« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - Settle?

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Since the story became public yesterday, much of the reporting on the John Doe negotiations has been from Scott Walker's point of view. Even if he did nothing wrong, he has an obvious interest in bringing the case to a close. Walker is running for reelection this fall, and perhaps for the White House afterwards, and an investigation is a complicating factor. Walker did nothing wrong. Two written opinions from judges reviewing the case have said so. Even if there was coordination between his recall-campaign and outside political action groups, the contact would have been at the staff level not the candidate level.

If Scott Walker was the target of this investigation, we'd have known it by now. He isn't. A settlement is an attempt at managing the unknown. Walker doesn't know if prosecutors will spring an October surprise. He doesn't know all of the contacts between his staff and other political operatives. What if prosecutors do indict someone? How close is this person to Scott Walker? A trial would drag beyond the election. If all of these complications can be negotiated away, why not?

But consider the issue from the Wisconsin Club for Growth's point of view. They sued. It was risky, since even the act of filing a lawsuit is technically a violation of the John Doe law -- it reveals that they are under investigation. And they've had remarkable success in court. Subpoenas were quashed for lack of probable cause. A federal judge ordered the investigation shut down. While stayed on appeal, the judge also ruled the prosecutors case was frivolous. During the pleadings, prosecutors conceded that Club for Growth engages only in issue advocacy -- not direct advocacy, which campaign coordination laws forbid.

Not only have their lawyers run circles around the John Doe prosecutors, it's been done publicly and the beat-back has been noted. Why would the Club for Growth settle anything? They're winning. The likely outcome is their complete vindication. One part of a possible settlement might be Scott Walker refusing to associate with certain PACs. Can you blame Club for Growth to object to losing access to one of their favorite politicians?

Based on the information available to-date, Scott Walker could reasonably roll the dice, stand by his political allies, and is likely come out unscathed. But that's not a risk-free strategy. That Walker wants to manage those risks suggests either he knows something, or knows that he's going to seek higher office.

Chris Conley

Image: Scott Walker, Reuters/Darren Hauck, via wsau.com