Government & Politics

The Wisconsin Left Tried to Criminalize Free Speech

They used morning raids and gag orders as tools to intimidate conservatives.

Arnold Ahlert · Apr. 27, 2015

Anyone still wondering how low the American Left will sink in pursuit of its agenda should turn their gaze toward Wisconsin. In a blatant attempt at political intimidation masquerading itself as legitimate investigation, police conducted a series of early morning raids at the homes of several Wisconsin conservatives. Dozens of armed officers showed up for pre-dawn raids with battering rams, swarming into houses and threatening the people inside with arrest if they didn’t cooperate, even as they seized personal property. And on the way out, the invaders gave every person they encountered the same warning: Don’t call your lawyer, and don’t tell anyone about what happened, because a gag order is in place.

How is it that people can be forced to remain silent even as police conducted large, noisy raids more suitable to taking down a drug kingpin right in front of their neighbors? Because law enforcement officials in Wisconsin are allowed to conduct John Doe investigations, defined as “an independent, investigatory tool to ascertain whether a crime has been committed and if so, by whom.” And unlike other investigations that require probable cause to pursue, John Doe investigations are conducted to establish the existence of probable cause itself.

Under the rubric of looking for campaign-finance violations, the investigations were initiated by Milwaukee district attorney John Chisholm, a partisan Democrat — whose wife is a teachers’ union shop steward — and a man determined to find anything that could undermine the political career of rising Republican star Gov. Scott Walker. Walker has thwarted Wisconsin leftists at every turn, winning three elections, including a recall effort, in just four years.

Chisholm’s undertook his first John Doe investigation in 2010, when Walker was Milwaukee County Executive. After three years, it netted all of six individuals who pled guilty to crimes ranging from stealing money from a veterans’ fund, and sending political emails on government time, to violation of state campaign finance laws and contributing to the delinquency of a child. Walker himself? Never even charged.

Undaunted, Chisholm launched a second John Doe investigation shortly after Democrats failed to remove Walker in the recall election in 2012, an act of naked revenge precipitated by the passage of Walker’s “budget repair bill” known as Act 10. Act 10 limited the collective bargaining power of unions — including the teachers union to which Chisholm’s wife belonged. The machination surrounding the passage of Act 10 included Democratic state legislators fleeing the state to prevent a vote on the issue, an effort to affect a liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court for the purpose of overturning the law after it was passed, and the recall election.

The second probe, led by special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, targeted Walker and 29 conservative groups. Dozens of subpoenas were issued demanding documents related to the 2011 and 2012, campaign, all based on the theory that these groups had illegally coordinated their activities during recall campaigns of Walker and other Republican legislators targeted for supporting Act 10. National Review’s Rich Lowry aptly described what really occurred. “Walker’s opponents weaponized campaign-finance law, literally,” he explains.

One of those groups, Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCFG), and its founder Eric O'Keefe filed suit. In 2014, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa granted a preliminary injunction halting the investigation, and hammered prosecutors “for exercising issue advocacy speech rights that on their face are not subject to the regulations or statutes the defendants seek to enforce.” The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case on appeal, but not because they disagreed with Randa’s interpretation, but because the Anti-Injunction Act prohibited federal courts from intervening in a state criminal investigation based on the cited principles of “equity, comity, and federalism.” Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook characterized the ruling as victory for states’ rights.

Nonetheless it remains clear O'Keefe’s rights were violated and Section 1983 of the U.S. Code allows citizens to be granted relief under federal law if their rights have been violated by state officials. Last Friday, the Supreme Court began deliberations to determine if O'Keefe v. Chisholm will be heard by the highest court in the land. The Wall Street Journal insists such a hearing is critically necessary because the theory of coordination, allowing “vast investigations to be instigated on the thinnest evidence” it is part of yet another leftist effort to undermine the Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling that lifted unconstitutional restrictions on spending by corporations and labor unions. That would be the very same Citizen’s United decision that former IRS hack Lois Lerner was bemoaning at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy on Oct. 19, 2010 when she stated that the “Federal Election Commission can’t do anything about it; they want the IRS to fix the problem.”

The IRS decided to “fix” the problem by denying or delaying conservative groups’ tax-exempt status, and attempting to coordinate with the Eric Holder-led Justice Department to tamp down revelations regarding that scandal. Wisconsin Democrats chose to fix it by conducting two separate witch-hunts replete with dawn raids and gag orders. In a better world, lots of people would be getting disbarred and/or going to jail. In this one, the American Left will continue its attempt to criminalize speech with which they disagree — by any means necessary — until they are stopped.

Stopped from doing what? Try this, courtesy of National Review’s David French:

“As I finished an interview with one victim still living in fear, still shattered by the experience of nearly losing everything simply because she supported the wrong candidate at the wrong time, I asked whether she had any final thoughts. ‘Just one,’ she replied. ‘I’m hoping for accountability, that someone will be held responsible so that they’ll never do this again.’ She paused for a moment and then, with voice trembling, said: ‘No one should ever endure what my family endured.’”

Here’s hoping the Supreme Court agrees — in no uncertain terms.

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