This is this week’s must read. And it is bound to get attention as the Supreme Court of the US considers whether to take up John Doe case.
I wish I had time to go through the 1500 pages of papers the Guardian has posted along with this series.
By now the anxiety surrounding the fate of the Wisconsin supreme court judge, David Prosser, is growing more intense. “This could stop everything that Walker is trying to accomplish and [the unions] know it. Goes without saying, that would be a bad thing,” Seaholm says, writing to Tim Phillips, AFP’s national president.
By 20 March, two weeks before the election, worry is distilling into panic. Brian Fraley of the Wisconsin-based conservative think-tank the MacIver Institute, shoots an impassioned plea for help to what he calls his “group” of like-minded lobbying groups and individuals, forwarded to Walker’s chief of staff and other top advisers in Madison.
“David Prosser is in trouble,” Fraley begins. “And if we lose him, the Walker agenda is toast, as could be the Senate GOP majority and any successes creating a new redistricted map. That’s not hyperbole.”
By the end of the bitter campaign, some $3.5m was spent by outside lobby groups channeling undisclosed corporate money to support Prosser’s re-election – more than eight times the $400,000 the judge was allowed to spend himself. That included $1.5m from WCfG and its offshoot Citizens for a Strong America, and $2m from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), all of it in unaccountable “dark money”.
It worked. Prosser was re-elected, with a squeaky-tight margin of just 7,000 votes and after a fraught recount. The following month, Walker boasted to the Republican kingmaker, Karl Rove, “Club for Growth–Wisconsin was the key to retaining Justice Prosser….
In a telephone interview with the Guardian, Prosser, who retired from the state supreme court in July, said that in his view sufficient time had passed between his re-election in 2011 and the judgment in the John Doe case in 2015 for any potential conflict of interest to fade. “If this had been a year after the contributions I think I would have had to withdraw, but it was four years. There was no expectation on the part of recipient or givers that the contributions were designed to effect litigation, and so the contributions raised no questions whatsoever.”
Prosser said that at the time of his re-election he was facing hostile TV ads that falsely tried to link him to Walker’s contentious anti-union legislation Act 10, while he himself was unable directly to solicit large amounts of campaign contributions under new strict fundraising limits imposed by an earlier Democratic-controlled legislature. “I certainly expected Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce sooner or later to put some money into my campaign. Of course I was going to hope that somebody would come in and defend me because I was unable to defend myself.”
But the judge stressed that the only spending involved came from “third parties in which no one on my campaign knew they were coming, didn’t ask for them, and frankly if they hadn’t come I would have been blown out of the water by false advertising”.