Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has won a court battle over political connections to his campaign, effectively clearing an obstacle in his
path to the presidency. The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a ruling July 9 that the long-running criminal investigation into alleged coordination between the governor’s campaign staff and conservative groups has no merit and must be closed.
The ruling stated the probe must stop “because the special prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law.” The special prosecutor, Francis D. Schmitz, can appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court, but has not commented on whether that will be pursued.
Walker, who announced his intentions to join the 2016 bid for president on July 12, is in New Hampshire as part of a multi-state campaign stomp through early voting states. The governor has not issued a comment about the court’s decision. In the past, Walker called the probe a “political witch hunt” with the sole purpose of intimidating those who support him. Schmitz said the governor was not the target of the investigation. The presidential candidate’s campaign issued a statement on July 9 after the ruling came down.
“Today’s ruling confirmed no laws were broken, a ruling that was previously stated by both a state and federal judge,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Scott Walker for America. “It is time to move past this unwarranted investigation that has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Walker began to face accusations in 2012 after he withstood a recall election. The recall was initiated by voters angry about the governor’s push against unions in 2011. The Republican governor and a GOP-powered state legislature took aim at eliminating union rights for the majority of public sector workers in 2011 as a response to balanced budget measures. Walker was faced with weeks of mass protests and the recall efforts of 2011 and 2012. His Teflon response to the situation propelled Walker to the national scene. He is concentrating on the presidential election now that he has won this battle over his campaign political connections.
The investigation specifically looked into whether Walker’s campaign advisers were
directly communicating with and helping to organize more than a dozen conservative groups in preparation for a recall election. Those groups included Citizens for a Strong America, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Schmitz was interested in whether any relationships violated donation limits and disclosure rules. While the secret investigation, labeled a “John Doe” probe, went on for three years, no evidence was submitted to indicate any of the claims were true. A federal judge halted the investigation in 2014, but it was not closed until the court ruling on Thursday.
Closing the investigation goes beyond filing it away. The court ordered
the special prosecutor to return seized property from the probe to those who own it and to destroy all items, including copies of information and any other materials, obtained during the investigation. The court’s decision was split between conservative and liberal judges. The ideologies of the judges created controversy throughout the case because Schmitz asked at least one to recuse himself or herself. The reason, according to Wisconsin news reports, is that campaigns for the court’s four conservative judges accepted donations from some of the groups involved.
Legal experts said the probe was questionable from the beginning because John Doe investigation rules have secrecy guidelines and those involved are forbidden from speaking publicly. The secrecy also means some elements of the investigation will never be publicly disclosed, now that Walker has won the battle over his campaign political connections
By Melody Dareing
New York Times: Scott Walker 2012 Campaign Inquiry Ended by Wisconsin Court
Washington Post: Scott Walker clears big legal hurdle in Wisconsin
USA Today: Walker investigation shut down by court
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