On Friday a Wisconsin judge struck a major blow for free political speech when he quashed subpoenas to conservative groups and ordered the return of property to the targets of a so-called John Doe campaign-finance probe.
Wisconsin John Doe “investigations” are secret, star chamber probes into prosecutorial targets in which even the targets are forbidden to speak publicly. In this case, the targets were conservative organizations who had supported Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in that state’s recently concluded recall election (which Walker won by a larger margin than his original election). This secret fishing expedition was being conducted by special prosecutor Francis Schmitz at the behest of Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf.
Wisconsin Judge Gregory A. Peterson tossed most of Schmitz’ subpoenas, generally gutting the Landgraf/Schmitz job action. Peterson was blunt in his ruling:
[The subpoenas] do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws.
There is no evidence of express advocacy [as required under Wisconsin law in order t oshow a violation]…the subpoenas fail to show probable cause that a crime was committed. …the State is not claiming that any of the independent organizations expressly advocated.
Despite disgruntled Wisconsin Democrats’ best efforts (this is the party, remember, that a couple of years ago ran out of Wisconsin en masse, thereby shutting down the state’s government, when they couldn’t get their way on labor law) to continue their attempts to intimidate those of whom they disapprove and to prevent them from speaking, a judge has intercepted their plans and disrupted them, for a time.