Several conservative organizations that supported Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s union reforms have reportedly been targeted recently by a special prosecutor in Wisconsin, calling to mind the scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service’s intimidation of Tea Party groups.
Special prosecutor Francis Schmitz has served dozens of pro-Walker groups with subpoenas demanding any and all documentation pertaining to the failed 2011 and 2012 campaigns to have the governor recalled.
The subpoenas call for "all memoranda, email ... correspondence, and communications" between the subpoena target and at least 29 conservative groups, including Wisconsin and national nonprofits, political vendors and party committee, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed copies of two subpoenas.
Groups that have so far been involved in Schmitz’s probe 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 specifically called for "all records of income received, including fundraising information and the identity of persons contributing to the corporation,” the Journal reported. In short, we want to know who your donors are.
The targeted groups were unable to comment on Schmitz’s investigation because it’s being conducted under the state’s John Doe law, which prohibits the target of a subpoena from discussing its details with anyone but the state or an attorney. Basically, the state can review and investigate a target and that target is left with few options to publicly defend himself.
But Eric O'Keefe, a target of Schmitz’s far-reaching probe, was willing to go on the record about his subpoena. O’Keefe, director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a pro-tax reduction conservative group, told the Journal he received his subpoena in October, saying at least three other people involved in Schmitz’s investigation had their homes raided and files seized by law enforcement officials.
O'Keefe said he doesn’t know what prompted the investigation. Other groups declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation.
The investigation calls for several of the pro-Walker groups that are not legally required to disclose the names of donors to disclose the names of donors. Remember what happened when the IRS did that to numerous Tea Party groups? Private donor information ended up in the hands of investigative journalism outfit ProPublica, much to the shock of those donors.
The subpoenas don’t allege specific wrongdoing, according to the Journal. It may be that officials are merely looking into whether independent conservative groups illegally coordinated during the recall elections.
If this is indeed what prosecutors are investigating, then “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 Journal explained.
Unsurprisingly, the timing of the probe has raised a few eyebrows considering Walker is gearing up for his 2014 re-election campaign.
Now it's possible that some of these groups illegally coordinated during the recall elections. It is even possible that the “subpoena monsoon,” as the Journal referred to it, and the home raids are entirely justified.
“But in the meantime the effect is to limit political speech by intimidating these groups from participating in the 2014 campaign,” the Journal noted. “Stifling allies of Mr. Walker would be an enormous in-kind contribution to Democrats. Even if no charges are filed, the subpoenas will have served as a form of speech suppression. “
The subpoenas "froze my communications and frightened many allies and vendors of the pro-taxpayer political movement in Wisconsin and across the country," O’Keefe told the Journal.
And even if the investigation doesn’t turn up any nefarious doings, he says, "the process is the punishment."
Click here to read the full story in The Wall Street Journal.
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This post has been updated.