For those who don’t recall the now-infamous “John Doe” investigation in Wisconsin, it began with the suspicion that Scott Walker’s recall-defense campaign was illegally coordinating with outside conservative groups. Even the basis for this complaint was fraudulent, as Wisconsin’s Supreme Court eventually ruled; there is no legal restriction on communication with other groups as long as it produces no explicit endorsement. But the special prosecutors used this probe to intimidate an untold number of conservatives into silence, conducted secret raids and threatened any of their targets who spoke about them publicly, and secretly accessed their communications as well.
The Wisconsin court ordered prosecutor Francis Schmitz to notify the targets of the electronic surveillance. Schmitz sent out 159 notices, showing the scope of the attack on privacy and political thought by Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board:
Giving a sense of the sweep of a probe into Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign, the special prosecutor who led the probe reported Monday he had sent 159 notices last week to people and organizations whose material he had obtained.
The state Supreme Court in July ended the investigation into ties between Walker’s campaign and conservative groups supporting him, ruling candidates and issue groups can work together closely.
In December, the court determined Francis Schmitz had been improperly appointed special prosecutor and ordered him to notify any person or group whose material had been taken.
Schmitz informed the court that some notices may be duplicates, as they are notifying based on accounts accessed rather than targets. Those with multiple e-mail accounts will get more than one notice. Even so, the number of accounts violated by the GAB’s hatchet men is a staggering figure for a probe about an arcane point of campaign-finance law, as were the tactics used to punish those who had the temerity to engage in conservative politics in Wisconsin.
“In many cases, prosecutors seized records from individuals and organizations for a time period covering January of 2009 through October of 2013, even though the prosecutors were supposedly investigating activities related to recall elections that took place in the summer of 2011 and 2012,” Jordahl said. “Some of those individuals and the organizations they were associated with had no connection to Wisconsin during much of the time period listed on the warrants. In one case, prosecutors obtained a warrant demanding records for a time period that preceded the organization’s existence.”
The illegal search and seizures turned up everything from bank records to political donor lists.
“The truth is, prosecutors never made any attempt to narrow the scope of search warrants or the list of people for whom they were issued,” Jordahl added.
And now one Wisconsin conservative, who says he was connected to Walker only by party and political ideology at the time he had his emails secretly confiscated, has learned he was unwittingly caught up in the political probe.
He said he takes no consolation from the strangely personal way in which the special prosecutor signed his notice: “Very truly yours, Francis D. Schmitz.”
“He’s not an uncle. He’s not a cousin. He’s not my grandfather. He’s not a high school sweetheart of mine, for God’s sake,” the conservative source said. “And to only get a letter that says we took your electronic records and we are not going to tell you what we did with them, or if we still have them, we’re not going to tell you anything but that we took them, is very disturbing.”
Last month, the state Supreme Court refused to reverse its earlier decision:
Based on what we see here, Governor Walker should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Schmitz and his team for potential violations of the law and of prosecutorial ethics. Wisconsin should act to either disband the GAB or to considerably shrink its authority and power at the same time [see update]. These were nothing but police-state tactics to intimidate conservatives from political activism in order to sustain a progressive status quo preferred by the governing class.
Perhaps that’s even more critically necessary since prosecutors now want the US Supreme Court to intervene — and they’re still holding onto all the evidence collected in these raids and surveillance in case they prevail. They may have some hope, as the court turned down an appeal from the victims last May that would have spiked the probe for good. Most likely, though, the Supreme Court will have a great deal of reluctance to getting pulled into a state-level campaign-finance fight, especially one in which the state courts have ruled one party to have been improperly appointed in the first place.
This case isn’t over yet. It may never really be over for the victims of Schmitz and those who took part in the thuggery in Wisconsin.
Update: From Steve Eggleston in the comments: “Already done. The GAB will cease to exist come July 1, and the John Doe process has since been limited to crimes such as rape and murder.” I’d forgotten that Walker had fulfilled his promise on the GAB. Thanks for a most excellent reminder.