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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

Will they drain this cesspool?

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The GAB is a partisan cesspool that needs to be drained. The bureaucrats there have been waging a twenty-year battle to restrict the free speech rights of conservatives in Wisconsin. As RightWisconsin's Managing Editor Brian Fraley writes, they ignore state statutes, legislative intent and rulings by the Wisconsin and US Supreme Courts. Will lawmakers have the courage to stop them?


The GAB is a partisan cesspool that needs to be drained.
Point of order here, don't confuse the GAB with the retired judges who comprise the Board. When there is a vacancy for the GAB, a panel of current judges (appointed by our liberal Chief Justice) must recommend at least two retired judges to fill the vacancy. The Governor can only pick from the judges put forward by this panel. This convoluted scheme gives GAB defenders the talking point that the GAB is filled with Walker 'appointees.'  Rubbish.
Moreover, it doesn't matter. The uber-bureaucrats who comprise the GAB staff run the place. They are the ones who advocated for the GAB's involvement in the John Doe Witch Hunt of Wisconsin conservatives. The GAB staffers hired Dean Nickel, the mysterious investigator whose contract and budget are anything but transparent. The Judges are mere window dressing.
The GABers are not interested in regulating elections. They administer the casting and tabulating of votes, to be sure...but as we saw with the recalls and their unwillingness to verify signatures and enforce Election Day practices,elections aren't their thing.
They are very interested, however, in regulating speech. Particularly pro-free market, conservative speech. The (mostly) men who work at the GAB have a two-decades long history of trying to be the Speech Police. It's a record replete with disdain for legislative intent, state statutes and the Constitution of the United States.
The GAB (and its predecessor) have a history that is worth reviewing.
In the 1990s, the State Elections Board tried to ban the free speech rights of Wisconsin employers. As one observer wrote of the effort at the time: 
"Politicians are using legal threats to squelch antagonistic TV ads; prosecutors are investigating political activists to find out whether they tried to influence politics; and interest groups are becoming fearful of criticizing candidates by name. Thank Wisconsin, then, for reminding the rest of the country that criminalizing political speech, even with the best of intentions, inevitably produces less speech and more criminals."
The Wisconsin Supreme Court rightly slapped them down.
Five years ago, the GAB rushed through rules regulating speech that had no basis in state law and continued the effort even after it was clear the move was directly in violation of the historic 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.  Again, those rules were struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
But the GAB kept at it, and soon was knee-deep in the John Doe Witch Hunt, financing and assisting Nickel's work. 
But they were stymied. Again. The investigation has largely been derailed by a judge who understands the primacy of the Constitution and US Supreme Court rulings.
On Jan 10, Judge Gregory Peterson ruled that efforts to censor and criminally punish conservative groups were not based on Wisconsin law or the Constitution. 
Peterson, who oversees the super secret John Doe investigation into conservative groups, quashed search warrants and subpoenas because prosecutors had failed to show that their ad campaigns had urged the election or defeat of candidates. He wrote that what prosecutors alleged to have happened wasn't illegal. His ruling has never been revealed, but portions of it were published by The Wall Street Journal.
However, his ruling never would have been needed if the Legislature would have passed a law to ban the government regulation of issue advocacy as proposed in 2013. The law would have clarified the thicket of US and Wisconsin Supreme Court rulings and clearly stated that the government only regulates political speech that urges the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate.
But clarity is anathema to the left.
The GAB bureaucrats prey on ambiguity. Clarity puts the Speech Police out of business. 
A particularly chilling moment came in June of 2013 when a bill that would have codified express advocacy as the standard for regulating political speech was heard in the Legislature. The GAB staff rushed to testify and urge the bill be rejected.  Why? 
We didn't know it then, but the GAB was crafting a theory of illegal coordination in concert with the Special Prosecutor that was based on political purpose test and not an express advocacy test.  In October, John Doe 2 went forward with a series of subpoenas and search warrants of Wisconsin conservatives.  If the rest, here.

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