Tag Archives: Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce

Scott Walker backers set on ousting DA John Chisholm

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm may soon appeal the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that ended the five-county “John Doe” criminal investigation into whether Gov, Scott Walker illegally coordinated with supposedly “independent” dark money groups during the 2011–2012 recall elections to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As prosecutors ready their case, the secret money advocates at the heart of the investigation are planning their next move.

Dark money maestro Eric O’Keefe, who sits on the board of Wisconsin Club for Growth, has declared that Chisholm “is not fit for public office” and “should not be allowed to serve out his term.” He has threatened to get him disbarred, and he has tried to get Walker to fire him.

O’Keefe’s high-powered, D.C. lawyers are suing Chisholm in federal court on behalf of Cindy Archer. She claims to be a victim of a renegade prosecutor. But she was a top Walker aide caught up in Chisolm’s investigation of a sordid bid-rigging scheme detailed by the Center for Media and Democracy.

Now O’Keefe and his associates appear to be prepping to go after Chisholm in a low-turnout primary, using the new, relaxed electoral laws they worked so hard to pass in Wisconsin. They’re also expected to unleash a flood of coordinated secret money and phony “issue” ads.

Scott Walker John Doe headed to divided SCOTUS

In July 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court not only shut down the investigation of potentially illegal coordination between Walker and dark money groups, they took the extraordinary measures of firing the Republican special prosecutor, who was hired to coordinate efforts at the behest of a bipartisan group of five District Attorneys. They threw up roadblocks to any appeal by, for instance, telling prosecutors they could not use expert, outside counsel to help with the filing.

Those actions were unprecedented and reminded many of the Saturday Night Massacre, when Richard Nixon fired U.S. Attorney General Archibald Cox and his successors during the Watergate investigations.

“My career in the military and as a federal prosecutor fighting violent criminals and terrorists did not fully prepare me for the tactics employed by these special interest groups,” said special prosecutor Francis Schmitz.

“To somehow remove the lawyer representing one of the parties after the opinion (has been issued) is extraordinary,” said former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske.

The GOP-controlled legislature took action in 2015 to retroactively decriminalize the activities at the heart of the investigation. They made significant changes to Wisconsin’s campaign finance law, exempting political corruption from the John Doe statute and dismantling the nonpartisan Wisconsin elections board.

Now the three Democratic prosecutors are slated to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state Supreme Court ruling. At issue is the $10 million spent to elect the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the very same groups — Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce — that were under investigation in the John Doe probe.

According to the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Caperton v. Massey, outsized spending in a judicial election could be significant enough to demand that judges recuse themselves. Schmitz asked both Justice David Prosser and Justice Michael Gableman to recuse themselves from the John Doe, but they refused. Furthermore, they offered no explanation for their refusal.

It’s unknown whether prosecutors will also appeal on the merits of the case. It is notable that coordination between independent groups and candidates is prohibited in most states and at the federal level. In 2016, a state legislator in Montana was convicted of breaking state law after engaging in similar coordination and, in 2015, a political operative working on a federal campaign was sentenced to 24 months in prison after being prosecuted under federal law.

Common Cause’s Jay Heck tells CMD that it makes sense that O’Keefe would go after Chisholm this election cycle. “The dark money groups want to protect the gains they have made in Wisconsin, changing the law to allow coordination between candidates and issue-ad groups. They want to stop an appeal before it goes any further.”

The prosecutors’ appeal is sure to have Wisconsin’s far-right yelling “partisan witch hunt” again. Yet, the reality is that Milwaukee DA John Chisholm has a long record of prosecuting Democrats for political corruption.

In 2010, Chisholm used the John Doe process to prosecute Democratic Milwaukee County Supervisor Toni Clark on felony charges related to the use of just $6,300 in campaign funds. Scott Walker didn’t call that a witch hunt; instead he said the case was “a reminder to all others in office that we must maintain the highest ethical standards.”

Dark money advocates take aim at John Chisholm in re-election race

Chisholm announced on April 18 that he would run for re-election. The primary is Aug. 9.

John Chisholm’s Democratic primary challenger is Verona Swanigan, an attorney and Milwaukee native who is new to electoral politics. Swanigan holds a law degree from Northern Illinois University (2005), and has practiced law independently with her own firm, Swanigan Legal Services, for about a decade. She registered her campaign in August 2015, and released a video announcing her candidacy in November that focused on reducing crime and addressing domestic violence.

Swanigan is an African American who has participated in community rallies calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate police brutality. She calls herself a “conservative Democrat,” but her campaign is backed by the well-known GOP political operative Craig Peterson, who has worked closely with Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Eric O’Keefe on efforts to reshape Milwaukee politics in recent years.

According to news reports, Peterson has long been associated with Zigman Joseph Stephenson, a public relations firm, but has had financial troubles in recent years. Peterson has ties to former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was caught up in the “caucus scandal,” an earlier John Doe prosecution of campaign finance abuses, and who now works for big money groups trying to privatize public schools.

Peterson had reported $250 in monetary contributions and $1,681 worth of in-kind contributions to Swanigan’s campaign as of Dec. 31, 2015, a substantial part of the campaign’s $5,476 total take for the year. (Reports covering the first part of 2016 are not yet available.)

Earlier this spring, Peterson spearheaded an effort to reshape Milwaukee’s city government through a secretive group called “Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance,” which spent at least $200,000 on radio ads to influence mayoral and aldermanic races. The group, whose name strongly echoes that of the O’Keefe group “Citizens for Self-Governance,” has not been formally registered, and its funders have not been disclosed, but their impact is being felt.

“It really feels like we’re running against him, and not his so-called candidates,” Ald. Bob Bauman, a veteran Common Council member told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bauman’s opponent, who lost her race, was Peterson associate Monique Kelly, formerly known as Monique Taylor.

Using racial justice issues to advance a tea party candidate

In the 2014 Milwaukee County Sheriff’s race, a liberal dark money group spent big trying to unseat incumbent Sheriff David Clarke Jr. Clarke is a right-winger, a darling of Fox News and a Democrat in name only. The National Rifle Association rushed to his aid, and influential right-wing radio hosts urged Republicans in the county to turn out in the open Democratic primary.

Another unregistered Peterson group calling itself “Citizens for Urban Justice” also came to his aid, running radio ads attacking his opponent. In the ads, Monique Taylor presented herself as a community activist and listed the names of African-American men killed by Milwaukee police. “Now a lieutenant in that same police department wants to be our sheriff,” she said.

The ads had a big impact in the city’s predominantly African-American wards.

But Clarke, who is African-American, is famous for attacking the Black Lives Matter movement, which he has called “black slime.” He has never addressed police violence.

While he has been vague about the funding behind Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance and the city council takeover, Peterson has previously credited O’Keefe with arranging the funds to support Clarke. “Eric raised money for that campaign,” Peterson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “And I spent the money. That’s another benefit to our relationship: He’s good at raising it. I’m good at spending it.”

Peterson also worked with the Wisconsin chapter of David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity and Citizens for Responsible Government in an attempt to rally support against a modern streetcar project under development in Milwaukee. Instead of telling folks the truth — that the Kochs object to any type of clean energy transportation, including trolleys and electric cars — the Peterson crew slammed the trolleys for furthering segregation. Peterson paid for radio ads featuring the brother of police shooting victim Dontre Hamilton urging listeners to send Mayor Barrett and John Chisholm a message by writing letters opposing the streetcar.

While the ads stated they were “Paid for the Black Lives Matter Coalition,” Peterson paid for them himself, according to Urban Milwaukee.

With big money friends like O’Keefe and the Kochs, who are trying to turn secret election spending by wealthy special-interest groups into a principled fight for “constitutionally protected free speech,” Peterson is well positioned to unleash a tidal wave of phony “issue ads” at the last minute to sway a low-turnout election. In the August 2014 Milwaukee Democratic primary, less than 114,000 people voted. That compares with the 332,000 who voted in the November general election.

Stay tuned.

Jessica Mason contributed to this report. Learn more about Eric O’Keefe in the Progressive “Dark Money’s Front Man” and in Sourcewatch.

Bradley ducked out of Supreme Court arguments to make speech for right-wing group

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley ducked out of oral arguments early last week so she could give a speech to the state’s largest business group, which has spent heavily on judicial candidates who will support their business interests on the bench. Her behavior drew strong criticism Friday from her opponent in next month’s election.

Appointed to the state’s highest court last October by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Bradley is backed by right-wing corporate PACs in her race for a full 10-year term. She faces state Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, who is backed by progressives in the April 5 election.

Although the contest is officially labeled “nonpartisan,” in recent years court races have become as political as other elected offices in Wisconsin.

Bradley gave the speech on Feb. 24 at the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s “business day” event in Madison. The event was held at a convention center about three blocks from the Capitol, where the high court was hearing arguments that afternoon. Her speech was scheduled to begin at roughly the same time as arguments were concluding in a case about a woman whose child-care certification had been revoked.

Bradley’s campaign confirmed on Friday that left arguments early to attend the event.

“Supreme Court justices routinely excuse themselves from portions of oral arguments for personal or scheduling reasons,” campaign spokeswoman Madison Wiberg said in a statement. “Justice Bradley had reviewed all briefs in detail before the oral arguments, while on the bench she had heard answers to the queries posed by her colleagues and had no further inquiries on the merits of the case when she excused herself to attend a previously scheduled speaking engagement.”

Bradley’s political opponents blasted the move, noting that she told business leaders at that event “I am your public servant.”

Kloppenburg’s spokeswoman, Melissa Mulliken, said the early departure was “appalling.”

“There is nothing routine about a justice on the Supreme Court leaving oral arguments to curry favor with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce,” Mulliken said. “It is absolutely clear that Rebecca Bradley’s allegiance is to the big money special interests and partisan politics that she has used to fuel her fast track rise. It is appalling she would so blatantly disregard her duty and the people of Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has yet to spend money in this year’s court race. But in four races between 2007 and 2013, it spent an estimated $5.6 million to help elect conservative justices, according to a tally by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a group that tracks campaign spending. All four of the justices that WMC backed won their races and now comprise the conservative majority of the court.

Bradley’s opponents have tried to paint her as beholden to corporate and right-wing interests, pointing to her being appointed three times by Walker, her appearances at WMC events and the fact that prominent Republicans are raising money to help her campaign.

“Instead of doing her job, Rebecca Bradley left a hearing to run off and pledge ‘I am your public servant’ to the state’s big business lobby she hopes will spend big in her race like they did to elect four other conservative justices,” said Scot Ross, leader of the liberal activist group One Wisconsin Now.


Scott Walker to sign bill cutting $4.5 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood Wisconsin

Republicans are poised to cut millions of dollars from Planned Parenthood through a bill that would limit Medicaid reimbursements for certain family planning clinics. Gov. Scott Walker has indicated that he’ll sign the bill.

The bill would require clinics that participate in a federal program that allows them to purchase prescription drugs at reduced cost to bill Medicaid only for the actual acquisition costs and dispensing fees for birth control drugs. The change would cost Planned Parenthood an estimated $4.5 million per year.

Democrats railed against the bill, contending it unfairly targets Planned Parenthood in the hopes of scoring political points going into campaign season. They also said the bill would restrict access to birth control because Planned Parenthood won’t be able to afford to continue supplying it.

“(The bill is) partisan, political and completely unnecessary,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point. “All this bill will do is put women’s health at risk.”

Republicans countered that they’re trying to save taxpayers money and accused Planned Parenthood of overbilling Medicaid for drugs.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. Birth control is available at Target, at Walgreens across the street, all around,” said Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls. “I love families. I love women. … This is about saving $4.5 million that has been overcharged for years to citizens of this state.”

A state Department of Health Services fiscal estimate attached to the bill found the measure could save the Medicaid program as much as $9 million in annual reimbursements.

Debate went on for an hour and 15 minutes. In the end, the Assembly passed the bill 61–35. Senate Republicans passed it last month. It now goes to Walker for his signature. Walker’s spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email inquiring about whether the governor supports the bill.

Nicole Safar, government relations director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, said in an email to The Associated Press that the organization has been billing Medicaid appropriately. She said Planned Parenthood’s opponents are spreading lies in hopes of tarnishing the organization.

The bill is part of a three-sided package of legislation Republicans introduced after videos showing a Planned Parenthood medical director in southern California meeting with people posing as potential buyers of intact fetal specimens. National Planned Parenthood officials have said the videos were misleadingly edited as part of a smear campaign, saying a handful of its clinics provided fetal tissue for research while receiving only permissible reimbursement for costs.

The second bill attempts to prevent Planned Parenthood from being eligible for federal Title X grant money. Planned Parenthood is currently the only recipient of that grant money, which can’t be used for abortions but can be used for other family planning services and wellness screenings. Under the bill, abortion providers couldn’t get any money; the grants instead would go to the state’s Well Woman program, which provides breast and cervical cancer screenings, and local health departments.

The Assembly passed that measure in September with the Senate following suit in January. Walker has yet to sign it, though.

The third bill would prohibit research using tissue taken from aborted fetuses. That bill has stalled in both houses after researchers warned the prohibition would chill work on potentially life-saving cures and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and usually a staunch GOP ally, came out against the measure. It’s unclear if the bill will come up for a vote, and time is running out; Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he wants the chamber to finish its work for the two-year legislative session by next week.

Right-wing money starts pouring in for Rebecca Bradley’s Supreme Court bid

Outside groups have started pumping money into Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race.

The conservative Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent at least $234,660 on a statewide ad buy supporting Justice Rebecca Bradley, according to research released by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform released a 30-second issue ad this week touting Bradley’s merits. A supporter and donor of Gov. Scott Walker, Bradley is a former president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society, a far-right libertarian lawyers group. She’s also belonged to the Thomas Moore Society, a conservative Catholic legal group, and the Republican National Lawyers Association.

She began her legal career protecting corporations from liability lawsuits and doctors from malpractice suits.

Groups don’t need to report spending on such ads to the state. Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice compiled a spending estimate using files television broadcasters have uploaded to the Federal Communications Commission.

The researchers didn’t find any groups spending on behalf of Bradley’s opponents, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald and 4th District Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. They also didn’t have an estimate of how much Wisconsin Alliance for Reform may have spent on cable buys; the FCC doesn’t track political ads on cable systems.

Justice at Stake is a national nonpartisan group that focuses on keeping courts impartial. The Brennan Center for Justice is a nonpartisan institute in the New York University School of Law.

Liberal group One Wisconsin Now said its research shows Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent closer to $400,000 on ads. One Wisconsin Now Deputy Director Mike Browne said the group queried every Wisconsin television station and cable system. He said the group didn’t search for groups supporting Bradley’s opponents.

Outside groups have spent millions trying to influence the last three Supreme Court races, according to estimates from government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. They spent $4.5 million ahead of the 2011 election between incumbent Justice David Prosser and Kloppenburg; $1.2 million in the 2013 race between incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack and challenger Ed Fallone; and $169,000 in last year’s race between incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley and challenger James Daley. That race was far quieter and drew far less attention than the two previous contests, however.

Bradley, Donald and Kloppenburg have a Feb. 16 primary, with the top two advancing to the April 5 general election. Wisconsin Supreme Court races are officially nonpartisan, although Bradley has ties to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who appointed her as a Milwaukee County judge and an appellate judge before tapping the inexperienced justice to replace Justice Patrick Crooks after he died suddenly in his chambers last September.

Justice at Stake spokeswoman Laurie Kinney said outside spending in state Supreme Court races raises questions about justices’ impartiality and whether they feel beholden to groups that support them.

“If you have a justice who arrives on the bench courtesy of millions of dollars of spending by an outside interest group, what is the effect going to be on that person’s professional performance?” Kinney said. “It’s deleterious to the administration of justice.”

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform describes itself on its website as a “coalition of concerned citizens and community leaders committed to creating greater economic opportunities for Wisconsin families.” Asked why the group had chosen to back Bradley, spokesman Chris Martin said by email that she embodies the leadership and courage the group expects from justices.

That raises the question of where Bradley has demonstrated courage and leadership. Walker appointed Bradley, who has only about four years of experience on the bench, to every judicial position that she’s held in her career, which dates back only four years.

Despite her glaring lack of expeience, Bradley was so certain he would appoint her to the high court that she registered a website as a Supreme Court justice before the applications were even due. To most people, that suggests a crony-style inside track on the job rather than anything resembling leadership and courage. 

“The Bradley campaign and the Republican Party are essentially one and the same,” said a statement from Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald’s campaign manager, Andy Suchorski, at the time of her appointment.

More outside spending looks to be on the way. Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a staunch Republican ally, told the Wisconsin State Journal last month that the group plans to get involved in the race. The group spent nearly $2 million on ads supporting the conservative-leaning Prosser and Roggensack, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The group spent nothing to help Daley.

Manley didn’t immediately return a telephone message The Associated Press left at his office. In September Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Vice President Jim Pugh called Bradley “the leading conservative for the high court,” suggesting the group’s spending this time will go to support her.

Right-wing money, politics at issue in Wisconsin Supreme Court race

The two rivals trying to unseat Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, whom Gov. Scott Walker appointed to the court last October, warned of the influence of partisan politics on the state’s highest court at a candidate forum on Jan. 27.

Bradley and challengers JoAnne Kloppenburg and Joe Donald appeared together for the first time at a forum hosted by the Milwaukee Bar Association, three weeks ahead of the Feb. 16 primary that will narrow the field to two before the April 5 general election.

All three are seeking a 10-year term to replace Justice Patrick Crooks, who died in September. By appointing the relatively inexperienced Bradley, Walker ensured that she’d have the huge advantage of incumbency heading into the elections. Judicial incumbents nearly always win re-election, but some political observers say this appointment could backfire, given Walker’s low approval rating. It could turn the race into a referendum against the unpopular governor.

“It is unprecedented for a Wisconsin governor of any party to appoint a declared judicial candidate to the Supreme Court this close to an election,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling at the time of the appointment. “This power grab sets a terrible precedent and doesn’t pass the smell test.”

“The fact that Walker twice named her to judgeships before makes her ‘Walker’s candidate,’ Kloppenburg said in a statement.

“The Bradley campaign and the Republican Party are essentially one and the same,” said a statement from Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald’s campaign manager, Andy Suchorski, at the time of her appointment.

Neither Kloppenburg nor Donald applied for the vacancy, saying it’s unethical for an announced candidate to apply for a judicial seat while campaigning for it. Even though each is more qualified, they would never have been considered anyhow, given their lack of right-wing credentials.

Walker has appointed Bradley, who has only about four years of judicial experience, to every judicial position that she’s held.

Bradley was so certain he would appoint her to the high court that she registered a website as a Supreme Court justice before the applications were even due.

On Jan. 27, however, Bradley pledged to run “a positive and nonpartisan” campaign and said she welcomes support from anyone who offers it.

She’s a Walker donor, however, and her past support has come primarily from the Republican Party and the dark money groups that pile huge amounts of cash into the coffers of tea party political candidates.

Walker’s first appointment of Bradley helped her narrowly win her race to retain the circuit court job he gave her. But $167,000 from the Koch brother’s Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce also contributed to that victory. The Koch brothers and their corporate allies oppose all government regulations, all watchdog groups and limits on money in politics, and all government assistance programs, including college aid, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Their ultimate goal is to sell off all public land to corporate interests and privatize all government functions except the military.

Bradley is their perfect candidate. A former president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society, a far-right libertarian lawyers group, she’s also belonged to the Thomas Moore Society, a conservative Catholic legal group, and the Republican National Lawyers Association. She began her legal career protecting corporations from liability lawsuits and doctors from malpractice suits.

At the Jan. 27 forum, Kloppenburg, a state appellate judge who was elected to that position on her own, said she would accept campaign funds from any groups except political parties. She said her experience makes her best to do “justice without fear or favor” and to “stand up to special interests.”

Donald, a Milwaukee County Circuit judge, touted his independence. He said the election is important to restore integrity at the Supreme Court and that without a new independent, “we’re stuck with an ideologue on the court for the next 30 years,” referring to Bradley, who is only 44 years old.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hints at run for a third term

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hinted Wednesday that he might run for a third term.

Walker hasn’t said yet whether he plans to run again after his current term ends in 2018. But in a speech to the state chamber of commerce, one of his biggest backers, he seemed to open the door wider than he had before.

The governor’s political future came up when he talked about an initiative he planned to unveil in next month’s State of the State address. Walker said he wants to gather input from Wisconsin residents about the future of the state to determine what people’s shared values and goals are.

He compared the state to the growth of a tree.

“For us, we want a state that grows upward, that grows out full, that includes everyone, that lifts everyone up with freedom and prosperity, not just for today but for generations to come,” Walker said. “I’m certainly committed to that through the remainder of my term or whatever terms I’m blessed to serve thereafter.”

In September, after his failed presidential run, Walker said he had not decided whether he was going to run for a third term.

“I haven’t ruled anything out in that regard,” he said then. “I enjoy being governor. I’ll be focused on being governor the next three years and sometime between now and November of 2018, I’ll make a decision as to whether or not to seek a third term.”

Walker’s spokeswoman did not immediately return an email asking whether he had now made up his mind.

The governor has some work to do over the next three years if he hopes to be elected again. His approval ratings fell to record lows during his short-lived presidential campaign, and they haven’t rebounded much since he dropped out on Sept. 21. The latest Marquette University Law School poll released on Nov. 19 showed Walker with just 38 percent approval.

Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Weathersby pointed to the poll numbers as evidence there’s no interest in a third term for Walker.

“The voters know it wouldn’t be a blessing to see Scott Walker as governor for another four years — that’s why his approval rating continues to sink to lower and lower,” Weathersby said.

During Walker’s tenure, Wisconsin has become the most politically divided state in the nation, the middle class has shrunk more than in any other state and Wisconsin has lagged near the bottom for job growth during much of his term. Walker came nowhere near his signature promise to create 250,000 jobs during his first term, and he slashed education funding more than any other governor.

Wisconsin incomes have fallen from 2009 to 2014.

Walker was out of the state for the first few months of his second term campaigning for president, after promising that he wouldn’t run for president during his re-election campaign last year.

After his presidential campaign imploded from a lack of fundraising and lackluster poll numbers in early voting states, Walker recommitted himself to spending time in Wisconsin. He also got behind divisive measures in the Legislature, signing into law a bill that does away with secret John Doe investigations into public misconduct.

He said he intends to sign a bill next week that passed without Democratic support to do away with the state’s nonpartisan elections board, replacing it with a pair of commissions that include partisan appointees.

He tried to get rid of the state’s open records law and is likely to do so again. Next week, his Republican legislative leaders plan to go after the Legislative Audit Bureau, which predicts the cost of bills, among other duties.

Walker also plans to sign a Republican-backed measure that will rewrite the state’s campaign finance laws to allow for coordination between candidates and independent advocacy groups, double candidate contribution limits and do away with a requirement that donors disclose who they work for.

The governor also plans to get rid of the state’s civil service bill, which was adopted a century ago to rid cronyism and corruption from the process of hiring and keeping state workers.

Walker became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election in 2012. That recall was spurred by anger over his proposal that effectively eliminated collective bargaining for most state workers, a measure that roiled the state and brought weeks of protests as large as 100,000 people to the Capitol.

But in his speech Wednesday to the right-wing Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which has supported the governor with massive campaign donations, Walker talked more about bringing people together than the numerous contentious measures that have been the hallmark of his tenure as governor.

“Together we need to work on saying what are our goals for the next five, 10, 15, 20, 25 years beyond,” Walker said Wednesday. “What is our goal for the state of Wisconsin? What are our multiple goals for the kind of state we want to be?”

Louis Weisberg contributed to this report.

Justices contort prior rulings to stop John Doe appeal, protect Scott Walker and reward donors

“What a mess this court has wrought!” Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson declared in the latest chapter in the state’s John Doe legal saga.

On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s majority contorted itself to find a new way to protect both Scott Walker and the court’s biggest supporters — not to mention itself — following its decision in July rewriting the state’s limits on money in politics and ending the “John Doe” investigation into Walker’s campaign coordinating with dark money groups.

Wednesday’s ruling was supposed to be a straightforward decision on a motion to reconsider, in light of additional evidence, that Walker and his allies had violated the campaign finance laws that the court upheld in July.

The court denied that motion, but then (in a lengthy unsigned opinion) went further, rewriting its July decision to fire Francis Schmitz, the Republican special prosecutor who led the investigation, making it harder for him to challenge the justices’ conflicts-of-interest by appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Those conflicts arise from the fact that the same groups that coordinated with Walker’s campaign were among the majority’s biggest financial supporters, raising concerns under U.S. Supreme Court precedent about whether the justices should have heard the case at all.

“The miscalculation I made in this investigation was underestimating the power and influence special interest groups have in Wisconsin politics,” said Schmitz, a retired U.S. Army colonel and former counter-terrorism prosecutor.

The bipartisan John Doe probe has become a rallying cry for national organizations looking to overturn limits on money in politics, and for years has been subject to a legal and media assault, funded in part by the same groups that bankrolled the election of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority.

“My career in the military and as a federal prosecutor fighting violent criminals and terrorists did not fully prepare me for the tactics employed by these special interest groups,” Schmitz said in a statement.

Justices protect their supporters

Wednesday’s decision was “extraordinary,” said Janine Geske, respected former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who now teaches at Marquette Law School. “To somehow remove the lawyer representing one of the parties after the opinion

(has been issued) is extraordinary,” she told the Center for Media and Democracy.

“It puts the case in a very odd situation, removing counsel so he cannot file an appeal,” Geske said, with no clarity for how other prosecutors might be able to intervene.

The court’s July opinion upheld a lower court decision holding that Schmitz had been lawfully appointed as special prosecutor in 2013. Justice Prosser, writing separately in concurrence, had taken the position that Schmitz’ appointment was improper.

Yet after Schmitz asked the court to reconsider its decision on grounds it had overlooked coordination of express advocacy, the majority instead revised its ruling to rescind his authority and to block him from continuing involvement in the case.

“The special prosecutor’s authority to proceed would still be intact if he had not brought a motion for reconsideration,” Justice Abrahamson pointed out in her dissent. “Does this make sense? Not to me.”

The court’s rewriting of its decision and firing Schmitz might be viewed not only as the majority protecting their biggest financial supporters and Scott Walker, but also as an effort to protect themselves.

That’s because the court’s four-justice majority was elected to the bench with at least $10 million in spending from precisely the same groups accused of coordinating with Walker, and precisely the same groups that were under investigation in the John Doe — namely, Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

By rescinding Schmitz’ appointment as special prosecutor, it makes it much harder for him to challenge the justices’ conflicts-of-interest before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce have been the dominant spenders on Wisconsin Supreme Court races in recent years, in most cases outspending the justices themselves. In 2011, the groups and their offshoots together spent $3.7 million supporting Justice David Prosser, five times as much as Prosser’s own campaign, in an election decided by a mere 7,000 votes. Three years before, WMC’s spending in support of Justice Michael Gableman had come in at five-and-a-half times what Gableman’s own campaign spent, and WiCFG also surpassed the Gableman campaign’s spending, in a race he won by 20,000 votes.

In other words, if it weren’t for the millions spent by WiCFG and WMC, Justices Gableman and Prosser might not be on the bench at all. Schmitz specifically asked the two to step aside in light of this apparent conflict-of-interest, but they declined.

“This extraordinary action is, as far as I can determine, unprecedented and could have the effect of insulating the court’s decision from further review,” said Susan Crawford, an attorney at Cullen Weston Pines & Bach.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s majority might have reason to be scared about the prospects of a U.S. Supreme Court appeal. In the 2009 Caperton v. Massey decision, the nation’s highest court held that constitutional due process requires that judges recuse themselves in cases like this one.

When a donor “had a significant and disproportionate influence on the outcome” of a judge’s election, and when an election was decided by a small number of votes, among other factors, the risk of “actual bias is sufficiently substantial that it ‘must be forbidden if the guarantee of due process is to be adequately implemented,'” the U.S. Supreme Court held.

Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court barred Schmitz from representing the state in further proceedings, it may not necessarily bar an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on Caperton grounds. If the justices should have recused in the first place and not heard the case at all, then a subsequent decision from those same justices canning the special prosecutor should have no merit.

But rescinding Schmitz’ appointment means he would have to work on the appeal for free. As special prosecutor, Schmitz is compensated for his legal fees by the State of Wisconsin. Without that appointment, Schmitz would be working without pay, making it exceptionally difficult to mount a complicated U.S. Supreme Court appeal.

“The Court, in terminating the special prosecutor’s appointment immediately, knew that its decision would compromise the ability of the special prosecutor — the sole party representing the prosecution — to seek review from the U.S. Supreme Court,” Crawford said.

Court defies its own rationale

Prosecutors in the John Doe case alleged that Walker’s campaign had violated the state’s campaign finance disclosure laws by asking donors to secretly funnel money to “independent” groups that don’t disclose their donors, and then telling the groups how to spend those funds. The Walker administration then prioritized the policies favored by those secret donors, records obtained in the investigation showed.

In its highly controversial decision from July, the Court declared that electoral “issue ads” that stopped short of expressly saying “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate were outside of the scope of Wisconsin law. Therefore, Walker’s campaign couldn’t have violated any laws by coordinating with dark money groups on “issue ads,” even if most viewers would understand the “issue ad” as designed to influence an election.

Only ads expressly advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate were subject to regulation, the opinion stated, and therefore only coordination between campaigns and express advocacy groups is illegal.

So when the Republican Special Prosecutor asked the court to reconsider its July ruling because there was evidence that the Walker campaign had coordinated with groups engaged in express advocacy, you might think the court would allow the investigation to proceed.

You would be wrong.

In Wednesday’s unsigned decision, the court’s majority declared that Schmitz had not raised evidence of express advocacy coordination early enough in the proceedings — which is false — so the court would not consider it now.

Dissenting from the majority ruling, Justice Abrahamson noted that “unlawful coordination, not merely unlawful coordinated issue advocacy, has been the focus of the John Doe investigation from the very beginning.” The Aug. 10, 2012, petition to commence the John Doe, for example, “focuses on coordination, and is not limited to express or issue advocacy.”

“I continue to believe that the investigation was justified,” Schmitz said. “The voters of Wisconsin have a right to know the identity of large donors, corporate and individual, which coordinate with campaign committees.”

(Even the court’s July decision was highly questionable. Schmitz pointed out that on the same day that the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its decision declaring issue advocacy could not be regulated, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that disclosure requirements are not constitutionally limited to express advocacy, declaring “there is not a rigid barrier between express advocacy and so-called issue advocacy.”)

Has the majority silenced prosecutors forever?

The majority’s “rationale simply seems invented to justify the pre-ordained desired result,” Justice Abrahamson wrote in dissent.

With Schmitz off the case, it is unclear who can represent the prosecution moving forward. The court previously denied motions by other members of the prosecution team to intervene in the case, even for the limited purpose of preserving evidence.

It is not clear who will implement the court’s mandate that prosecutors compile and catalogue all of the evidence gathered in the probe, and provide notice to each individual investigated in the case.

And, by blocking the other John Doe prosecutors from becoming parties to the case, it becomes more difficult for the prosecutors to defend themselves from the barrage of mysteriously funded lawsuits filed by Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Eric O’Keefe and other opponents of campaign finance limits. The majority suggested that prosecutors might be able to access some evidence but how and under what circumstances are unclear.

This is particularly important because the actual evidence in the court record appears to undermine many of the allegations made in those lawsuits — which, in turn, appear to echo dubious assertions from right-wing blogs rather than actual facts.

Even some Wisconsin Supreme Court justices have fallen for the right-wing rhetoric. Abrahamson’s dissent noted that, in July, “The majority opinion and Justice Ziegler’s concurrence to the majority opinion relied on facts that were not in the record, citing blogs and media reports as authoritative sources on how the search warrants were executed.”

Both Gableman’s majority opinion from July and Ziegler’s concurrence relied on factually challenged articles from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity’s “Wisconsin Watchdog” website, which produced literally hundreds of stories attacking the John Doe since 2013 but without routinely disclosing that it was launched and funded by Eric O’Keefe, WiCFG’s director and the chief plaintiff in the lawsuits challenging the probe. Franklin Center’s president until earlier this year, Jason Stverak used to work for O’Keefe. Its director of special projects John Connors is also president of Citizens for a Strong America, another group involved in the investigation and which was funded entirely by WiCFG. Connors also quietly left Franklin Center earlier this year.

The justices’ unquestioning endorsement of right-wing bloggers’ unsubstantiated claims about unconstitutional “pre-dawn, armed, paramilitary-style raids” were repeated in lawsuits by groups tied to the investigation — and subsequently undermined by actual evidence.

When former Walker aide Cindy Archer filed a federal lawsuit against prosecutors earlier this year, she claimed that the Wisconsin Supreme Court had “found” that prosecutors “subjected targets to ‘paramilitary-style home invasions conducted in the pre-dawn hours’ in retaliation for their free speech” (when in fact the court hadn’t “found” anything, but instead repeated unsubstantiated online rhetoric).

Those allegations fell apart after prosecutors released a recording of the 2011 search, which showed a cordial and professional investigation.

This matters, Abrahamson noted, because prosecutors are still being sued by the groups and individuals under investigation. The factual record in the John Doe case is necessary so prosecutors can mount a defense based on facts rather than the heated rhetoric advanced by the blogs and media outlets tied to the groups under investigation. But the prosecutors have been barred from intervening in the case.

The factual record can also help the public get a better sense of what was at stake in the decision — but the court has gone out of its way to keep most filings secret.

“The general rule is that court filings are presumptively open for public inspection,” Abrahamson wrote. “Placing filings under seal is the exception to the rule. In the face of virtually total secrecy of filings since July 16, 2015, the public cannot understand the basis for the four justices’ decisions,” noting that the sealings “raises significant First Amendment, state constitutional, statutory, and common law issues, and may be challenged as erroneous.”

“Why the secrecy?,” she asked.

Brendan Fischer is general counsel for The Center for Media and Democracy, an award-winning non-partisan government watch-dog group. Click here to donate.

Why John Doe prosecutor should appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court

Special prosecutor Francis Schmitz has an obligation to appeal the decision by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court to dismiss the John Doe investigation. That decision legalized coordination between candidates and outside groups so long as those groups don’t say “Vote For” or “Vote Against” a certain candidate.

Schmitz was investigating alleged coordination between Scott Walker and several outside groups during the recall elections in 2011 and 2012, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered him to close that investigation.

Schmitz has two solid grounds for appealing that order to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The first is that the conservative justices who ruled against him, 4-2, were biased and should have recused themselves.

The second is that those justices misread the U.S. Supreme Court precedents on campaign finance law and the First Amendment.

On the first ground, the four conservative justices — Justice Patience Roggensack, Justice Annette Ziegler, Justice Michael Gableman, and Justice David Prosser — had an obvious conflict of interest. Three main groups that the special prosecutor was investigating – Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and Citizens for a Strong America — spent a combined total of more than $8 million on expenditures to help elect those four justices.

Here is the breakdown:

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce spent about $5.6 million on these four conservative justices:

  • $500,000 in support of Roggensack
  • $1,100,000 in support of Prosser
  • $1,760,000 in support of Gableman
  • $2,200,000 in support of Ziegler

Wisconsin Club for Growth spent about $1.75 million on the four conservative justices:

  • $350,000 in support of Roggensack
  • $400,000 in support of Ziegler
  • $500,000 in support of Gableman
  • $500,000 in support of Prosser

Citizens for a Strong America spent about $1 million in support of Prosser in his tightly contested reelection race against JoAnne Kloppenburg in 2011.

In the landmark Caperton v. Massey Coal case in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a judge needs to recuse himself or herself when a party to a case has given so much campaign support to that judge that there is a “serious risk of actual bias.” As the Brennan Center for Justice has noted, the U.S. Supreme Court cited several factors that demonstrate such a serious risk: the “relative size” of the financial support in comparison to the total amount contributed to the campaign; the “apparent effect” of this financial support on “the outcome of the election”; and the timing of the financial support relative to the election day and the likelihood that a case involving the donor would be soon before the court.

The relative size of the expenditures on behalf of all four justices and the apparent effect those expenditures had on the outcome of their elections provide a solid basis for ruling that all four justices should have recused themselves.

As regards Justice Gableman, the $1,760,000 that Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce spent on his behalf proved decisive in an election that he won by only 20,000 votes. He has reliably ruled in favor of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce since getting on the state’s highest court.

As regards Justice Prosser, the $2,600,000 that all three groups combined spent on his behalf proved decisive in the 2011 election that he won by only 7,000 votes. His victory came at a time when the recall process was just getting under way (and it was the activities of these three groups during the recalls that were at issue in the John Doe investigation).

Special prosecutor Schmitz had filed a motion seeking the recusal of at least one of the justices. That motion was not granted. And therefore this is one clear path for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The second grounds for appeal is equally strong. As the Brennan Center has noted, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court’s ruling is “at odds with nearly forty years of Supreme Court precedent.”

The Wisconsin State Supreme Court ruled that it was protecting “political speech, a vital First Amendment right,” when it said that it was OK for outside groups to coordinate with a candidate so long as those outside groups aren’t engaging in express advocacy.

But in the famous 1976 U.S. Supreme Court case, Buckley v. Valeo, the court ruled that expenditures by outside groups that are coordinated with candidates amount to campaign contributions. “The ultimate effect is the same as if the person had contributed the dollar amount to the candidate and the candidate had then used the contribution,” the court ruled. Such expenditures, it said, should be “treated as contributions rather than expenditures.”

In fact, it is only the lack of coordination that reduces the risk of corruption, the Court argued in Buckley. “The absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent . . . alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidates.”

By contrast, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, by legalizing coordination, is inviting precisely the kind of “quid pro quo” that Buckley was aiming to prevent. Ironically, the Wisconsin statute it invalidated was treating coordinated expenditures as contributions, just as the U.S. Supreme Court had instructed in Buckley.

In its 2003 ruling in McConnell v. FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the illegality of coordination, stating that “outside expenditures that are coordinated with a candidate — or “made after a wink or nod” — often will be ‘as useful to the candidate as cash.’ ”

Even in its infamous Citizens United decision of 2010, which allowed independent groups to spend unlimited amounts of money, the U.S Supreme Court stressed that such groups had to be independent; they couldn’t coordinate with their favored candidates. “By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.”

The Wisconsin State Supreme Court simply chose to ignore that, just as it ignored and overran the Buckley and McConnell rulings.

And as the Brennan Center has noted, the U.S. Supreme Court has never said that coordinated expenditures are OK so long as the so-called independent group is not engaging in “express advocacy.” The Wisconsin State Supreme Court made that up on its own.

The special prosecutor should appeal that to the U.S. Supreme Court.

From Buckley to Citizens United and beyond, the U.S. Supreme Court has advocated disclosure of contributions. The decision by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court undermines these precedents.

Here’s how: In Wisconsin, if you’re running for governor, your richest donor can give you only $10,000, which you have to disclose. But now you can ask your billionaire friend to give $100,000 or $1,000,000 to an outside group and you can tell that outside group how to spend it (as long as it doesn’t run an ad saying, “Vote for” or “Vote against”). And the kicker is that this outside group doesn’t have to disclose where it got the $100,000 or the $1,000,000. In this way, our democracy in Wisconsin will drown in a sea of dark money.

In Buckley, the U.S. Supreme Court said that disclosure requirements were necessary to “deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption by exposing large contributions and expenditures to the light of publicity.”

The Wisconsin State Supreme Court decision runs 180 degrees counter to that.

For these reasons, the special prosecutor must appeal the decision of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court in the John Doe case and give democracy a chance in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin justices reward their donors with a ruling that creates a lawless playing field for political campaigns

It came as no surprise when the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided to end a John Doe investigation into the illegal coordination of fundraising activities between Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 re-election campaign and the independent “dark money” groups that support him. After all, the court’s conservative majority had collected $8 million in donations from the political groups being probed.

The decision overturned a state law banning the coordination of fundraising and campaign activities between political groups.

In the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Citizens United, political groups were empowered to raise limitless funds from anonymous sources. But campaigns are still subject to a law placing limits on how much an individual can give to them directly. In making the dividing line between campaigns and dark money groups porous, Wisconsin’s high court exponentially amplified the impact of Citizens United in the state.

Now, almost anything goes for political campaigns in Wisconsin. This is the culmination of years of Republicans notching away at laws designed to curb the influence of money in politics.

To be clear, the law was firmly on the side of the John Doe prosecutors, who contended that when Walker directed donors to contribute money to the Koch-brothers’-backed Wisconsin Club for Growth instead of directly to his campaign, they were illegally coordinating. But in a majority opinion that seems to have been written in the Twilight Zone, Gableman denied that the law banning advocacy groups from coordinating with campaigns could have existed, because it would have violated donors’ freedom of speech.

It’s unclear whether the ruling will have much impact. The law was already hazy.  Illegal coordination has been going on all along, and authorities have simply ignored it.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, recently introduced a bill to more effectively ban coordination between super PACs and political candidates by strengthening the definition of “coordination.” We trust that Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin will support the bill, and we urge concerned citizens to barrage Sen. Ron Johnson with calls to do them same.

But Gableman’s opinion does bring campaign coordination out of the closet. Candidates in the state no longer have to fake playing by the rules, which will make them bolder and more audacious than ever in manipulating elections.

It’s worth noting that Gableman also ordered the destruction of all the records that prosecutors painstakingly gathered for the case at taxpayer expense. He not only had his benefactors’ backs, but Walker’s as well, shielding him from potentially damaging revelations.

A pattern is emerging among Republican corporatists like the court’s judicial shills. If they don’t like a law, a policy or an agency, they simply cut it out of the picture like a philandering ex-husband.

The ruling in this case mirrors recent efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to eliminate the pesky Government Accountability Board, the Legislative Audit Bureau and even the state’s open records law. Those proposals were dropped after stirring unforeseen public outrage, but they’re still in the works, waiting for a more opportune moment.

Gableman topped off his ruling with a dollop of shameless ass-kissing. He praised the defendants in the case for their bravery in filing a self-serving lawsuit to further their influence over public policy. He contorted the greediest and shadiest of political players into champions of free speech.

Is it a coincidence that two of those defendants spent a total of $2.25 million helping to elect Gableman, who was deemed unqualified by several legal groups and ran a racist campaign ad so misleading that it spurred a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Judicial Commission and Citizen Action of Wisconsin?

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that’s what we have in Wisconsin. Until the iron-clad rule of corporatist Republicans is broken, we expect more chipping away of campaign rules and sunshine laws until there’s nothing left — or until people start paying attention and demand reform.

Daughter of Republican-backed Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate is fugitive from justice

Online court records show Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate James Daley’s daughter has been a fugitive since 2008.

The state filed a warrant for Maureen Daley’s arrest in June 2008 after she failed to appear on charges of operating while intoxicated. The warrant is still outstanding.

In a statement, Daley said the issue should not impact the campaign and that he hopes people will pray for those who struggle with dependency. He did not say where his daughter is.

“I have seen the unfortunate side of dependency and the heavy burden it places on society, families and individuals as both the presiding judge on the Rock County OWI court and first-hand as a father,” Daley said in a statement. “These challenges are a private matter and have no place within the context of a campaign.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s rules on judicial duty say judges have a responsibility to notify authorities about judges and lawyers who violate rules of professional conduct. They don’t address whether judges have a responsibility to notify authorities of fugitives’ whereabouts if they know them.

Daley is receiving support from the Republican Party of Wisconsin and has appeared at GOP events throughout the state to promote his candidacy.

Judicial elections are supposed to be non-partisan, but partisan politics and large political donations from outside the state have played a key role in Wisconsin Supreme Court races in recent years. The Koch brothers-backed Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce have spent an estimated $8.3 million to elect right-wing justices in Wisconsin, giving conservatives and supporters of Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda a majority on the bench.

In an apparent attempt to turn his daughter’s problems into a political advantage, Daley accused his opponent, incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, of drawing attention to the outstanding warrant. But he offered no evidence and the Bradley campaign denied the accusation.

“Our campaign has not responded to this story out of respect for what we consider to be a private family matter,” Bradley spokesman Kory Kozloski said in a statement.

The election is Tuesday, April 7.