Friday, September 23, 2016

Leaked documents show pervasive influence of money in Wisconsin politics

Documents leaked to the Guardian comprising 1,500 pages collected as part of a probe, the John Doe files, were evidence gathered by prosecutors to show alleged irregularities in political fundraising.

The documents point towards the pervasive influence of cash, corporate and otherwise, in the political process in Wisconsin. However the Wisconsin Supreme Court last year found that the documents do not show that anything illegal was done:
On July 16, 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4–2 that Walker did not illegally collaborate with conservative groups during the recall campaigns. Writing for the majority in the case, Justice Michael Gableman stated: “To be clear, this conclusion ends the John Doe investigation because the special prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law,” he said, “Consequently, the investigation is closed.”[121]
Not satisfied simply in ruling there was no illegality, the court also ordered that all the documents gathered during the investigation be destroyed. However, obviously at least one set was preserved and given to the Guardian. While they may reveal nothing illegal, according to the Guardian:The files open a window on a world that is very rarely glimpsed by the public, in which millions of dollars are secretly donated by major corporations and super-wealthy individuals to third-party groups in an attempt to sway elections. They speak to a visceral theme of the 2016 presidential cycle: the distortion of American democracy by big business that has been slammed by both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court tried to close this window, and no doubt protect the elite whose laws they are meant to uphold. The fact that nothing may be found to be illegal may be a consequence of lax laws pertaining to political financing in Wisconsin. There is currently a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue.
Among the leaked documents are hundreds of pages of email exchanges involving conversations with Walker, his top aides, conservative lobbyists, and leading Republican figures. Ironically, Trump's name appears in the files as making a $15,000 donation after Walker made a personal visit to Trump's headquarters. Walker is well-known as a supporter of many right-wing causes. Among the names cropping up in the files are Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, and the Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. One e-mail says: “I got $1m from John Menard today." Menard is head of the home improvement chain Menards.
The material shows that donations totaling $750,000 were made to a third-party group closely allied with Walker, from the owner of NL industries a company that had produced lead paint. It just so happens that within the same time-frame the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature passed new laws making it more difficult for victims of lead poisoning to sue. Walker claims the law had nothing to do with the donation.
Among the interesting files are documents which show Walker allies helped David Prosser, a member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court to retain his seat in a 2011 re-election. A network of groups and campaigners spent $3.5 in undisclosed corporate funds to pay for TV and radio ads that backed the judge. Apparently Wisconsin law does not require disclosure of the funding. Walker is famous for his anti-union legislation: Shortly after his inauguration in 2011, Walker introduced a budget plan which limited the collective bargaining of most Wisconsin public employees. The response to Walker's policies included protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol and an effort to recall Walker. In the 2012 recall election, Walker again defeated Barrett, becoming the first American governor to survive a recall effort. In 2014, Walker defeated his Democratic challenger, businesswoman and Madison school board member Mary Burke. Walker was a candidate for his party's nomination to the 2016 presidential election.
The documents show the Walker administration was anxious to retain the right-wing majority on the court, in order to preserve his anti-union measures. One e-mail reads: “If we lose [Justice Prosser], the Walker agenda is toast." The email was sent to the Governor's chief of staff, and several conservative lobbyists. In the 2015 decision, Justice Prosser refused to recuse himself when the court considered the John Doe investigation. It is hardly a surprise that he along with four other conservative judges voted both to terminate the investigation and destroy all the documents amassed by the investigators. Prosser explained that four years had passed since his re-election and before he joined the decision in the John Doe case. Over that time any potential conflict of interest had faded he said.
Walker and others subject to the investigation point out that no charges have ever been brought in the case, and that a number of Wisconsin courts, including the Supreme Court have cleared them of wrongdoing. They claim the charges are baseless and there is no evidence of wrongdoing. The third-party lobby groups claimed that the investigators had accused wholly innocent people of crimes that do not exist under state law. This may be because state law is lax as the petition mentioned earlier claims. There is a difference between wrongdoings that are illegal and legal wrongdoings that involve using money to buy political influence. The facts surely show that the investigators found evidence of the latter. Apparently the Wisconsin Supreme Court thinks that the public have no right to see the evidence of such wrongdoings and come to their own opinions. The Guardian analysis of the documents have provided a public service while the Wisconsin Supreme Court protects the people involved in questionable practices from public scrutiny.