by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director
October 3, 2016
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was flagrantly skirting 40 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent on campaign finance by coordinating with outside groups, as the recent article in the Guardian amply demonstrated. And the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s corrupt decision in July 2015 to shut down the John Doe II investigation of Walker was based on a blatant misreading of U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this subject.
So I’m surprised and severely disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court did not take the case. It has an obligation, however, to revisit this issue of coordination between candidates and outside groups in the near future because the precedent that Walker and the Wisconsin Supreme Court have now set is disastrous. It undermines the ability of legislatures to impose meaningful limits on donations to candidates or to require adequate disclosure of donations – both of which are keys to a well-functioning democracy.
Say I’m running for governor, and I’ve got a billionaire friend. The most he can give my campaign, under Wisconsin law, is now $20,000—and I’d have to disclose that. So instead, I’m going to tell him, “Don’t be a chump. Don’t give me the $20,000. Give $20 million to this outside group I’m coordinating with, Badgers for Eternal Victory (BEV). Give it to BEV. And then I’ll tell BEV what ads to run, how many times to run them, and what stations to run them on. It would be just as if you gave me the $20 million, which is 1,000 times the legal limit! And the kicker is, BEV doesn’t have to disclose that you gave BEV a penny.”
This is precisely what Walker was doing by going around the country begging billionaires to write out six-figure or seven-figure checks to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which Walker then used essentially for his own campaign and the campaigns of other Republicans in Wisconsin, with his campaign strategist all the while overseeing the ads being paid for by the money Walker raised.
Now billionaires and the politicians who depend on them have an easy end-around our campaign finance laws, and we’ll never know about it.
Thank God for the whistleblower who gave the evidence to the Guardian, otherwise we would never have known the monumental scale of Walker’s scheming. (And now it appears that the leak may have come because the leaker was afraid that if the Court didn’t take the case, all the evidence would be destroyed, which is what the Wisconsin Supreme Court had initially and astonishingly ordered.)
There remains one hope for justice in this scandal. Walker can still be prosecuted by Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, as 16 Democratic legislators in Wisconsin urged last week.
Otherwise, Scott Walker is off scot-free. Meanwhile, the campaign finance system of controlling the size of donations and requiring disclosure lies in shambles.