U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Hear Wisconsin John Doe Case

Nov 21, 2016

Update, November 21: The Wisconsin Supreme Court will not investigate who leaked John Doe documents to The Guardian. Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel and private attorneys who fought the probe asked the state high court to appoint a "special master" to determine who leaked evidence that the courts had ordered held. Wisconsin's justices ruled Monday that it's up to the executive branch of government, not the judicial arm, to launch an investigation.

Update, October 3: The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to take up Wisconsin's John Doe Case. Interests on both sides of the issue have released statements, in response. 

The involved District Attorneys (Milwaukee Co. DA John Chisholm, Dane Co. DA Ismael Ozanne and Iowa Co. DA Larry Nelson) issued this joint release: "We are disappointed by today’s Supreme Court order denying our Petition for Certiorari. The state supreme court decision, left intact by today’s order, prohibits Wisconsin citizens from enacting laws requiring the full disclosure of disguised contributions to a candidate, i.e., monies expended by third parties at the direction of a candidate for the benefit of that candidate’s election. We are proud to have taken this fight as far as the law would allow and we look forward to the day when Wisconsin adopts a more enlightened view of the need for transparency in campaign finance."

Gov. Walker said, in a prepared statement: "I applaud the individuals and organizations who fought for and successfully defended their First Amendment rights against political opponents who wanted to silence them.''

Eric O'Keefe, head of Wisconsin Club for Growth which was at the center of the investigation, said of the Supreme Court's decision not to consider prosecutors' petition to let the case continue: "From its inception, this proceeding was a politically-motivated attack and a criminal investigation in search of a theory."

Another person pleased with the high court decision - Kurt Bauer, president/CEO of the business group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce released this statement:  "The prosecutors were rejected at every step of the legal process and justice has prevailed. They lost at the county court level. They lost at the Wisconsin Supreme Court and now they have lost at the U.S. Supreme Court. The First Amendment remains a vital part of our democracy in Wisconsin and our nation and people shouldn't face jail time for speaking out on issues. Businesses need to have the right to stand up to the government to tell the people about how taxes and regulations affect the daily lives of our citizens. WMC has taken a strong stand on free speech rights for our members and all businesses and will continue to exercise our free speech rights without government harassment in the future."

Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin was disappointed by Monday's announcement and reacted via a release:  "While it is disappointing that the U.S. Supreme Court chose to ignore such clear conflicts for the Wisconsin justices, the issues behind the case are far from dead. Recent revelations about the 2011-2012 recall elections have raised troubling new questions about Governor Walker and those who engaged in possible illegal activity. The new information which has come to light merits a full investigation by the Dane County District Attorney."

Update, September 29: The Wisconsin John Doe case did not make the initial list of cases to be considered by U.S. Supreme Court though more orders will be issued on October 3.

Original story, September 26: The U.S. Supreme Court today will meet in closed session to decide whether to consider Wisconsin’s John Doe investigation. That secret probe was looking into whether Gov. Walker’s 2012 recall campaign broke campaign finance laws by illegally coordinating with outside advocacy groups.

The investigation began back in 2012 when Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm launched a probe into Gov. Walker’s recall campaign.

During a previous John Doe involving Walker aides and associates while he was Milwaukee County Executive, it’s believed Chisholm came across information leading him to question certain activities during Walker’s recall campaign.

Those questions center around whether the campaign illegally coordinated fundraising with the conservative group Wisconsin Club for Growth. Four other district attorneys joined the investigation along with a special prosecutor.

In 2015, the Wisconsin Club for Growth brought forth the legal challenge to stop the investigation. The majority of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices concluded that the campaign did not violate campaign finance laws, and, the court ordered the prosecutors to destroy all the evidence they had collected.

Prosecutors then won permission to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court – and to keep the evidence they had collected – until the high court decides whether to intervene.

One argument the prosecutors are making is that at least two of the four Wisconsin justices who voted to shut down the John Doe probe should have recused themselves. They reportedly were the beneficiaries of some of the same moneyed interests that had helped the Walker recall effort.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth insists the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United allows corporations to spend unlimited cash on issue ads – ads that don’t say vote for or against someone.

Earlier this month, the Guardian newspaper released around 1,500 hundred pages of leaked documents pertaining to the case the prosecution was building.  The papers indicate who has contributed big money to Republicans here, and, in some cases, how those groups have fared when it comes to legislation.

LISTEN - The Guardian: Leaked John Doe Documents Detail Walker Collaboration with Conservative Groups;

Walker says he has always followed through on promises he made to voters regarding changes in state policy.

Several groups insist the documents prove illegal collaboration – that the governor was, in fact, raising big money for the Wisconsin Club for Growth – which in turn helped him.

Meanwhile, a number of state Republicans have called upon Attorney General Brad Schimel to find out who leaked the documents.