By Elaine Magliaro
Mary Bottari of PR Watch wrote a report today about two court cases that have not garnered much media attention–even though the stakes “could not be higher.” She said the converging cases “will decide the future of Wisconsin campaign finance law, the independence of the Wisconsin judiciary and will impact the future of presidential candidate Scott Walker.” One of the cases is being heard in open court and the other is “being considered in silence behind closed doors.”
According to Bottari, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is slated to take up the “John Doe” criminal investigation of alleged coordination between Friends of Scott Walker and “independent” groups during the tumultuous 2011-2012 recall elections.
John Doe Investigation
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has detailed the bipartisan state investigation into the Walker campaign and the secretive big money groups that bankrolled his 2012 recall victory. Wisconsin Club for Growth (WiCFG), headed by Walker campaign manager R.J. Johnson and the “third Koch Brother” Eric O’Keefe, spent at least $9.1 million on Wisconsin’s unprecedented recall elections, and funneled almost $10 million more to other politically-active groups, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Yet, WiCFG, which enjoys tax free status, told the IRS that it spent $0 in political activity during that period.
Prosecutors have alleged that Scott Walker had secretly raised millions for the Wisconsin Club for Growth (WiCFG) from “out-of-state donors like Donald Trump and Paul Singer, and allegedly coordinated with WiCFG in order to evade Wisconsin’s donor disclosure laws.” She said talking points that were prepared for the governor advised him to “stress that donations to WiCFG are not disclosed,” and to tell donors “that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.”
Bottari said that the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) had argued in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the “dark money schemes left voters completely in the dark about who was truly influencing elections in the state.” She said that Wisconsinites were unaware “that a Florida-based mining company lobbying for a massive open pit mine in Wisconsin secretly gave $700,000 to WiCFG.” In addition, she said they did not know that “John Menard gave $1.5 million to the group, and in turn received at least $1.8 million in tax credits from Walker’s job development agency.” She added that the investigation into the schemes had “been halted by a passel of lawyers hired by the groups under investigation.” She said that “its fate now rests with the Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.”
Bottari said that “the court’s right-wing majority decided not to hear oral arguments, in order to protect the defendants against leaks, over the strong objections of the Chief Justice.”
According to Bottari, Eric O’Keefe, the leader of WiCFG, is constantly howling “partisan witch hunt” to the Wall Street Journal. She said he had “likened the investigation to being raped” despite the fact that the chief prosecutor in the case “is Francis Schmitz, a well-respected Republican anti-terrorism prosecutor who received the ‘US Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service’ from Michael Mukasey’s Justice Department in 2007. She said that Schmitz had even admitted that he voted for Walker in the recall election.
Schmitz and his team took note that four of the right-wing justices were elected to office with huge expenditures by the very big money groups under investigation. He has demanded that these justices recuse themselves from the case, but the request has been ignored.
In “hearing” the John Doe, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will consider not only the future of the investigation and the fate of Walker, but also the future of Wisconsin campaign finance law, and whether candidates (including the justices themselves, when they are up for reelection) will be able to coordinate with dark money groups whose job it is raise and spend unlimited dollars from powerful special interests.
Jay Heck, director of Wisconsin’s Common Cause, explained: “What is at stake here is the independence of the Wisconsin judiciary. The Wisconsin Supreme Court was once considered the model for the nation in terms of its impartiality and independence. That history could be wiped out by a single decision by this court to open up the doors to coordination with outside groups and effectively render campaign contribution limits meaningless.”
Scott Walker and Dark Money Allies Orchestrate Coup of the Courts
In the second case, Bottari said that Governor Walker’s “big money allies are busily engineering a coup of the courts to strip the independent Chief Justice, Shirley Abrahamson, of her title and authority.”
Wisconsin elects Supreme Court Justices for 10 year terms. For 126 years under the Wisconsin’s Constitution, the title of Chief Justice has been given to the longest serving member, but sticking to that plan would leave critical thinkers in charge for decades to come. Abrahamson was reelected as Chief to a 10 year term in 2009 with 60% of the vote. After Abrahamson, Justice Anne Walsh Bradley, who has fought to keep partisan politics out of the courts, would be next in line.
As CMD previously reported the threat of having a Chief who was not under their thumb was simply too much for Team Walker and his dark money allies. The GOP controlled legislature urged on by WMC and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity backed a constitutional change to strip the Chief of her title and authority and rushed to get it on the low-turn out spring ballot.
Bruce Murphy, a veteran Milwaukee journalist, said, “Proponents of the measure have said it’s about displacing seniority with democracy, but declined to make it effective in 2019, when Abrahamson’s term ends, leaving no doubt this was a get-Shirley amendment.”
Bottari suggested that people shouldn’t “forget the unseemly, undisclosed lobbying by other justices hoping to be Chief, including Pat ‘Patience’ Roggensack.”
To orchestrate a constitutional coup a phony “vote yes” group was formed by Rogensack’s former campaign manager and WMC piled on the cash in a $600,000 ad blitz saying it was all about “democracy.” In the final weekend before election day, the liberal Greater Milwaukee Committee fielded an extra $200,000 in ads, but it was too late to make a difference.
According to Bottari, if the WMC ads “had explained that they were unseating the chief and purchasing the best court money could buy,” the result of the election may well have been different. The Capital Times explained: “They secured a narrow 53 percent to 47 percent victory in a low-turnout election; barely 10 percent of Wisconsin’s voting-age population supported the deliberately confusing amendment.” Bottari added that court observers who were tracking the “We Hate Shirley” amendment “assumed that she would soon lose her title and her authority.”
John Nichols of The Nation wrote recently that Walker’s allies were “focused on securing control of the judicial branch of state government in Wisconsin.” He said that the “Republican Party of Wisconsin and groups that have consistently backed Walker’s agenda are leading the charge to oust a state Supreme Court justice who has championed judicial independence and to change the way in which the high court is organized—with an eye toward ousting another independent jurist from the position of chief justice.”
Bottari also reported a few weeks ago that Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), which is Wisconsin’s premier lobby for corporate tax breaks and low wage jobs, had “unleashed a $600,000 ad blitz to strip Wisconsin’s independent Chief Justice of her title” just as the court was preparing “to take up the ‘John Doe’ criminal probe of Scott Walker and the special interest groups that defended him against recall in 2012.”
Click on the link to read Mary Bottari’s report Walker’s Dark Money Allies Orchestrate Coup of the Courts.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING
Scott Walker’s Supreme Court Coup (PRWatch)
In Wisconsin, Dark Money Got a Mining Company What It Wanted: An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a nonprofit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed. (ProPublica)