Here’s the Shepherd Express’s Lisa Kaiser with a very good overview of how Scott Walker and WisGOP’s setup worked during the recall fevers of 2011 and 2012, and how the money that was raised to fight those recall was funneled into one centralized body.
While Walker was the one who went begging for donations in corporate boardrooms and exclusive retreat centers, the individual apparently running the operation for Walker was his longtime political advisor, R.J. Johnson, who just happened to also be the “spokesman” for Wisconsin Club for Growth. Walker even went so far as to call Johnson “my Karl Rove,” referring to George W. Bush’s longtime political advisor and operative.Adding to this, the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy released a statement today that not only reiterated that this type of campaign coordination was illegal under state law, but also that the 4 “WMC judges” that made up the ruling stopping the John Doe investigation ruled wrong. The CMD said the right-wing Wisconsin Court majority was incorrect in claiming that because Club for Growth (and their laundering partners) didn’t use the magic words “vote for” or “vote against”, it meant they weren’t electioneering, aka “express advocacy.”
But this blurring of lines between Johnson’s work for Walker’s campaign and other candidates, and his work for an allegedly independent group, is likely not legal.
“In all the years that I was a practitioner, everyone understood that this kind of coordination was illegal,” said Bill Christofferson, who had worked on the campaigns of Democrat Jim Doyle and the Greater Wisconsin Committee—although never at the same time.
Up until last year, Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws prohibited coordination between a candidate’s campaign and independent groups. That’s because candidates must disclose all of their contributions, those contributions have dollar limits, and they cannot come from corporations. In contrast, dark-money groups can take unlimited donations, don’t disclose their donors and accept checks from corporations.
When you link the two entities, you get the worst of both worlds: candidates taking huge sums of money from corporations and not disclosing any of that to the public, so the public has no idea that, for example, checks from Menard Inc., a lead paint manufacturer or Wall Street billionaires were sent in secret and potentially influenced state laws and regulations.
"The Wisconsin court was wrong to say that coordination between a candidate and outside groups only matters if there's express advocacy,” said Donald Simon, a Washington, D.C. attorney with over 30 years’ experience in campaign finance litigation, and former general counsel of Common Cause. “But even so, it's clear that many of the ads run by the groups involved in the John Doe investigation qualified as express advocacy under U.S. Supreme Court precedent."…The CMD also included a list of some of these ads, and not only are they remarkably similar in theme regardless of the groups involved (reminding us that Walker is shown in the John Doe documents to be signing off on what the ads should look like- a big no-no when the group is supposed to be “independent”), but all of them are candidate-focused, with no specific issue mentioned.
The leading U.S. Supreme Court case on the matter, Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC, held that an ad is considered the “functional equivalent” of express advocacy “if the ad is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.” 551 U.S. 449 (2007) The ads considered in that case were held to be “genuine issue ad[s]” ads because,
[T]heir content lacks indicia of express advocacy: The ads do not mention an election, candidacy, political party, or challenger; and they do not take a position on a candidate’s character, qualifications, or fitness for office. (emphasis mine)
The ads at issue in the John Doe investigation, on the other hand, focus on praise or criticism of candidates’ character, track record, and qualifications for office. Some then attempt to disguise their political purpose by throwing in a visual or verbal appeal to voters to contact the candidate in the last few seconds.
This is an important point, because not only is it a lie to assume that coordination was EVER OK across these different organizations, either as a tactic or as a method to hide campaign donors, WisGOPs are also lying by claiming “It was OK because these were “issue ads” that never said to vote for anyone.” That is NOT the standard, and GOPs know it, but they think they can muddy the waters and confuse the average rube into thinking this is somehow their own “free expression” and that it is exempt from campaign finance and disclosure laws.
Which goes to the last article I want to forward you to. It’s from Joel McNally, also at the Shepherd Express, and it includes what should be everyone’s response the next time Walker and Robbin’ Vos and other GOP slime try to claim “courts have found what was done to be legal and stopped the John Doe as a result” The trick is that those WisGOPs don’t mention that the courts who did so were tainted and illegitimate.
The real reason the state court shut down the John Doe was itself brazenly corrupt. The so-called independent groups at the heart of the case—Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce—had spent between $8 and $10 million to elect all four of the majority justices. Although two justices—Michael Gableman and David Prosser—were challenged to recuse themselves because of the clear conflict of interest, they refused.The last part about “public service” is completely true. The RW oligarchs were gaming the whole John Doe investigation, and not just because the Wisconsin Supreme Court is bought off by those same elite bastards. Eric O’Keefe and his well-connected buddies were leaking information and documents about the investigation that they could spin into their absurd “free speech” or “prosecutor abuse” arguments, but we never have been able to see the full documents, what led the prosecutors to expand the probe, and how everything fit together.
Prosecutors have appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Republican refusal to fill a vacancy on the court could prevent it from addressing Wisconsin’s widespread political corruption. But exposing the breathtaking magnitude of that corruption to the nation by publishing leaked documents is not a serious crime. It’s a public service.
Now that we do see how John Doe worked, and the amount of laundering, pay-for-play and debasing of state government was done as part of the scheme, it becomes quite obvious that SCOTUS has to take this case. And just because it would let these scumbags walk after the leaked documents indicate they are blatantly guilty of fraud (“tax-exempt social welfare group” my ass), money-laundering, and quid pro quo corruption (as shown in the lead paint issue and Walker using “return on investment” as a reason to give to him).
SCOTUS also has to take up the John Doe case because the Wisconsin Supreme Court made up a giant loophole that never existed under Citizens United or Buckley v. Valeo , which may have allowed for money to be speech in certain ways, but also said that “speech” had to be separate from a candidate, and couldn’t hide or misrepresent who the speaker was. That’s clearly what happened here, and there is no better case for SCOTUS to draw the line (and show there is a line) than John Doe.