George F. Will: Government by intimidation — John Doe investigations cause mayhem

Published: Sunday, May 11 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Besides, and even more importantly, Randa said his court “need not make that type of factual finding.” Wisconsin law forbids coordination between third-party groups, such as O'Keefe's, and candidates only for express advocacy, and Randa said “it is undisputed” that O'Keefe and his group engaged only in issue advocacy. The prosecutors indifference to this is their corruption.

Liberals inveighing against “dark money” in politics mean money contributed anonymously to finance political advocacy. Donors' anonymity thwarts liberals' efforts to injure the livelihoods of identifiable conservatives by punishing them for their political participation and thereby deterring others from participating.

O'Keefe's persecution illustrates the problem his lawyer David Rivkin calls “dark power” — government power wielded secretively for vengeance and intimidation. Judge Randa quoted the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision: The First Amendment is “premised on mistrust of governmental power.” And he noted that “the danger always exists that the high purpose of campaign regulation and its enforcement may conceal self-interest.”

Randa is insufficiently mistrustful. Campaign regulation, although invariably swathed in lofty rhetoric, is designed to disguise regulation's low purpose, which is to handicap political rivals. If Wisconsin is serious about eliminating political corruption, it can begin by eliminating corrupt prosecutors and processes, and the speech regulations that encourage both.

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

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