- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014
Conservative group sues to end investigation

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A group that advocates for conservative causes and its director filed a federal lawsuit Monday asking to end a secret investigation related to campaign fundraising and spending in recent recall elections, including the 2012 effort to oust Gov. Scott Walker.

The lawsuit, by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and director Eric O’Keefe, was filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee against federal prosecutors and the judge overseeing the ongoing John Doe probe.

The current investigation grew out of a previous one that lasted three years and ended in 2013 with six convictions, including three former Walker aides. The latest investigation, which began in August 2012, is reportedly looking into activity by Walker’s campaign, the Club for Growth and more than two dozen other conservative independent groups that were heavily involved in recall elections targeting Walker and state senators.

Walker became a national conservative hero, and possible 2016 presidential candidate, after he became the first governor in U.S. history to win a recall election in 2012. He was targeted for recall because of the law he championed, in the face of massive protests, that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers.

Nearly $81 million was spent by the candidates, special interest groups and political committees in that race, more than doubling the previous record set by Walker in the 2010 election.

Wisconsin Club for Growth spent an estimated $9.1 million on all recalls in 2011 and 2012, according to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The Club for Growth and O’Keefe argue in the lawsuit that the investigation is a violation of their free speech rights as well as their constitutional right to free assembly and equal protection.

“This secret investigation and gag order on conservative activists is intended to stop their political successes in Wisconsin,” O’Keefe said in a statement. “The state cannot be allowed to silence political speech it does not like.”

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Wis. legislator nixes UW record exemptions

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The head of the state Assembly’s colleges committee said Monday he won’t allow the panel to vote on a bill that would largely keep University of Wisconsin System research activities secret, defusing a looming fight between the system and open government advocates.

Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, introduced a bill last week that would exempt all materials tied to any commercial, scientific or technical research from the state’s open records law before the research is published.

UW officials say the measure is designed to protect research from competitors. Open records advocates counter that the law already exempts draft research documents and information that would reveal trade secrets. They also contend the law allows universities to keep records secret if officials feel the harm from releasing them outweighs the presumption of public access.

“Wow,” Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, wrote in an email to Wisconsin media outlets, open records attorneys alerting them to the bill. “I am asking that we take this seriously and respond with the indignation it deserves.”

The Assembly colleges committee included the bill among several set for a public hearing Monday. But the committee’s chairman, Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, announced before the proceedings began that he would not allow the committee to vote on Kuglitsch’s bill as long as the broad exemptions remained.

He distributed a statement at the hearing saying he had spoken with Kuglitsch and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, and the provisions will be removed from the bill. He told people in the audience at the outset of the hearing that speaking about the exemptions would serve little purpose.

“I believe strongly in the importance of the Wisconsin Open Records Law in providing the public with the ability to know what government is doing in this state,” Nass said in the statement. “This law is also a fundamentally important tool for the Legislature in carrying out its constitutional duty of oversight.”

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911 call shows mom doubted half-sister took baby

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A recording of a 911 call from the mother of a Wisconsin infant who was taken from his home last week shows the distraught woman didn’t think her half-sister, who is now charged in the kidnapping, had committed the crime.

Authorities on Monday released the nine-minute recording of the call Brianna Marshall, 18, made when she realized her son was missing.

Marshall told dispatchers that her half-sister was in the home the night before and that she awoke to find her half-sister and the infant gone. But the mother also asserted that her half-sister wouldn’t take her son.

“I called her, and she’s balling her eyes out and told me to call the cops,” Marshall said.

“But she’s claiming she doesn’t have the kid, correct?” the dispatcher asks.

“No, she wouldn’t take my son,” Marshall said.

Federal prosecutors charged the half-sister, Kristen Smith of Denver, with kidnapping Friday, hours after a police chief discovered the missing newborn, Kayden Powell, behind a gas station in West Branch, Iowa. The baby, wrapped in blankets and left in a plastic storage bin, was alive and well despite being left in freezing weather for up to 29 hours.

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Dem. AG candidate starts gay marriage petition

MILWAUKEE (AP) - One Democratic candidate for Wisconsin attorney general is starting a petition calling on the Department of Justice to stop defending the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Democratic Rep. Jon Richards, of Milwaukee, says he’s for marriage equality and believes Wisconsin’s ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. He says he won’t defend it if elected attorney general.

He also has posted a petition on his campaign website, asking supporters to join him in asking the state Justice Department not to defend the ban.

Another Democratic candidate, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, says he also would not defend the gay marriage ban.

A Republican candidate, Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, says it’s the attorney general’s responsibility to defend the state’s laws, not to substitute personal opinions for the law.

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