Investigate all leaks, or investigate none

Partisanship should not be the determining factor for investigations.

IN A STATE deeply riven over partisan politics, very few situations riled people on both sides more than the John Doe investigations into activities by Gov. Scott Walker and others.

So we understand why Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, on behalf of the Assembly Organizational Committee, wants to look into who leaked John Doe documents to The Guardian US. The Guardian published information from those documents that inflamed the debate, showing Walker personally solicited big-money donors to give secret cash to so-called independent third-party groups that were, in reality, working hand-in-glove with the Walker campaign for his re-election. Further, the documents showed some of the donors giving large secret contributions were involved with critical pending legislation that subsequently received favorable treatment, raising questions about pay-to-play.

REPUBLICANS WERE infuriated by the leaks and, now, want to find out who was responsible to, presumably, hold them accountable. John Doe investigations are, by law, supposed to be secret. Thus, Schimel is within the confines of his duties in seeking to enforce that secrecy.

At this point we should acknowledge news organizations, including this one, often rely on leaks to report information government doesn’t want the people to know. We make no apologies. The public interest frequently is well served by reporting from leaked information in order to root out the things politicians want to conceal from voters.

That doesn’t mean it happens without risks, though, for individuals who may be leaking information that could be considered secret under the law. News organizations generally pledge confidentiality to such sources, and we mean what we say. Authorities who try to force a news organization to give up a confidential source almost certainly will fail because journalists refuse and have certain legal protections when doing so. If Schimel succeeds in identifying the leaker, you can bet that information will not come from The Guardian.

HERE’S WHAT BOTHERS us as Schimel begins his investigation. Leaks that were published by The Guardian upset Walker and Republicans in control of the legislature. The vote to mount the investigation split straight down party lines in the Assembly committee, at 5-3.

Apparently, neither the committee majority nor the attorney general were upset at all by leaks regularly published on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal. Those selected leaks made John Doe prosecutors look bad and were favorable to Walker and others on the Republican side. Not a word of protest ever was raised in Republican quarters against leaks published by the Journal.

The point: Leaks are leaks. Partisanship should not be the governing principle in determining investigations of this nature. If leaks are to be investigated related to the secret John Doe, investigate them all.

Or none.

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