WHEN POLITICIANS from left and right scratch, bite, poke each other in the eye and play dirty Americans have learned to shrug, shake their heads and mostly turn away. It’s the sad state of affairs these days among the class posing as our leaders.
But when courts and judges — the place people are supposed to turn for impartial application of the law — become eager participants in rigging the system, it no longer is politics as usual. The door to a much darker place has been opened.
Here’s what needs to be understood. The John Doe litigation in Wisconsin is about much more than dry legal arguments between prosecutors and politicians. It goes to the heart of how big money is secretly stealing democracy. And that’s why a relatively small Wisconsin investigation became a national priority for the political class.
CLEAR AWAY THE RHETORIC and these are the bottom-line issues behind the John Doe investigation: Can politicians directly solicit secret donations to so-called “independent” political groups? Can campaigns closely coordinate efforts and messages with those groups? Can politicians, their campaigns and those groups keep all of that secret from voters?
One easily can see why politicians want that advantage. It’s where the money is these days. The “independent” groups raise and spend far more money than individual campaigns. It’s a way to raise unlimited sums and to keep the names of skittish donors secret, so the public may never know who is pulling the strings. Even better if the marquee political names — the candidates themselves — can pick up the phone, call big dollar donors, and ask them to direct their money in secrecy to outside groups which then fully coordinate with the campaigns.
The legal fig leaf is mostly a distinction without a difference known as “issue advocacy” and “express advocacy.” Here’s how that works. Candidates cannot coordinate with or raise money for outside groups engaging in “express advocacy,” meaning groups whose advertising says “vote for Candidate X” or “Vote out Incumbent Y.” The “issue advocacy” groups dodge the legal trip-wire by running ads that may praise a candidate for election or, more often, absolutely trash the chosen candidate’s opponent while never coming right out and saying “vote for” or “vote against.”
A NORMAL HUMAN BEING sees right through that silly distinction. It’s a sham, a total sham, concocted by the political class. The intent is obvious. Partisan ideologues want to appear to be playing by the rules while, in reality, they are doing no such thing.
The John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s role with outside political groups during Wisconsin’s tense recall period had the potential to place at-risk this political sham that is practiced from Atlantic to Pacific. And that explains why a complicated legal argument in Wisconsin suddenly attracted top national attorneys lavishly financed to mount challenges across several fronts, in order to stop the investigation in its tracks. The strategy was not just to defend those who might be subjects of the investigation. It was to prevent any possibility of an adverse court ruling that could have called into question — and revealed to the public — the influence of big secret money in the modern political system.
The strategy worked, mostly by placing the arguments in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Several of the justices owed their seats, in considerable measure, to millions of dollars spent to support their campaigns by the very groups before the bench asking them to kill the case. Despite the Doe prosecutor’s request for those justices to step aside and recuse themselves, they refused and ordered the investigation halted.
IN THE LATEST ruling this week the same justices refused Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz’s request for reconsideration. Then those justices took it a significant step further, asserting that Schmitz had been improperly appointed to begin with to head the investigation. Schmitz had stated he expected to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court — in effect, getting the case out of Wisconsin’s rigged judicial system — at least in part on the basis that failure of the justices to recuse prejudiced the decision. By finding Schmitz had been improperly appointed, the tainted justices call into question his legal standing to bring a federal appeal.
In a statement, Schmitz said, “I continue to believe that the investigation was justified. The voters of Wisconsin have a right to know the identity of large donors, corporate and individual, which coordinate with campaign committees. ... (I underestimated) the power and influence special interest groups have in Wisconsin politics. ... My career in the military and as a federal prosecutor fighting violent criminals and terrorists did not fully prepare me for the tactics employed by these special interest groups.”
In other words, Schmitz found out that raw political muscle combined with big money always wins.
IS THAT THE KIND of “justice” Americans are willing to accept? This is a case that needs to be taken outside the corrupted Wisconsin judicial system where it can be argued before judges who do not owe their jobs to the fat checkbooks of anyone standing at the bar. If anyone previously had doubts, the unsolicited declaration that Schmitz was not properly appointed — setting up an argument that he is not allowed to mount an appeal — should strip the scales off blind eyes. The stained justices are all-in to block any possibility of a ruling that might drive a wedge between politicians and the secret dark money upon which they have come to depend.
The supposed distinction between “express advocacy,” “issue advocacy” and how it all comes together at the nexus of big money and politics is at stake.
The U.S. Supreme Court should sort it out, with the best interests of the people — not just partisan ideologues — in mind.