To those inclined to criticize the John Doe investigation of Gov. Scott Walker, consider this: Absent the investigation, Gogebic Taconite’s $700,000 investment in the 2012 gubernatorial recall campaign would have remained forever secret.
Gogebic’s campaign cash came to light only after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals released documents pertaining to allegations that Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with independent groups that helped him win the recall. While the case hinges on the definition of “independent,” it’s absolutely clear that Walker, Gogebic and their Tea Party allies wanted Gogebic’s finanical involvement shielded from public knowledge. A key Walker fundraiser said as much.
“The governor is encouraging all to invest in Wisconsin Club for Growth,” Walker fundraiser Kate Doner wrote in a 2011 email. “Wisconsin Club for Growth can accept corporate and personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure.”
Doner’s email couldn’t be more frank. She declared the era of unlimited, undisclosed campaign cash has begun and that Gogebic and other big-money interests can “invest” in campaigns for public office without inconvenience or public scrutiny.
The public policy consequences are profound. Shortly after Walker won the recall, Gogebic won extremely favorable legislation that allowed it to build the world’s largest iron mine in northern Wisconsin. The bill gutted the public hearing process, which required the company to testify, under oath, that the project had complied with all environmental standards. It also allowed Gogebic to pay taxes solely on profit, not on the amount of ore removed.
While the court case hinges on how the terms “independent” and “coordination” are defined, Walker’s Democratic challenger Mary Burke cut through the fog of semantics when she said, “If it isn’t illegal, it should be.” Burke is right. What’s at stake is whether the wealthiest interests in society can transform elections into silent auctions. Walker and the Tea Party are committed to the ideology that Gogebic Taconite is entitled to spend $700,000 to influence elections and legislation without voters being any wiser. They couldn’t be more wrong.