When Scott Walker announced last week that he is running for President, he pledged to pursue a conservative agenda that will transfer power back to the states. “We need new, fresh leadership, leadership with big, bold ideas from outside of Washington,” Walker said. “The kind of leadership that knows how to get things done, like we’ve done here in Wisconsin.” A few days later, the conservative-dominated Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a decision that shows an important part of how he and his political allies have gotten things done. They have substituted the misrule of politics for the rule of law. By 4–2, with the four conservatives in the majority, a liberal and a moderate in dissent, and one justice recused, the court halted the John Doe criminal investigation into whether Walker’s successful campaign to retain his post in a 2012 recall election violated Wisconsin law, by coördinating fund-raising and spending with so-called “independent” dark-money groups, and avoiding disclosure of donors’ names. The court did so by rewriting the state law in question, so that the kind of coördination the campaign was being investigated for is now unrestricted in Wisconsin.
Francis Schmitz, the special prosecutor conducting the Walker investigation, was confident that, under Wisconsin law, when a nonprofit group spends money on issue advocacy in coördination with a candidate’s campaign committee, the committee must report that spending as a contribution to it or the candidate. He built a case that Walker and his campaign organization Friends of Scott Walker carried out “a criminal scheme.” Documents show that they asked donors to contribute to a nonprofit, Wisconsin Club for Growth, which ran issue ads for the benefit of the candidate, to evade regulations governing contributions to candidates and their campaigns.
But, in an opinion by Justice Michael J. Gableman, the conservative majority ruled that the state law applies only to “express advocacy”—that is, advocacy explicitly in favor of or against a specific candidate—and that “issue advocacy, whether coordinated or not,” is beyond its reach. As a result, Gableman wrote, “the special prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law,” and “the investigation is closed.”