A state Senate committee took testimony Wednesday, on legislation rewriting Wisconsin’s John Doe law. “Two things that this bill is about. It’s about accountability and transparency,” said state Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), the bill’s author.
Existing law allows prosecutors – under judicial supervision – to investigate whether or not crimes have been committed. Tiffany said the law “does serve some good purpose,” but argued that Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm abused the law and “was obsessed with getting involved in the political process.” That John Doe investigation was launched in 2013, looking into possible illegal coordination between conservative groups and Republican candidates in state recall elections in 2011 and 2012. A federal judge halted the proceedings last year.
Madison attorney Dean Strang testified in favor of the bill, and said he’s seen the state’s John Doe law abused too many times. “It’s not the people we’re worried about, it’s the tools we empower them to use, because law enforcement is competitive, make no mistake about that,” Strang said.
But former Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann argued that the bill is motivated by partisanship. “Senate Bill 43 guts the strength of the John Doe, by removing numerous crimes for which public officials have been convicted in the past,” McCann said. Among those convicted through such probes, former legislative leaders Chuck Chvala and Scott Jensen, following the legislative caucus scandals more than a decade ago.
Critics allege the bill is a partisan effort to “wall off” politicians from being targeted by John Doe probes. “This is an attempt to end the John Doe in Milwaukee, so prosecutions won’t ensue against an organization that may give to Republicans, or Republican officeholders,” McCann said.