The Wisconsin Supreme Court put a nail in the coffin of the Badger State’s campaign finance laws on July 16. In a 4‑to‑2 party-line decision, the court squashed a criminal investigation of alleged campaign finance law violations by Gov. Scott Walker and ordered that the records of the investigation be destroyed.
This “John Doe” probe — Wisconsin’s name for a grand jury — had been led by special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, a registered Republican. He alleged that in advance of the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, Walker used his campaign organization, Friends of Scott Walker (FSW), to illegally collude with “independent” groups such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth (WiCFG), a rightwing, anti-government outfit.
But the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the ads WiCFG purchased to support Walker did not tell citizens explicitly whom to “vote for,” hence were “issue advocacy,” not electoral support, and thus legal. But in so doing the justices ignored the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which, while it struck down much of the nation’s campaign finance legislation, upheld the provision that prohibits coordination between candidates and advocacy groups. Inadvertently leaked evidence in the John Doe probe shows that the Walker campaign coordinated with WiCFG and that Walker himself was at the center of what anyone except the Wisconsin Supremes would describe as a criminal conspiracy.
On April 28, 2011, a Walker fundraiser wrote in an e‑mail to a WiCFG/FSW advisor: “As the governor discussed … he wants all the issue advocacy efforts run thru one group to ensure correct messaging. … The governor is encouraging all to invest in the Wisconsin Club for Growth, [which] can accept Corporate and Personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure.” And on June 20, 2011, Kelly Rindfleisch, who “was actively involved in coordinating fundraising by Scott Walker on behalf of WiCFG,” according to the special prosecutor, sent an email to Walker that included an itinerary for one of his fundraising trips and the following talking points: “Stress that donations to WiCFG are not disclosed and can accept corporate donations without limits,” and, “Let them know that you can accept corporate contributions and it is not reported.”
During the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, WiCFG spent at least $9.1 million in dark money on behalf of Walker and other GOP officials facing a recall.
Should the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling be allowed to stand — and should its perverse analysis be applied in other jurisdictions — corporations will be allowed to give an unlimited amount of unreported money to “independent” interest groups that advance a corporate agenda and coordinate directly with favored candidates — so long as these interest groups and their legal advisers are smart enough to avoid expressly directing people how to vote. In other words, the Wisconsin Supremes have provided moneyed interests with a formula whereby they can secretly dump money into a political campaign while laundering it of any formal association with said campaign.
Gov. Walker, a GOP presidential hopeful, has been crisscrossing the country stumping for votes; in late July he visited Philadelphia’s legendary cheesesteak establishment, Geno’s. Business Insider reported that the visit was marred by heckles from protestors with signs reading, “Scott Walker sniffs his own poop.” While In These Times cannot confirm that allegation, it is clear that Walker reeks of court-sanctioned corruption.
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.