A free speech courage award should go to U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa for his recent ruling blocking the enforcement of part of Wisconsin’s campaign finance law that prohibits “coordinated issue advocacy” between outside groups and candidates. Liberal, overzealous Badger State prosecutors have tried to use a very subjective interpretation of the law as justification for their four-year, failed witch hunt to try and bring down Governor Scott Walker and his allies.
Earlier this year, the same Judge Randa ordered a shut-down of the nefarious so-called “John Doe” investigation – a secret probe launched in 2012 by partisan Democrat District Attorney John Chisholm against 29 conservative groups for allegedly “coordinating” with political candidates during the 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin recall elections. The investigation, in which witnesses were sworn to secrecy, was carried out in KGB-style fashion, including pre-dawn raids on the private residences of stunned citizens who had their computers and other possessions confiscated.
In January, Wisconsin Judge Gregory A. Peterson terminated many of the subpoenas for these raids because they “fail[ed] to show probable cause that a crime was committed.” In his ruling shutting down the probe, Randa stated that “plaintiffs have been shut out of the political process merely by association with conservative politicians. This cannot square with the First Amendment and what it was meant to protect.”
Last month, it was revealed by a former Chisholm subordinate that Chisholm’s drive to defeat Walker was deeply personal. According to Stuart Taylor, a renowned legal writer, Chisholm’s wife, a teacher union representative, “had been repeatedly moved to tears by Walker’s anti-union policies in 2011.” In turn, Chisholm said that “he felt that it was his personal duty to stop Walker from treating people like this.”
What Judge Randa has confirmed is the basis for these investigations was not only pure political payback, but unconstitutional. Unable to defeat Walker at the ballot box and having disdain for his successful tax, health care and labor reforms as governor, prosecutors desperately turned to secret type of investigation – normally reserved for drug kingpins – in an attempt to bring him down.
What’s frightening about this witch hunt is prosecutors were actually less interested in an outcome, than casting a cloud of impropriety over Walker and his allies. This would hinder, if not silence outside groups that support his policies and give Democrat Mary Burke a better chance to defeat him this fall – and was part of a liberal pile-on in attempts remove Walker from office.
While these investigations went forward, Walker had to survive a recall election two years after being initially elected. Several of his legislative allies had to survive recall elections as well.
Additionally, liberal groups went all-in to defeat a state supreme court justice up for re-election, in an attempt to tip the balance of the court to a liberal majority that would toss out Walker’s reforms when challenged in court. Wisconsin voters re-elected the justice in a bitter, costly race.
Randa’s ruling is vindication for Walker and conservative groups, but it also serves as a frightening reminder that we now live in a country where citizens and groups have their First Amendment rights directly threatened by political persecution.
Last month, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found former Texas Congressman and House Majority Leader Tom Delay innocent of all charges stemming from a 2005 indictment. Great news for Delay, but it came nine years too late; his political career over and his reputation sullied in the process.
The IRS admitted to targeting conservative organizations by denying or slowing their approval for tax exempt status as well as leaking one group’s donor records. The more investigators have tried to get to the bottom of the scandal, IRS employees’ computers have mysteriously crashed and evidence has simply disappeared.
This assault on constitutional rights is happening all over, not just in Wisconsin. In his “John Doe” ruling Judge Randa summed it up perfectly when he said “maximizing First Amendment freedom is a better way to deal with political corruption than allowing the seemingly corruptible to do so.”
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/WisPolitics.com
Ken Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and the American Civil Rights Union, and on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.