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Victory for Walker as Supreme Court Puts Brakes on John Doe Investigation

Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday handed Gov. Walker a major victory – just days after he officially launched his bid for President. The court effectively ended an investigation into Walker’s 2012 recall campaign. Prosecutors had been examining whether the campaign illegally coordinated activities with conservative funders such as Wisconsin Club for Growth.

Rick Essenberg hopes one outgrowth of the court ruling, is that the Legislature enact stricter rules for John Doe investigations. Esenberg is an attorney for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty and filed a Friend of the Court brief in the case. He criticized Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm for launching the secret investigation into Gov. Walker’s recall campaign. Esenberg accused prosecutors of stooping to unprecedented means of gathering evidence.

“Having engaged in an extraordinarily broad and aggressive investigation, aggressive both with respect to the legal theory that it was pursuing and aggressive with respect to the tactics it employed; night time raids in which essentially a family’s entire life was seized in the context of a campaign finance investigation is unheard of,” Esenberg says.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed on a 4-2 vote, that the state’s campaign finance laws do not specifically ban the conduct the John Doe was probing and that free speech must prevail. Jay Heck is executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause in Wisconsin. He calls the decision flawed and says it significantly guts Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws.

“What it means is that we would have no rules anymore if this decision is not effectively appealed. It means that outside groups would be able to coordinate with candidates with secret money, dark money, unlimited amounts of money,” Heck says.

Heck says he hopes prosecutors appeal the prevailing justices’ decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. UW-Madison Political Science Professor Howard Schweber agrees with Heck that the ruling essentially means political action committees can run candidates’ campaigns in Wisconsin. As for the impact of the whole scenario on Gov. Walker’s presidential run?

“At this point in the presidential campaign, anyone who tries to bring this issue up, I think Gov. Walker could easily respond, this has been heard by the state Supreme Court and I’m not going to talk about it, and I think he can do that because the Supreme Court has given him that cover,” Schweber says.

The Walker campaign released a statement Thursday, applauding the court’s decision. Spokeswoman AshLee Strong says the ruling confirms nobody broke any laws, and “it’s time to move past this unwarranted investigation that has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The special prosecutor who oversaw the probe says he’s disappointed the public did not hear all the facts.

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