From the Wall Street Journal.
Chalk up a big victory for the First Amendment. On Friday a Wisconsin judge struck a major blow for free political speech when he quashed subpoenas to conservative groups and ordered the return of property to the targets of a so-called John Doe campaign-finance probe.
John Doe probes operate much like grand juries, allowing prosecutors to issue subpoenas and conduct searches while gag orders require the targets to keep quiet. We wrote about the kitchen-sink subpoenas and morning raids by special prosecutor Francis Schmitz that targeted dozens of conservative groups that participated in the battle to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker (“Wisconsin Political Speech Raid,” Nov. 16, 2013).
Now we learn that Judge Gregory A. Peterson ruled on Friday that at least some of those subpoenas were improper. They “do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws,” he wrote. His opinion remains under seal but we obtained a copy.
The quashed subpoenas were sent to Friends of Scott Walker, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Inc., the Wisconsin Club for Growth, and Citizens for a Strong America, as well as their officers and directors. Judge Peterson’s order doesn’t apply to other subpoena targets, but they can presumably get the same result if they file a motion with the judge and have a similar factual basis.
[…]“There is no evidence of express advocacy” and therefore “the subpoenas fail to show probable cause that a crime was committed,” Judge Peterson wrote. Even “the State is not claiming that any of the independent organizations expressly advocated” for the election of Mr. Walker or his opponent, he added. Instead they did “issue advocacy,” which focuses on specific political issues.
This means that prosecutors essentially invented without evidence the possibility of criminal behavior to justify the subpoenas and their thuggish tactics. At least three targets had their homes raided at dawn, with police turning over belongings, seizing computers and files, and even barring phone calls.
The judge’s order vindicates our suspicion that the John Doe probe is a political operation intended to shut up Mr. Walker’s allies as he seeks re-election this year. No one has taken public credit for appointing the special prosecutor, but we know the probe began in the office of Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf.
Charlie Sykes, the famous Wisconsin-based radio talk show host, had more to say about it on Right Wisconsin.
The IRS scandal — which is ongoing — is not that Tea Party groups may have engaged in political activities; it is the abuse of government power to target, harass, and intimidate political opponents. It involves singling out conservative Tea Party groups for special scrutiny and harassment if they sought tax exempt status.
But that pales next to the Doe, which targeted dozens of conservative groups and individuals and subjected them to criminal investigations. Prosecutors cast a breathtakingly wide net –- 29 separate groups, including Wisconsin Club for Growth, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the League of American Voters, Wisconsin Family Action, Americans for Prosperity, American Crossroads, and the Republican Governors Association, along with other innocent bystanders.
In the IRS scandal, Tea Party groups were threatened with the denial of tax exempt status and subject to legal and financial inconvenience. In Wisconsin, conservatives were threatened with imprisonment.
[…]The anti-Walker probe included raiding the homes of targeted activists, seizing their private correspondence, phones, and computers – including the computers, phones, and emails of their spouses and other family members. Under the Doe’s draconian gag orders, conservatives subjected to such raids were threatened with imprisonment if they spoke about it. And because the probe was secret, the prosecutors could not be held accountable for their conduct.
[…]So, what is the motivation/agenda behind the witch-hunt? The office of Milwaukee Democrat district attorney, John Chisolm, presided over a three-year-old long John Doe aimed at Scott Walker that resulted in charges only against a handful of functionaries. Dozens of members of Chisholm’s office signed Walker recall petitions; the chief investigator had a recall sign in his front yard, and some of Chisolm’s aides reportedly were panting at the prospect of charging Walker himself. Their disappointment has been palpable.
Sources describe deputies Bruce Landgraf and David Robles as particularly vindictive and aggressive in pursuing the new probe.
I just finished reading Governor Scott Walker’s new book about his effort to limit public sector unions in Wisconsin, and their (failed) effort to recall him. I believe this man has what it takes to be President one day. I believe in experience, and Walker is getting a lot of experience passing bold, innovative reforms as governor of Wisconsin. He could. Go. All. The. Way.
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