The Corner

Law & the Courts

Wisconsin’s Shame: No, the Left Is Not Going to Stop Trying to Criminalize Free Speech

I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to my article about Wisconsin prosecutors’ efforts to criminalize conservative activism, complete with terrifying dawn and pre-dawn raids. Without the courage of the raids’ targets who were willing to speak with me–on and off the record–there would have been no story. Ironically enough, on the very weekend that my story hit National Review, the Huffington Post published yet another screed against so-called “dark money” relying on the very existence of the unlawful John Doe investigations to cast a cloud of suspicion on conservative activists. The language is instructive:

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is slated to take up the “John Doe” criminal investigation of alleged coordination between Friends of Scott Walker and “independent” groups during the tumultuous 2011-2012 recall elections.

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has detailed the bipartisan state investigation into the Walker campaign and the secretive big money groups that bankrolled his 2012 recall victory. Wisconsin Club for Growth (WiCFG), headed by Walker campaign manager R.J. Johnson and the “third Koch Brother” Eric O’Keefe, spent at least $9.1 million on Wisconsin’s unprecedented recall elections, and funneled almost $10 million more to other politically-active groups, including Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Yet, WiCFG, which enjoys tax free status, told the IRS that it spent $0 in political activity during that period.

What’s missing from this summary? Any mention of the law or the Constitution. By law, money spent on issue advocacy is distinct from money spent advocating the election or defeat of a specific candidate. Through the First Amendment, not only is money spent on issue advocacy constitutionally-protected, so is anonymous speech, and no amount of predawn raids or “dark money” talking points can change that fact. What else is missing? Any mention of the tens of millions spent by the Left to try to recall Walker and allied legislators. 

And this complaint is almost hilarious:

In an unprecedented move, the court’s right-wing majority decided not to hear oral arguments in order to protect the defendants against leaks, over the strong objections of the Chief Justice.

The John Doe proceedings have been conducted in secret because the prosecution demanded it. That secrecy has been used as a club against conservatives–mandating their silence even as the prosecutors took public actions (like the raids) clearly indicating suspicion of criminal activity–leaving friends, neighbors, and the public wondering why conservative homes were swarming with police. These secrecy orders have not only protected the prosecutors from public accountability, they’ve caused immense harm to the families involved as they’ve suffered in silence. And now the Left is upset about secrecy in the Doe case? That’s too much.

And so long as we’re translating Leftspeak–where constitutionally-protected anonymous speech is now called “dark money”–let’s translate their use of the word “coup.”

In a related case, Walker’s big money allies are busily engineering a coup of the courts to strip the independent Chief Justice, Shirley Abrahamson, of her title and authority.

In this case, the “coup” they are referring to is a Wisconsin constitutional amendment that changed the way the Chief Justice is selected, from simple seniority to selection by the justices themselves. To pass the amendment, the democratically-elected legislature had to vote for it twice, then the voters had to approve it in a referendum. Coup? No, that’s what democracy looks like.

The lesson here is clear: to the radical left, lawful conservative victories are inherently illegitimate, and they must be overturned by any means necessary–even if that means a battering ram in the night.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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