Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

DAs Tap In for Wisconsin Campaign-Finance Probe

MADISON, Wis. (CN) - Three district attorneys will intervene in the ongoing secret investigation of Gov. Scott Walker's campaign finances, court documents show.

Milwaukee County's John Chisholm, Dane County's Ismael Ozanne and Iowa County's Larry Nelson have taken over, presumably to appeal the decision to end the investigation now that the special prosecutor, Francis Schmitz, has been stripped of his power to pursue the case.

The attorneys' appeal would go to the U.S. Supreme Court, a process the Wisconsin Supreme Court has stated it does not intend to hamper.

The John Doe II investigation, a function of state law allowing for secret investigation of certain crimes, began in 2012 as the result of evidence obtained in the first investigation. John Doe I resulted in the criminal convictions of four Walker staffers during the Republican politician's time as Milwaukee County executive running for governor.

Chisholm, a Democrat who faces a civil rights lawsuit for searches related to John Doe investigations, had persuaded a judge to authorize the second secret probe, and district attorneys in Iowa, Dodge, Columbia and Dane Counties soon joined him.

The attorneys alleged "hand-in-glove" coordination between supposedly independent advocacy groups and Walker's campaign staff, a violation of what the Wisconsin Supreme Court called the state's "labyrinthian" campaign-finance laws.

Judge Barbara Kluka, the first jurist to preside over the case, appointed Francis Schmitz as the John Doe II special investigator at the request of the district attorneys, all of whom were Democrats.

Kluka later disqualified herself for an unspecified "conflict" - but not before she issued subpoenas and search warrants that have since drawn scrutiny and become the subject of lawsuits .

Kluka's successor, Judge Gregory Peterson, quashed subpoenas and returned property at the request of the unnamed movants.

Though Schmitz had that judge's orders stayed, the state was ordered not to examine any of the seized property.

While the appeals court fielded challenges to the administration of the case, the parties filed opposing motions on enforcing the subpoenas and search warrants. These disputes bypassed the appeals court and went straight to the Supreme Court.

Schmitz had alleged that the issue advocacy was "illegally coordinated," claiming that supposedly independent groups became de-facto members of Walker's gubernatorial campaign and thus contributed directly.

In its July 16 majority opinion, the court said that "issue ads" at the core of the investigation did not specifically endorse or condemn a political candidate or party, putting them outside the realm of political speech that the government can regulate to stamp out corruption.

Saying state law offers "no support" for Schmitz's theory, the court explicitly ended the investigation with the release of its opinion.

"The special prosecutor was the instigator of a 'perfect storm' of wrongs that was visited upon the innocent Unnamed Movants and those who dared to associate with them," Justice Michael Gableman wrote. "It is fortunate, indeed, for every other citizen of this great State who is interested in the protection of fundamental liberties that the special prosecutor chose as his targets innocent citizens who had both the will and the means to fight the unlimited resources of an unjust prosecution."

After the court released clarified the remaining duties of the special prosecutor earlier this month, it set a deadline for district attorneys to intervene.

The attorneys from Dodge and Columbia Counties filed statements of nonintervention, citing potential conflicts of interest based on their status as registered Republicans, like Walker.

Wisconsin's largest city, Milwaukee, is within Chisholm's jurisdiction. Dane County's seat is the state capital, Madison, and Iowa County borders it to the west.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.