It’s hard to imagine a more self-serving piece of legislation than Wisconsin’s new John Doe law. It stands as a clear-cut example of politicians putting their own interests ahead of the public good.
Former presidential candidate Scott Walker and his friends in the Wisconsin state legislature have figured out a way to deal with bothersome, recurring investigations into political corruption.
Rather than clean up their act, they have simply passed a law that makes it harder for prosecutors to launch such investigations.
Walker, the Wisconsin governor who recently dropped out of the race for the GOP presidential nomination, has signed into state law a measure that restricts the use of so-called John Doe proceedings. These proceedings enable prosecutors to obtain search warrants and collect testimony as part of investigations that remain secret until charges are filed. Unlike secret grand jury proceedings, which are more costly, John Doe investigations are authorized by a judge, and it is a judge, rather than a jury, that hears the evidence.
It’s telling that Walker and his cohorts aren’t opposed to John Doe investigations aimed at violent criminals or drug dealers, which will still be permitted under the new law. All Walker & Co. did was prohibit John Doe investigations aimed at politicians and their appointees — i.e., themselves. They did this by barring any future probes into allegations of bribery, corruption and campaign-finance violations.
One possible motive for this maneuver: Six of Walker’s aides or political allies have been convicted of crimes tied to John Doe investigations. Just a few months ago, documents surfaced from a 2013 John Doe investigation into the misuse of public money in the Milwaukee County Executive’s Office when it was run by Walker. The records show Walker’s office was ”uncooperative and obstructed the district attorney’s office’s efforts to obtain documentation” of the spending, forcing prosecutors to initiate a John Doe investigation simply to obtain the records they were seeking.
If there was any real doubt as to the rationale for the new law, the governor and his fellow Republicans have put that issue to rest by attempting to eliminate the state’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board. As the name suggests, this board is charged with responding to violations of Wisconsin’s election, lobbying, and government-ethics laws. Given the number of criminal convictions already secured for such chicanery, the board ought to be expanded, not eliminated.