The rightwing media, from The Wall Street Journal to Rush Limbaugh, rushed to defend Scott Walker after a federal court released documents last week, placing Walker at the center of the “criminal scheme” to evade campaign finance law, according to the lead prosecutor in the case.
Walker himself appeared on “Fox & Friends” to say the case was closed and the investigation “over.”
The Wall Street Journal has published a series of editorials arguing forcefully that the alleged illegal coordination should be allowed as a matter of First Amendment principle.
Rush Limbaugh weighed in on Walker’s side, as did Senator Ron Johnson (Republican of Wisconsin) in a friendly interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Here are the top five conflicting arguments in defense of Scott Walker and his alleged “criminal scheme”:
1. “It’s over”
Politifact rated this claim by Walker “false.”
But Rush Limbaugh repeated it, calling the reporting on the Walker story “journalistic malpractice.” “There is no story here. It’s over,” declared Rush.
The investigation of Walker is on hold, since rightwing federal judge Rudolph Randa, a frequent flyer to Koch brothers funded judicial junkets, wrote a preliminary injunction halting it.
But that opinion is now on appeal. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has already intervened to overturn a portion of the same ruling—the part that ordered prosecutors to destroy the evidence in the case.
Randa’s opinion, writes my colleague Brendan Fischer, is “so detached from First Amendment precedent, Wisconsin law, and the facts of the case that many legal experts believe that it will be reversed.”
Stay tuned for the Seventh Circuit’s decision on the rest of Randa’s ruling.
It’s not over.
2. The whole investigation is a “partisan witch hunt”
Walker and his allies have used this line repeatedly. Senator Ron Johnson repeated it on the Christian Broadcasting Network, after prompting from host David Brody.
The problem with this assertion is that the lead prosecutor in the investigation is a Republican, Francis Schmitz, a U.S. Army vet who was shortlisted by President George W. Bush for U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.
Schmitz, who voted for Walker in 2012, spoke up recently to defend his conservative bona fides and rejected Walker’s partisan take on the investigation.
It’s true that the first John Doe investigation, into wrongdoing during Walker’s tenure as Milwaukee county executive, was launched by Democratic district attorney John Chisholm. But it was hardly a witch hunt. That investigation ended with convictions of six of Walker’s closest aides and associates.
The current investigation involves five different prosecutors from five different counties. Some are Democrats and some are Republicans.
It was Schmitz, the Republican prosecutor in the current investigation, who said Walker is at the center of a “criminal scheme.”
3. The prosecutors' case has no merit
Limbaugh, Johnson, and Judge Rudolph Randa have all passionately denounced the merits of the investigation.
The Weekly Standard weighs in with a piece that announces that two judges "already found that the case against Walker has no merit."
And The Wall Street Journal excoriates the press for covering it: “Having ignored the story when two judges ruled against the prosecutors’ theory of the case, the press now broadcasts that theory as if it were a fact, not a discredited accusation.”
The two judges Walker and his allies refer to include rightwing ideologue Randa, whose order to destroy evidence was quickly reversed, and state John Doe Judge Gregory Peterson, who in January agreed with the investigation’s targets and quashed a subpoena against the Club For Growth. Peterson also ordered prosecutors to return material they had already seized. But he later stayed his own decision, leaving it to a higher court to decide what to do.
“The state’s theory is not frivolous,” Peterson wrote. “In fact, it is an arguable interpretation of the statutes. I simply happen to disagree. An appellate court may indeed agree with the state”
In other words, the case merit, and should proceed.
4. Wisconsin law is a gross violation of the U.S. Constitution and free speech
This is the core of the Club for Growth’s argument, and The Wall Street Journal, which has been serving as the primary outlet for Wisconsin Club for Growth’s leaks in the case, heartily agrees.
Judge Rudolph Randa wrote an extraordinary opinion comparing Wisconsin’s campaign finance law to “the gulag and the guillotine.”
Under this view, a century of campaign finance regulations in the states should be thrown out.
The rightwing groups that have an interest in overthrowing laws that limit spending in elections have pulled together to back the opposition to campaign finance law in Wisconsin, with the Bradley foundation giving nearly $18 million to groups and individuals involved in the investigation and the campaign against it (including members of the Wall Street Journal editorial board and groups directed or founded by the Club for Growth).
But for now, Wisconsin has a clear law and decades of precedent that forbid coordination between campaigns and outside groups, require disclosure, and limit money in elections.
The Club for Growth and other rightwing groups are advancing the radical notion that all campaign finance regulations should be thrown out.
Their argument may go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
If they win, many state campaign finance regulations will go out the window, and we will have a new understanding of the First Amendment—that it forbids any limits on spending or disclosure requirements that let citizens know who is trying to buy elections.
5. Walker has been exonerated
Walker is still in both legal and political jeopardy.
That’s why, last month, he was reportedly trying to reach a settlement deal with prosecutors.
The Wall Street Journal intervened with two editorials warning the governor not to throw his allies—the Club For Growth and other dark-money groups—under the bus.
The Journal’s rightwing editorial board sent Walker a clear message: Remember who you are working for.
A few weeks later, the Club for Growth agreed to allow the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to release documents, including the email from Walker to Karl Rove that puts Walker at the center of the case.
The release of that email likely took away any incentive for the governor to reach a settlement. The cat is out of the bag, for better or worse. Walker is personally implicated in the case.
Now the rightwing media is out in force defending Walker and making the more aggressive argument—not just that Walker didn’t break the law, but that the law itself is unconstitutional and should be thrown out.
Even if Walker’s political career is irreparably harmed by the “criminal scheme” revelations, his impact on national politics will be huge if the Supreme Court sides with the groups that argue that states like Wisconsin should not be allowed to impose any controls on unlimited, unattributed dark money flowing into state and local elections.
Wisconsin has witnessed an unprecedented flow of outside money in state and local elections recently. The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity flipped a local school board in Kenosha and came in with slick flyers and ads never seen before in a tiny county board election in Iron County.
If the rightwing groups backing Walker have their way, the implications for democracy are enormous.
Read more about the John Doe campaign finance probe: