Now that his presidential campaign is on the rocks, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is exacting his revenge. Last Friday, Scott signed a bill that will enshrine his brand of political and financial corruption into state law, placing himself and his cronies beyond the reach of prosecutors. The new law, which sailed through the Republican-controlled state legislature, makes it far more difficult for prosecutors to investigate cases of political corruption.
Two additional bills are currently making their way through the state Senate. One bill will essentially gut Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws, while the other will dismantle Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, replacing it with an “Elections Commission” and an “Ethics Commission.” Both “commissions” will be subject to the control and whims of the party in power – which, for the foreseeable future, will be Walker’s own GOP.
The recently signed bill places a six-month limit on the Badger State’s venerable “John Doe” proceedings, which have been part of Wisconsin’s legal system for nearly 180 years. Milwaukee criminal defense attorney Marcus Berghahn explains the John Doe proceeding as
…an independent, investigatory tool to ascertain whether a crime has been committed and if so, by whom…allow[ing] the judge to determine whether it appears probable from the testimony given that a crime has been committed, and whether to file a complaint.
In a John Doe case, investigators can compel testimony from reluctant witnesses and force them to turn over evidence. The judge in such cases can hold proceedings behind closed doors.
Not surprisingly, Walker has been connected with two John Doe investigations. The first time was in 2010, when the Milwaukee County District Attorney, John Chisholm (a Democrat), began a three-year investigation into charges of criminal misconduct by a number of the governor’s aides and associates. Although that investigation resulted in six convictions, Walker emerged from the scandal untouched. At the time, a spokesperson for the state Democratic Party said: “The crimes convicted flow directly from Scott Walker’s belief that he is above the law.”
The second time was in 2012, after the highly unpopular governor survived a recall vote under questionable circumstances. At that time, D.A. Chisholm opened another John Doe investigation into the Wisconsin chapter of the Koch-backed Club For Growth and other right-wing organizations allegedly engaging in illegal campaign financing activities in support of Walker. In 2014, the Club For Growth responded with a lawsuit, claiming that the secret investigation was a violation of the organization’s free speech rights. The Wisconsin State Supreme Court officially halted the investigation in July of 2015. Not surprisingly, four of the seven justices are Republicans, while a fifth one has a “conservative ideological leaning.”
There will be no limit on John Doe proceedings in drug-related cases and other crimes of which average folks are accused – but Walker and his cronies will be, for all intents and purposes, beyond the reach of the law. The six-month limit in political corruption cases could be extended if the majority of State Supreme Court justices agree – but given the makeup of the bench, the chances of that happening are about the same as those of sociopaths Charles and David Koch suddenly getting an attack of conscience.
Eliminating the John Doe option for politicians has created a two-tiered justice system – for which Scott Walker is the double-standard bearer. The new law will also have the effect of retroactively decriminalizing Walker’s questionable past fund raising activities – and giving him a virtual free pass going forward. Yet another bill, certain to pass the Senate and be signed into law by Governor Walker, effectively ends any and all controls on campaign financing. Candidates will be able to form and operate “non-profit” organizations from their own campaign offices and solicit unlimited funds from any person or corporate entity anywhere on the planet. Even worse, there is virtually no public disclosure required. It’s the fulfillment of the Koch Brothers’ fondest dreams. Wisconsin’s political candidates will be literally – and legally – for sale to the highest bidder.
And where is the public outrage?
Sadly, most citizens aren’t even aware of what’s going on – and those who do are unlikely to understand the implications. Open government advocates are afraid the effects of the new laws may be too esoteric to really catch the public’s attention – at least until the level of corruption becomes so great and so visible that it cannot be ignored. By then, it will be too late. Speaking to American Prospect reporter Justin Miller, Jay Heck of Common Cause said, “It’s very strategic and very shrewd…it’s part of the broader agenda they know that doesn’t resonate with any people’s lives. They want to get away with it quickly.”
Wisconsinites can expect political corruption to go on proverbial steroids, now that Walker and his cronies have given themselves a virtual “free pass.” While Republicans naturally claim that the new laws would create “greater transparency” in the investigation of political misconduct, the fact is that it will have the opposite effect. Brendan Fischer, an attorney for the Center for Media and Democracy, told American Prospect, “It’s a recipe for political corruption…the public won’t know about it. There’s unlimited opportunities for corruption as a result [of] these bills and limited opportunities for the public to keep tabs.”