Patrick Yingling is the man Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm hopes can secure a U.S. Supreme Court intervention in Wisconsin’s now-defunct John Doe II probe of conservative organizations. Chisholm, a Democrat, and Ismael Ozanne, the Democratic DA of Dane County, saw years of hard work collapse in recent months as state and federal courts ruled against their once-secret and sweeping harassment of conservative organizations.
Using Wisconsin’s John Doe law, which has since been amended by lawmakers, Chisholm and fellow Democrats and liberals, like the staff of the Government Accountability Board, hoped to use campaign finance regulations to punish conservative donors and the organizations they supported. When conservatives like Eric O’Keefe and others fought back in court, the courts sided with free speech and shut down the investigation.
Now, Chisholm and Ozanne are desperate to salvage their wrecked investigation and their suspect reputations. They have retained the help of three lawyers and one administrative assistant at Reed Smith LLP, an international law firm. The legal team is donating its time to help craft an appeal on behalf of Chisholm and Ozanne to the U.S. Supreme Court. Whether or not the Democratic elected officials can accept free legal help under a state statute that prohibits officials from receiving something of personal benefit while holding state office, is a matter of some debate.
Patrick Yingling is one of the Reed Smith attorneys donating his time to Chisholm. He’s also written about campaign finance regulations and strongly criticized the ability of organizations to spend money on independent expenditures in elections.
In 2013, Yingling penned a research paper titled “Conventional and Unconventional Corruption” for the Duquesne Law Review. The 58-page essay offers extraordinary insight into Yingling’s perspective on campaign finance laws and the regulations that govern political and independent expenditure efforts.
According to Yingling “unconventional corruption” is “when elected officials make decisions with-out regard for the public interest” so they can “achieve re-election to public office.” He clarifies that while it “is not necessarily illegal” it certainly should be. This is in contrast to routine corruption, he asserts, which consists of bribes, payoffs, kickbacks and the like.
The tools of “unconventional corruption” run the gamut from campaign contributions by lobbyists and business owners to independent expenditure efforts, Yingling asserts. “In order to effectively combat unconventional corruption, both contributions and independent expenditures must be limited,” he argues. What prevents the effective imposition of limits, he claims, are pesky Constitutional protections for things like political expression.
“Unfortunately, in countries with strong protections for free speech, restrictions on independent campaign expenditures sometimes receive pushback from the courts,” he brazenly asserts.
Yingling’s liberal political views aren’t confined to campaign finance laws. On Facebook he “Likes” groups such as Clearfield County Democrats and Being Liberal to the LGBT Center of Central PA. His law firm bio touts his pro-bono work for the ACLU, and in 2012 he wrote a column praising President Barack Obama’s decision to publicly support same-sex marriage.
“[I]f you start from a flawed premise, then you finish with a flawed result,” Yingling says of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that critics complain led to a rise in independent expenditure efforts.
“Unconventional corruption is rampant in the United States,” the lawyer asserts in his paper, “and the courts have not helped the efforts of the American people to find solutions. Unless and until the problem of unconventional corruption is addressed, the endless list of problems facing the United States will remain unresolved.”
Calling for mandatory public financing of political campaigns as a viable means to end the current campaign finance structure, Yingling pens this revealing paragraph:
“The root of the matter is unconventional corruption and the improper dependency on campaign cash within government. Public officials must ask whether that dependency too severely weakens the independence of the government institutions in which they serve. If they do not ask that question, then they betray such institutions. Unfortunately, the improper dependency is not easily curable. Due to the Court’s decisions striking down campaign finance legislation, Americans must be creative and look to other means of dealing with the corrupting influence of money on elected officials.” [Emphasis added]
Those are the words of a crusader, and a crusade to end legal contributions and legal spending on issue advocacy are the heart of Chisholm’s attempt to use Wisconsin law to brutally harass, intimidate and – as he hoped – eventually convict those he disagrees with politically.
Whether or not Yingling and the rest of the pro bono legal team will be able to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the burned wreckage of the John Doe II probe will be something to watch. But one thing is abundantly clear: for Yingling this case is a chance for him to fulfill his passionate opposition to forms of free speech with which he disagrees.