The press is reporting that the ongoing John Doe investigation may be looking at issues arising from the provision of barbecue to voters by a liberal advocacy organization and the provision of gift cards to persons involved in "get out the vote" issues by Wisconsin Right to Life.
Tom Foley offers his opinion that the good people at Wisconsin Right to Life "must" be prosecuted by the district attorney. He's wrong.
I posted briefly on the legal issues involved shortly after the matter first became public. Tom seems to think its odd that I quoted only part of statutory language paraphrasing what comes before. Not odd at all. It happens every day and the reason I did it was because I was only concerned with the quoted language. There is no question that WRTL offered or promised or gave a "thing of value." In fact, my understanding was that they had already given the gift cards which is why I said the statute applied to "providing" a thing of value. In my understanding, that is what was done. Of course, the statute could also apply to an "offer" or "promise" but that wasn't the issue.
What I was concerned with is whether WRTL could be said to have given out these gift cards (or, if you prefer, offered the gift cards) to an elector or any other person as an inducement to get an elector to vote or refrain from voting.
The problem that I see with application of the statute to WRTL is that the gift cards were offered or given not as an inducement to vote but as an inducement for people to get others to apply for absentee ballots. Even if we can characterize the latter as trying to get people to vote, this is a huge distinction. Here's why.
Tom wants to read the statute to say that it is unlawful to offer a thing of value to a person in order to induce that person to persuade another to vote. This is not what the law says. In fact, if we were read the statute in the way that Mr. Foley wants, it would apply to any compensated "get out the vote" effort. If a political party or a candidate or even the League of Women Voters pays people to encourage or facilitate voting, they will have violated the statute. Not only is that a nonsensical reading of the statute (the law can be an ass but it usually isn't), it is a reading that would place it in dire constitutional jeopardy. The freedom of association involves, I think, the right to organize to get out the vote including paying the organizers.
As I suggested in the post that Tom keeps referring (but never responding to), I argued that the inducement - whether given directly to an elector or another person -must function as an inducement to the elector, i.e., whatever is provided to the elector or a third party must be a quid pro quo for the elector's decision to cast (or to refrain from casting) a vote.
Thus it would be unlawful for the Republican Party to give my son $ 100 in order to induce me to vote. It would not be unlawful for it to hire my son to register voters, get absentee ballot applications and otherwise participate in what politicians refer to as "the ground game" - even if he winds up getting me to submit an absentee ballot request.
There could, I suppose, be additional facts about the arrangement that make the law applicable and, as I blogged when this story broke, I would have advised that the program be structured a bit differently in order to err on the side of caution.