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A protest against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. (Photo: Mark Danielson/flickr/cc)

Blow for Transparency as Supreme Court Rejects Wisconsin Corruption Case

"Today's decision means that, for now, the people of Wisconsin will not know what special interests are secretly bankrolling their politicians"

Nadia Prupis, staff writer

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal to re-launch a John Doe investigation into Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and conservative organizations in the state.

Wisconsin Public Radio writes that the order, quietly issued without explanation, "would seem to mark the end of the road for the case known in Wisconsin as John Doe 2," which came about after Walker won a recall campaign in 2012 and prosecutors began investigating whether he'd colluded with the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups on advertising without disclosing their donations to his campaign.

"The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied," the court wrote in its brief decision.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, which WPR explains is controlled by "conservative-leaning justices," halted the investigation last year, ruling that the secret coordination amounts to free speech.

According to the appeal, filed by three Democratic district attorneys, two of the Wisconsin justices in the 4-2 ruling had ties to those being investigated. As the Wisconsin State Journal reports, "Records revealed Walker telling Republican operative Karl Rove that R.J. Johnson and the Wisconsin Club for Growth were instrumental in electing Michael Gableman and re-electing David Prosser to the state court."

In September, the Guardian published 1,500 pages of the prosecutors' compiled evidence against Walker that details how modern elections work in a post-Citizens United landscape. The Journal continues:

The records showed Walker had raised millions of dollars for the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which his top political adviser was using to coordinate advertising, messaging, get-out-the-vote efforts and other political operations to help Walker and Republican senators win the 2011 and 2012 recall campaigns.

Such coordination, long banned by state law, formed the crux of the investigators' legal theory, but the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that it is protected speech under the First Amendment. The Wisconsin Legislature legalized such coordination.

Mary Bottari, deputy director of the Wisconsin-based watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy, told Common Dreams in response to the order, "The Wisconsin Supreme Court's ruling in the Walker John Doe [case] overturned almost 40 years of transparency in campaigns and elections in our state. Today's decision means that, for now, the people of Wisconsin will not know what special interests are secretly bankrolling their politicians or calling in the special favors."

However, as government transparency expert Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center also explained, "It is important to recognize that a denial of cert does not mean the U.S. Supreme Court endorses or sanctions the actions of Governor Walker, his dark money group, or the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Given the split on the U.S. Supreme Court, it is perhaps not surprising that the justices declined to wade into this politically-charged, highly complex case that raises difficult legal issues that would divide the 4-4 court in half."

Nonetheless, Fischer continued, "Governor Walker's dark money scheme intentionally shut the public out of the political process, depriving Wisconsinites of the basic information necessary to meaningfully participate in our democracy. This cannot become politics as usual; we should expect more from our elected officials. What this tells us is that we need a functioning Supreme Court that can clarify and improve its current jurisprudence on the role of money in politics. And we need stronger laws in place to prevent anything like this from ever happening again."

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