Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation Friday that will limit the scope of John Doe investigations after the state Legislature approved the proposal last week.
The bill would curtail the ability of district attorneys to use secret John Doe proceedings to investigate crimes ranging from misconduct in office to identity theft. Walker has been the subject of two high-profile investigations into alleged campaign violations committed by his staff as Milwaukee County Executive and during the 2012 recall elections.
The first probe alleged that Walker’s staff misused county funds when he was county executive and led to the conviction of six associates.
The second probe investigated allegations that his campaign illegally worked with the Wisconsin Club for Growth during the 2012 recall elections. Documents released last week show prosecutors believed Walker’s campaign exhibited “flagrant disregard” for state campaign finance laws in formulating their case.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ended that investigation earlier this year, ruling that the practice being investigated was not illegal and that the investigation violated free speech rights.
The state’s John Doe laws allow prosecutors and judges to subpoena witnesses in secret, placing those who testify under a gag order. Republicans argued the proceedings create partisan attacks and cheered the bill’s signing.
“I would like to thank Governor Walker for signing the John Doe reform bill so expeditiously,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said in a statement. “Wisconsin citizens should all breathe a collective sigh of relief that unconstitutional investigations that violate free speech rights are a thing of the past. These changes were desperately needed in Wisconsin and our state is better off now that it’s law.”
Democrats have pushed back against the law, saying it would lead to corruption and an abuse of power in the state.
“Republicans should be less concerned about covering up Gov. Walker’s political scandals and more focused on helping hard working Wisconsin families,” Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in statement. “This move is a gross abuse of political power at a time when we have a shrinking middle class, declining family wages and stagnant job creation in Wisconsin.”