Free-Market Group Sues Government Over ‘John Doe’ Witch-hunts

Published September 7, 2016

A Wisconsin nonprofit think tank is challenging the leaders of a long-running criminal investigation into free-market organizations in federal court, alleging the government officials used a series of secret commissions and investigations to persecute political speech with which they disagreed.

Beginning in 2012, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm began seeking evidence of illegal political coordination between Wisconsin conservative organizations and Gov. Scott Walker (R). Chisholm and GAB officials used the state’s “John Doe” laws to seize property as evidence, without properly notifying them.

Between 2012 and 2015, state law enforcement agencies raided multiple individuals’ homes and private workplaces, and seized computers, personal financial records, and property in their search for violations of the state’s restrictions on political speech.

In August, The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, a nonpartisan think tank promoting free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government, filed a class-action lawsuit against Chisholm and members of GAB, claiming the “John Doe” investigations deprived Wisconsin residents of their constitutional rights.

Preparations for the case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, began in August. A summons demanding Chisholm’s appearance was issued on August 6.

Chilling Effects
Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, says the “John Doe” investigations were intended to scare people and convince them to stay silent.

“You had an investigation launched at the behest of a partisan, directed at almost the entire infrastructure of the other side of the political aisle, predicated on a wildly questionable theory of law, and undertaken in the most intimidating and chilling way possible with people being subjected to the kinds of raids that typically are directed toward drug dealers and organized crime figures,” Esenberg said.

Taxpayer-Funded Persecution
Edward Greim, an attorney representing The MacIver Institute, says taxpayer funds should not be used for political witch-hunts.

“We’re saying they cannot be the ones doing this,” Grimes said. “You can’t use your limitless taxpayer funds to do all the work of the prosecution.”

‘You’ve Got to Get a Warrant’
Greim says it’s important to protect people’s rights to due process and privacy.

“If you’re going to seize people’s emails, you’ve got to get a warrant from a court of competent jurisdiction,” Greim said. “You can’t use the process that these guys used to get warrants. It was secret. No one knew that prosecutors were pursuing this, until one day they decided to raid these people’s homes and offices. It was utterly absurd.”