Americans learned in the IRS political targeting scandal that government enforcement power can be used to stifle political speech. Something similar may be unfolding in Wisconsin, where a special prosecutor is targeting conservative groups that participated in the battle over Governor Scott Walker’s union reforms.
In recent weeks, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz has hit dozens of conservative groups with subpoenas demanding documents related to the 2011 and 2012 campaigns to recall Governor Walker and state legislative leaders.
Copies of two subpoenas we’ve seen demand “all memoranda, email . . . correspondence, and communications” both internally and between the subpoena target and some 29 conservative groups, including Wisconsin and national nonprofits, political vendors and party committees. The groups include the League of American Voters, Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Americans for Prosperity—Wisconsin, American Crossroads, the Republican Governors Association, Friends of Scott Walker and the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
One subpoena also demands “all records of income received, including fundraising information and the identity of persons contributing to the corporation.” In other words, tell us who your donors are.
The President of the Wisconsin Club For Growth states that there have been dawn raids on political entities where computer records and files have been seized. And they are demanding the names of donors that groups are not legally obligated to reveal.
The subpoenas don’t spell out a specific allegation, but the demands suggest the government may be pursuing a theory of illegal campaign coordination by independent groups during the recall elections. If prosecutors are pursuing a theory that independent conservative groups coordinated with candidate campaigns during the recall, their goal may be to transform the independent expenditures into candidate committees after the fact, requiring revision of campaign-finance disclosures and possible criminal charges.
The thing that make me skeptical, as the article goes on to mention, is that this has happened before. A previous investigation alleged that Walker had used his office as Milwaukee County Executive to campaign illegally. That three-year investigation was used by Walker’s recall opponent to slime him but produced only a handful of charges against a few staffers. It looks like the Democrats are using the same playbook — throw out a huge investigation so that Walker’s 2014 opponent can portray him as corrupt. And that they might intimidate Republican donors makes it all the sweeter.
We’ll see what comes out of this. I suspect the investigation will, like the previous one, drag out through the election, find some small violations and proclaim victory. But it’s yet another sign of how frustrated the Left is getting. They really thought that Wisconsin was some kind of turning point in American politics. It was … for conservatism. And they’re still hoping mad about it.