By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. – In one fell swoop, a federal appeals court allegedly did to conservatives what they assert prosecutors in a politically charged investigation have done: Damaged their constitutional rights.
Sources tell Wisconsin Reporter that the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Friday afternoon erroneously released what was supposed to be sealed documents in the federal civil rights lawsuit against Milwaukee County prosecutors.
That mistake led to a breathless story by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, headlined “Walker wanted funds funneled to Wisconsin Club for Growth.”
The club and one of its board members, conservative activist Eric O’Keefe, are suing Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, two of his assistant DAs, John Doe special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, and a contracted investigator. The lawsuit, filed in February alleges Chisholm, a Democrat, and his crew, have engaged in a lengthy partisan witch hunt in their secret probe into dozens of conservative organizations, with the Wisconsin Club for Growth a key target.
The prosecutors-turned-defendants are appealing a lower court’s decision in May that shut down the investigation and allowed the lawsuit to proceed.
In motions filed with the 7th Circuit, the conservatives asked the court to keep under seal certain records that would betray donor names and other information constitutionally protected. They argued disclosure would “seriously infringe on privacy of association and belief guaranteed” under the Constitution.
“These materials concern fundraising, strategy, messaging, and other speech and associational activities by Plaintiffs and parties with whom they have associated to advance their policy goals,” the conservatives claim.
Sources with knowledge of the case tell Wisconsin Reporter that a clerical error at the appeals court pushed the documents into the public domain, exposing donors, political strategy and damaging their associational and political speech rights. One source with knowledge of the case said he had never seen anything quite like it.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel seized on the opened up documents filed by the prosecutors. The information is based on prosecutorial claims that have been thwarted by two federal judges who have found the John Doe’s subpoenas have failed to show evidence of a crime.
“Gov. Scott Walker prodded outside groups and individuals to funnel millions of dollars into Wisconsin Club for Growth — a pro-Walker group directed by his campaign adviser — during the recall elections in 2011 and 2012,” the newspaper’s lead screamed.
The piece also noted $700,000 that “flowed into” the club fund from Gogebic Taconite, the company that has proposed a $1.5 billion mine in northern Wisconsin.
A team of Journal Sentinel reporters dredged the 1,000-plus pages of dumped documents, most of them correctly unsealed, to unveil an email from Kate Doner, a Walker campaign consultant to R.J. Johnson, who has served as a top adviser to Walker’s campaign and the club.
“The Governor is encouraging all to invest in the Wisconsin Club for Growth,” the April 28, 2011, email advised. “Wisconsin Club for Growth can accept corporate and personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure.”
That’s absolutely true, and absolutely legal – a point lost in the newspaper’s long list of fundraising activity that prosecutors deemed illegal under a theory that one federal judge has said is “simply wrong.”
The conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth as a 501(c)(4), has the right to raise unlimited funds.
Just like, for instance, all the big super political action committees tied to top liberals.
“At a time when President Barack Obama and his cabinet members are raising funds for Democratic super PACs like Priorities USA (Action), it is not a news story—and certainly not a crime—that Governor Walker would encourage support for groups that support his economic policies,” said David B. Rivkin Jr., lead attorney for O’Keefe and the club.
Of course, that didn’t stop the left from making hay out of the mainstream media’s lurid headlines.
“A new batch of John Doe docs was released today in the ongoing investigation of Scott Walker’s role in a criminal scheme focused on the illegal coordination of campaign spending,” American Bridge 21st Century, the Hillary Clinton-attached left-leaning political action committee. “The new documents reveal the extent to which Scott Walker was at the center of this scheme.”
What the Democratic Party attack dog failed to mention was that an attorney for special prosecutor Francis Schmitz declared that Walker was not a target of the investigation following the last court-ordered document dump in June. The mainstream media headlines were near replicas of “reports” issued by left-heavy political machines like American Bridge.
Rivkin said the document release confirms there is no evidence to support the John Doe investigation targeting conservatives.
“The prosecutors’ ‘evidence’ does not identify a single expenditure by the Wisconsin Club for Growth relating to Governor Walker’s recall election, much less one coordinated with the Walker campaign. There is no evidence of any attempt to circumvent campaign-finance limits,” Rivkin said.
“The First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to join together to advance their policy goals. By targeting supporters of Governor Walker’s policies, the John Doe prosecutors violated our most fundamental values of free speech and association and revealed their own bias and bad faith.”
Now it appears the 7th Circuit may have unwittingly done the same.