John Doe investigations: Lawmakers considering bill that would alter scope, scale of these probes

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MADISON (WITI) -- Wisconsin lawmakers are considering a bill that would alter the scope and scale of John Doe investigations -- and some are asking: Are Republicans attempting to take politics out of the process, or are they inserting partisanship into the process?

Governor Scott Walker has been under investigation for virtually every day he's been in office -- the result of two secret John Doe investigations. Republicans have derided those investigations as political "witch hunts" and now, they want to change the law in Wisconsin.

"You saw the things that happened in Milwaukee with the abuse of the John Doe process," Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) said.

Wanggard, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says the investigations, complete with pre-dawn raids, seized property and gag orders have become too political. He is sponsoring a bill to end John Doe investigations for political campaign crimes.

"It takes the politics out of it.This is an issue of fairness in how we use the tool," Wanggaard said.

Former Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann opposes the bill -- calling John Doe proceedings in the political arena a necessary tool for good government.

"Why are you cutting down the power of district attorneys to target corrupt officials? This is reminiscent of Huey Long and Tammany Hall. That's what Huey Long would do. His buddies are under investigation, 'can you change the statute and stop the investigation that way?'" McCann said.

The proposal would limit the length of the investigations to six months.

"If it does have to go more than six months, they can go to a panel of our 10 circuit judge chiefs and they can say, 'yeah, this makes sense, go ahead,'" Wanggaard said.

"This is deep-seeded political corruption," McCann said.

The first John Doe investigation into Walker led to criminal convictions for six of his aides and associates who served during his time as Milwaukee County Executive. The second investigation is looking into possible illegal coordination between Walker's campaign and conservative groups like the Club for Growth. That investigation is on hold until the Wisconsin Supreme Court decides whether it's valid to continue it.

Since John Doe investigations are secret, witnesses can't talk about them. Wanggaard says that's unfair, and his bill would change that.

"It gives the witnesses the ability to have control over their lives," Wanggaard said.

"If you let the Republicans do it in this term, when the Democrats get in power, they will do the same thing. We're talking about preserving the integrity of government in Wisconsin," McCann said.

This bill passed committee on a party-line vote and will likely be debated by the full Senate soon.