Government by intimidation: Punished for political participation
U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa, revolted by the police-state arrogance of some elected prosecutors, has stopped a partisan abuse of law enforcement that was masquerading as political hygiene. Last Tuesday, Randa halted the corruption being committed by persons pretending to administer campaign regulations — regulations ostensibly enacted to prevent corruption or the appearance thereof. The prosecutors' cynical manipulation of Wisconsin's campaign laws is more than the mere appearance of corruption.
Eric O'Keefe's refusal to be intimidated by lawless law enforcement officials produced Randa's remarkably emphatic ruling against an especially egregious example of Democrats using government power to suppress conservatives' political speech.
Wisconsin's sordid episode began, appropriately, with a sound of tyranny — fists pounding on the doors of private citizens in pre-dawn raids. While sheriff's deputies used floodlights to illuminate the citizens' homes, armed raiders seized documents, computers, cellphones and other devices.
As a director of Wisconsin Club for Growth, which advocates limited government, O'Keefe had participated in his state's 2012 debate surrounding attempts by Democrats and state and national government-employee unions to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker and some state senators. The recalls were intended as punishment for legislation limiting the unions' collective bargaining rights.
Walker prevailed. The Democrat prosecutors, however, seeking to cripple his 2014 re-election campaign and to damage him as a potential 2016 presidential aspirant, have resorted to a sinister Wisconsin process called a “John Doe investigation.” It has focused on the activities of O'Keefe and 28 other conservative individuals or organizations.
In such investigations, prosecutors can promiscuously issue subpoenas and conduct searches. The identities of the targets are kept secret, and the targets are silenced by gag orders, thereby preventing public discussion of the process. Thus, John Doe investigations are effective government instruments of disruption and intimidation.
Randa correctly concluded that the John Doe investigation had no reasonable expectation of obtaining a conviction. But its aim, which had been achieved until Randa's ruling, was utterly unrelated to law. It was abetted by selective leaks by the prosecutors and by subpoenas sent to conservative donors and organizations nationwide. The purpose of all this was to suppress conservative political advocacy by consuming the time and other resources of conservative leaders — and by making people wary of collaborating with those targeted by a secretive criminal investigation.
O'Keefe and the other harassed conservatives had engaged only in issue advocacy, not express advocacy. That is, they had not urged the election of specific candidates. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that government regulation of political speech is permissible only to prevent quid pro quo corruption — money purchasing political favors — resulting from express advocacy .
Hence there is no justification for the prosecutors' punitive investigation of O'Keefe's and others' issue advocacy. As Randa said, this has no “taint of quid pro quo corruption” and thus “is not subject to regulation.”
The Democrat prosecutors must know this. Again, they ignore it because their aim is mayhem, not law enforcement. Their activity is entirely about suffocating conservative activity. Because the prosecutors know Wisconsin law, they are patently disingenuous in arguing that O'Keefe and others illegally “coordinated” their advocacy with Walker and other candidates or campaigns. Randa said “the record seems to validate” O'Keefe's and the others' denial of coordination.
Besides, and even more importantly, Randa said his court “need not make that type of factual finding.” Wisconsin law forbids coordination between third-party groups, such as O'Keefe's, and candidates only for express advocacy , and Randa said “it is undisputed” that O'Keefe and his group engaged only in issue advocacy. The prosecutors' indifference to this is their corruption.
Liberals inveighing against “dark money” in politics mean money contributed anonymously to finance political advocacy. Donors' anonymity thwarts liberals' efforts to injure the livelihoods of identifiable conservatives by punishing them for their political participation and thereby deterring others from participating.
O'Keefe's persecution illustrates the problem his lawyer David Rivkin calls “dark power” — government power wielded secretively for vengeance and intimidation. Judge Randa quoted the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision: The First Amendment is “premised on mistrust of governmental power.” And he noted that “the danger always exists that the high purpose of campaign regulation and its enforcement may conceal self-interest.”
Randa is insufficiently mistrustful. Campaign regulation, although invariably swathed in lofty rhetoric, is designed to disguise regulation's low purpose, which is to handicap political rivals. If Wisconsin is serious about eliminating political corruption, it can begin by eliminating corrupt prosecutors and processes — and the speech regulations that encourage both.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Mother, baby found dead in Millvale apartment
- Unusual fruiting vines offer tasty options for Western Pennsylvania gardens
- Hyde Park woman, 38, faces sex charge with teen
- Route 422 reopened after serious accident in Kittanning Township
- Steelers sign former ACC Player of the Year Boyd for QB depth
- Good jobs report gives Wall Street the jitters
- 2 found dead in Harrison home
- Polamalu could be next in long line of Steelers greats given unceremonial exit
- NFL notebook: Seahawks reportedly close to re-signing RB Lynch
- Bowling pro offers personal coaching at Baldwin lanes
- Horrible Pittsburgh winter enlightens those who survived frigid season