MacIver News Service | Aug. 2, 2017
By M.D. Kittle
[Madison, Wis...] - A state lawmaker who helped craft reforms to Wisconsin's John Doe law, is again pushing for a special legislative committee to investigate the state's politically driven John Doe investigations into dozens of conservative groups and the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker.
State Sen. David Craig (R-Town of Vernon) said his renewed call for the bicameral committee is all the more urgent in the wake of MacIver News Service investigative story this week on former Wisconsin speech cop Kevin Kennedy.
Kennedy, the former director of Wisconsin's defunct Government Accountability Board publicly discussed the John Doe probe in December in New Orleans at an international conference of government campaign finance officials. Sources say Kennedy lauded a September 2016 Guardian story that included hundreds of pages of leaked court-sealed documents from an abusive campaign finance investigation the Wisconsin Supreme Court found unconstitutional and ordered shut down.
Kennedy, who retired in June 2016 days before the state shut down the GAB and replaced it with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, was an admitted officer in the John Doe investigation. A secrecy order remains in effect for officers of the Doe. Violators are subject to stiff penalties, including jail time and fines.
Kennedy made his public comments as the state Department of Justice was launching a criminal investigation into the Guardian leaks.
"I think it's beholden on the Department of Justice to make sure if the law was broken that it's investigated to the fullest, as they would do in any other situation when John Q. Citizen is accused of violating the law," Craig said. "There should certainly not be any lesser standard for someone who is charged with executing the campaign finance and ethics laws in the state of Wisconsin."
DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said the agency's investigation continues.
"We have an ongoing criminal investigation into the Guardian leaks and cannot provide comment on any details at this time," he said Tuesday in an email.
The DOJ reportedly has seized files and other materials from the Ethics Commission office, and it has sought outside legal counsel to represent staffers during questioning.
Craig said it's the Legislature's responsibility to make sure "the horrible acts by government under the John Doe investigations never happen again."
"We cannot do that as a Legislature without making sure that we know all of the problems inside the agency," the lawmaker said.
To that end, Craig said he wants to take another shot at a bill that would create a legislative committee with the power to subpoena witnesses and investigate the John Doe investigators.
Last session, a bill by Craig and other Republican lawmakers would have created the oversight committee to examine closed John Doe probes, as well as the wider use of police technology, such as electronic surveillance devices.
The legislation met with resistance from the law enforcement community.
"We took on probably more than one faction," Craig said. "And to have both of those issues going on simultaneously allowed the opposition to hide behind one of those, even though they may be opposed to the other."
Craig said he's weighing whether to split the two elements of the bill, dealing separately and primarily with investigation of the John Doe.
State Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), a leader in John Doe law reform, said he's "very anxious" to see how the Department of Justice handles its investigation.
"It appears Kevin Kennedy may have broken the law at the conference," he said. "It does no good for us to pass new laws if the current laws are not enforced."
"The Legislature has a constitutional role to make sure the agents of the government operate responsibly and in compliance with the law. It's on us to make sure that happens," he said. "It's also on the Attorney General's office, the district attorneys offices and others charged in the executive branch to make sure that justice is administered."
"It's not one or the other. In this situation we had law enforcement and DAs involved (in abusing the law). That's why I think that it all the more calls for the Legislature to have a more in-depth investigation."