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Wisconsin's Progressive Police State Betrays Campaign Finance Folly

May 28, 2014 in Economics

By Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro

The latest battle in Wisconsin’s political wars shows what happens when laws that regulate political speech intersect with prosecutorial power to engage in open-ended investigations. “When government attempts to regulate the exercise of this constitutional right, through campaign finance laws or otherwise,” explained U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa in a recent ruling, “the danger always exists that the high purpose of campaign regulation and its enforcement may conceal self-interest.”

Restrictions on political speech are bad enough, but when they’re accompanied by paramilitary raids and gag orders, nobody’s freedom is secure.”

Judge Randa was writing about Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm’s pursuit of “all or nearly all right-of-center groups and individuals in Wisconsin who engaged in issue advocacy from 2010 to the present.” Finding that Eric O’Keefe, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, and other limited-government advocates “have been shut out of the political process merely by association with conservative politicians,” Randa stopped a probe that had begun in August 2012 and was now run by a special prosecutor.

The investigation targeted alleged “illegal coordination” between Governor Scott Walker and independent advocacy groups. Using a rare and secretive “John Doe” mechanism, it built on a previous inquiry that began before Walker’s gubernatorial election and had become a roving inquisitor. (Wisconsin law, like its federal equivalent, limits the amount that any individual can contribute to a political candidate, and thus also prohibits using outside groups as campaign proxies.)

As Judge Randa’s ruling made clear, there was no “express advocacy” supporting any particular candidate—there weren’t even issue ads relating to the 2012 recall—let alone coordination of such advocacy. All the groups did was to speak out in support of market-oriented reforms, including those that Walker pushed regarding public-sector benefits and collective bargaining rights.

This all sounds very dry and technical: government lawyers couldn’t prove the violation of obscure election regulations. But an ordinary lawyering failure doesn’t typically involve predawn raids where sheriff deputies “used bright floodlights … seizing business papers, computers, phones, and other devices, while their targets were restrained under police supervision and denied the ability to contact their attorneys,” or wide-ranging subpoenas subject to a secrecy order—which a state judge ultimately quashed.

In other words, what happened here was that like-minded individuals got together to support certain public policies. For that “suspicious” behavior, the full force of government came down on them, shutting down their advocacy during this election year. …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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