Sen. Lazich, SB 654, and the John Doe Investigation

political campaign scandal, State, Elections

 The Center for Media and Democracy  PR Watch conveys:

"New documents indicate that just weeks after the first subpoenas were issued in Wisconsin's "John Doe" criminal campaign finance probe in October 2013, senate Republicans had begun working to change state law to legalize the activities under investigation."

"Legistative Republicans surprised many in the state in March of 2014 when they tried to rush Senate Bill 654 through the legislature to explicitly carve-out an exception to the state's campaign finance statutes for so-called "issue ads".    At the time, the most obvious implication of SB 654 was less disclosure of funds spent to influence state elections. "

"Many were also alarmed at how Republicans tried to fast-track the bill through the legislature in the final days of the legislative session, with minimal opportunity for public input. "Forget, for a moment, the troubling provisions in these bills," the Wisconsin State Journal  editorialized on March 6.  "What's most offensive is their late unveiling and speedy hearings that are designed to dodge public scrutiny."

"Senate elections committee chair Sen. Mary Lazich (R) had begun working on the bill five months earlier, in October 2013 -- just weeks after secret John Doe subpoenas were issued to Wisconsin Club for Growth, the Walker campaign, and other groups."

"The timing provides further evidence that the legislation was designed to have an impact on the conduct under investigation in the John Doe."

"At the time, the John Doe was operating under strict secrecy orders. But recently released unsealed documents  show that the bipartisan group of John Doe prosecutors alleged that the Walker campaign and legislative leaders were part of a "criminal scheme" to violate Wisconsin's disclosure and donation laws during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, based on evidence of coordination with nonprofit groups such as Wisconsin Club for Growth. The Club spent at least $9.l million on electoral issue ads during the recalls, and acted as a hub for funneling millions more to other politically-active groups."

"By changing the law to put issue ads beyond the reach of Wisconsin's campaign finance statutes, Lazich's bill would have the effect of legalizing the issue ad coordination under investigation. Lazich was the subject of a recall attempt in 2011."

"In March, during the dwindling days of the legislative session, Senator Lazich introduced the bill her office had first drafted in October. It was introduced late on a Monday, scheduled for its only public hearing on Wednesday, and fast-tracked for passage with minimal public review."

"Ultimately SB 654 stalled in committee."

"Jay Heck, Executive Director of Common Cause Wisconsin, testified against SB 654 in March 2014, but tells the Center for Media and Democracy that he thought it "inconceivable" at the time that Republicans would be seeking to change the law on coordination in the middle of a criminal investigation, and that the organizations pushing SB 654 were doing so while subject to subpoenas in a criminal case. Their connection to the John Doe was not public at the time the bill was being debated, and the investigation was never mentioned during their testimony. "

"But given the new evidence that Lazich's office called for the bill just weeks after the John Doe subpoenas were served, he now says "this is more than coincidental."  "I'm just in disbelief at how brazen this is," he said."

To read the entire report, click here.

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