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OPINION - Clarifying John Doe

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) National commentator George Will has done us a great service by writing about the John Doe investigation last week. His well-researched op-ed explains something that most people don't understand about the investigation into political action groups and their actions leading up to the recall election.

Will points out the following: The Wisconsin law that bars coordination between candidates and PACs covers direct advocacy only. Those are ads that specifically urge you to vote for someone. The law does not cover issue ads , which are classified as indirect advocacy , where a PAC advocates for a narrow interest and then points out which candidates favor or are opposed to their positions.

So if the hypothetical All-Conservatives-All-The-Time Pac (ACATP?) runs an ad saying, "Vote for Jim Smith. Hes a conservative, just like us." That's direct advocacy. It's the kind of ad that needs to be completely independent of Jim Smith's campaign. The Smith camp can't help in crafting the message, determining when the ad runs, or where its seen and heard. ACATP cant have contact with the Smith campaign concerning this type of messaging.

But suppose another political group, the Save-The-Darter-Snail Pac, begins running ads saying, "The Darter Snail is almost extinct in Wisconsin... that's why we support Jim Smith's plan to protect their natural habitat". That's issue advocacy. It's not subject to the same strict coordination rules.

The John Doe investigation where Wisconsin Club for Growth is being targeted deals only with issue advocacy. WCFG's political action involved ads that talked about improving Wisconsin's tax climate and making the state more business friendly. The John Doe investigation is supposed to be looking into coordination between groups and candidates during the recall. Those arent the kinds of ads Club for Growth was involved in. In other words, one look at their political advertising and its clear that they shouldnt have been targeted at all. Judge Rudolph Randa based his ruling on that fact which has been conceded by the prosecutors who are leading the case. The John Doe investigation is a raw, obvious abuse of prosecutorial power. Its purpose is to chill political speech. It should be shut down.

Chris Conley
5.15.14

IMAGE: Geoge Will on the Fox News Channel, REUTERS, via wsau.com