that reformed PEUs, controlled the budget, and will get rid of the GAB and John Doe investigations. The same commenters keep showing up to peddle the same despair in thread after thread based largely on the fact that things didn’t change enough after people didn’t show up to vote in 2012 and left us with Obama in charge of the executive branch, and wonder why Republicans in Congress can’t just change everything overnight. Wisconsin shows what can happen when Republicans and conservatives actually show up.