Governor Scott Walker has signed legislation that prevents the future use of John Doe proceedings to investigate cases of political misconduct.
The changes come after two highly controversial cases involving the secret probes, which targeted the governor, employees in the Milwaukee County executive’s office when he held the position, and conservative political groups. The first probe resulted in six convictions, while the state Supreme Court halted the second investigation earlier this year. Walker was never charged under either investigation.
Republicans contend the changes were needed because of how the John Doe process was abused by prosecutors. The investigations require most evidence to be kept under tight seal, with prosecutors and targets not being allowed to publicly discuss the cases. However, details about both probes were frequently leaked and Republicans seized on reports of raids on the homes of targets as evidence that the process was being used to harass conservative backers of Walker’s agenda.
The second investigation, often referred to as “John Doe 2,” was looking into allegations that Walker’s campaign and conservative groups were illegally coordinating campaign efforts while the governor was the target of a recall in 2012. The state Supreme Court ruled this summer that such coordination was not illegal though, ending the investigation.
Critics of the legislation argue the changes will make it harder to root out political corruption, because the John Doe provides a layer of protection to targets in order to keep details from becoming public. While sponsors maintain grand jury proceedings can still be used for political crimes, state Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire) was among Democrats who referred to the bill as the “corrupt politician protection act” during debate in the Assembly earlier this week. Wachs argued the bill basically says “John Doe is appropriate for everybody in Wisconsin…except for people accused of criminal activity in the political sphere.
Prosecutors will still be able to use John Doe proceedings to investigate drug crimes and violent felonies.