The investigation into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his activities around his 2012 recall campaign can continue, an appeals court has ruled.
A three-judge panel from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday that an earlier order to halt a secret investigation into Walker's activities must be lifted, the Associated Press reported. A federal judge in May had put a stop to the investigation, which was focused on whether conservative interest groups had illegally coordinated campaign expenditures with Walker’s campaign. These probes, which are known as "John Doe" investigations, are governed by strict secrecy rules for prosecutors, lawyers, judges, and targets of subpoenas.
The 7th Circuit panel heard oral arguments in the case on Sept. 9.
More than 1 million Wisconsinites signed recall petitions for Walker in 2011, after he championed an anti-union measure that effectively ended collective bargaining for public sector employees. That measure triggered massive protests in the state's capital. Six Republican state senators were also recalled. Outside groups spent tens of millions of dollars in support of Walker, who eventually prevailed in the race. Prosecutors were investigating whether those groups and Walker violated campaign finance laws by working together too closely.
Wednesday’s ruling will not immediately restart the investigation. In January, a state court judge quashed subpoenas issued in the investigation, saying that there was insufficient evidence of illegal activity to continue. That ruling is still under appeal.
The Wisconsin Club for Growth, a conservative interest group, and its founder, Eric O’Keefe, argued that the investigation violated the group’s right to free speech.
No criminal charges have been filed in connection to the investigation. But documents unsealed over the summer showed that prosecutors believed Walker sat at the head of a “criminal scheme” to raise money for conservative groups and coordinate spending on his 2012 recall campaign. An earlier John Doe investigation into Walker’s 2010 campaign for governor led to the conviction of six former aides and campaign staffers.
Walker has denied any wrongdoing in either case, which he has called a witch hunt. Walker, once viewed as a likely 2016 presidential contender, has spent all year locked in a dead heat race for re-election against Democratic challenger Mary Burke.
Documents released in August showed that a mining company gave $700,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, Walker and Republican legislators approved measures easing the way for a massive new iron mine in 2013.