AMERICA’S GESTAPO: Wisconsin Political Speech Raid Hits Scott Walker Supporters

Americans learned in the IRS political targeting scandal that government enforcement power can be used to stifle political speech. Something similar may be unfolding in Wisconsin, where a special prosecutor is targeting conservative groups that participated in the battle over Governor Scott Walker’s union reforms.

In recent weeks, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz has hit dozens of conservative groups with subpoenas demanding documents related to the 2011 and 2012 campaigns to recall Governor Walker and state legislative leaders.

Copies of two subpoenas we’ve seen demand “all memoranda, email . . . correspondence, and communications” both internally and between the subpoena target and some 29 conservative groups, including Wisconsin and national nonprofits, political vendors and party committees. The groups include the League of American Voters, Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Americans for Prosperity—Wisconsin, American Crossroads, the Republican Governors Association, Friends of Scott Walker and the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

One subpoena also demands “all records of income received, including fundraising information and the identity of persons contributing to the corporation.” In other words, tell us who your donors are.


The probe began in the office of Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, though no one will publicly claim credit for appointing Mr. Schmitz, the special prosecutor. The investigation is taking place under Wisconsin’s John Doe law, which bars a subpoena’s targets from disclosing its contents to anyone but his attorneys. John Doe probes work much like a grand jury, allowing prosecutors to issue subpoenas and conduct searches, while the gag orders leave the targets facing the resources of the state with no way to publicly defend themselves.

That makes it hard to confirm any details. But one target who did confirm receiving a subpoena is Eric O’Keefe, who realizes the personal risk but wants the public to know what is going on. Mr. O’Keefe is director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which advocates lower taxes, limited government and other conservative priorities. He has worked in political and policy circles for three decades, including stints as national director of the Libertarian Party in 1980 and a director of the Cato Institute, and he helped to found the Center for Competitive Politics, which focuses on protecting political speech.

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