Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 3, 2019
Today is an important anniversary for Wisconsin. Not the kind of anniversary you celebrate with champagne and gifts, but a day Wisconsin should never forget.
Six years ago today, a handful of Wisconsin families were subjected to armed, pre-dawn raids of their homes and an unconstitutional gag order warning that they could do jail time if they told anyone about it. Children woke to find armed deputies standing by their beds. One teenage boy was home alone when deputies told him he could not call his parents, grandparents or even an attorney. According to the expansive search warrants the deputies presented, subjects of the warrants were under investigation for “filing a false campaign report or conspiracy to file a false campaign report.”
A campaign finance report? That was the reason these people’s lives were turned upside down?
That was “John Doe 2,” a partisan political investigation to take down then-Gov. Scott Walker and his political allies.
Weeks after enduring the trauma of a home invasion, these families learned that prosecutors had already secretly seized all of the records for which they were allegedly searching. The raid was frightening, humiliating and completely unnecessary. In the end, no criminal or civil charges were ever filed, but several individuals and organizations were dragged through years of litigation resulting in millions of dollars in legal bills.
In the good old days, before we started hating everyone who disagrees with us, potential campaign finance violations were investigated in a much less contentious manner. Nobody’s home or office was searched, and if a subpoena was issued, the subject of the subpoena had the opportunity to challenge it before a judge, prior to surrendering their property.
An investigation is supposed to be a search for the truth, a specific set of facts related to a potential violation, not a partisan political weapon used to embarrass, intimidate and bankrupt the political opposition.
It would be great to say we learned our lesson in Wisconsin, that the fight against the partisan prosecutors who were trying to destroy Scott Walker, was not in vain. But humility is in short supply in both law enforcement and politics, and the commitment to core principals has given way to political expediency on both sides of the aisle.
For one of the John Doe victims the lesson in humility is this: Hate begets hate, and when we hate others, we tend to see them as something less than human, so it’s easy to deny them the right to be treated honestly and fairly. The right to due process and the presumption of innocence.
It was hatred of Walker and his conservative policies that led partisan prosecutors to that dark place on an otherwise beautiful day in October 2013. In their eyes, the families they targeted were less than human, strangers who got what they had coming.
Ronald Reagan once spoke about the small towns of his youth, saying “Almost everyone knew one another, and because they knew one another, they tended to care about one another.”
The world can be a very big and ugly place, but we have the power to make it a little less so, sometimes by just pressing pause. The key is to remember that what happens to others could happen to us.
Today we remember a time when partisan prosecutors weaponized their offices in the name of politics. We remember, we remind and we pray it will never happen again.
Listen to our podcast with Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot about his newspaper’s coverage of the John Doe II.