In a major victory for Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court ruled early Thursday morning along partisan lines to halt the investigation into whether the newest Republican presidential candidate illegally coordinated with right-wing advocacy groups during his 2012 recall campaign.
Saying they want to “prevent the chilling of otherwise protected speech,” the Court’s four conservative justices ordered that the probe be terminated, and that those working on the case “permanently destroy all copies of information and other materials obtained through the investigation.” They also emphasize that anyone connected with the alleged crime is not longer obligated to cooperate with investigators.
Though the first John Doe probe into Walker’s campaign resulted in the criminal conviction of several of his staffers, the justices wrote of the new effort: “The special prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law.” They also scolded prosecutors for investigating “citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing,” and boasted that the ruling will help protect every other Wisconsinite in the future from “tyrannical retribution” and “capricious government prosecution.”
This language echoes how Walker himself has characterized the case — as a “political witch hunt” engineered by Democrats to take him down, despite the fact that multiple district attorneys participating in the case are Republicans.
Now, watchdog groups in Wisconsin are crying foul, pointing to the serious conflicts of interests on the court. Primarily, the very outside political groups accused of coordinating with Walker’s campaign — including Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce — spent millions to help the conservative justices win their seats on the court.
The new chief justice of the Court, Patience Roggensack, has openly said she thinks justices on her court don’t need to recuse themselves from a case even if there is a real or perceived conflict of interest — including a campaign donation from one of the lawyers or parties before the court.
In documents submitted to the Court, the top official in charge of Wisconsin elections expressed anxiety that a ruling to stop the investigation could lead to an erosion of the state’s campaign finance laws.
Kevin Kennedy with the Government Accountability Board said such a decision “would result in candidate’s direct control over millions of dollars of undisclosed corporate and individual contributions without limitation on the amounts accepted. A candidate could operate secret committees and direct them to run overwhelming and negative advertising, while the candidate remains above the fray and the public would not know the true source of the contributions and expenditures.”
The two Justices that dissented in the ruling shared similar concerns, saying the ruling will replace the state’s campaign finance rules with “anything goes,” which “will profoundly affect the integrity of our electoral process.”
Had the Justices ruled for the investigation to continue, it also could have derailed Walker’s bid for the White House. Now, he can wear the ruling as a badge of honor — yet another political battle from which he emerged victorious.