Sep 25 5:33 PM

Court clears way for restart of inquiry into Wisconsin governor’s finances

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is accused of playing a roll in coordinating with outside groups, a violation of election law.
Jeffery Phelps / AP

A federal appeals court has lifted an injunction against Wisconsin prosecutors, clearing the way for a resumption of an investigation into whether the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker coordinated with outside groups to fight his 2012 recall.

Documents released earlier this year revealed Walker, a Republican currently in a tight re-election battle with Democrat Mary Burke, had contacted a number of national groups and prominent figures to arrange fundraising and electoral support as he successfully fought off a recall attempt.

In one email, released as part of a suit brought by Wisconsin Club for Growth, a Walker supporter, the governor tells former George W. Bush staffer and Republican strategist/PAC man Karl Rove that a close Walker aid would take the lead with outside groups.

The ultra-conservative Club for Growth had sued to stop the investigation into Walker’s dealings on the grounds that it violated his First Amendment right to free association.

But prosecutors said the investigation was looking into a “criminal scheme” to co-ordinate outside political groups. Under the current interpretation of election law, outside groups are given almost unlimited room to participate in electoral contests — as long as they do not coordinate their work with the campaigns they are supporting.

Officials also said that Walker was not “the target” of the investigation.

A Wisconsin state judge had imposed an injunction earlier this year, temporarily halting the investigation, saying that the definition of what constituted “coordination” was in flux, and the prosecutors should hold off until that matter was settled.

Wednesday’s decision by a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals returns the matter to state and theoretically clears the way for prosecutors to resume their investigation. But it was the Wisconsin courts that had thrown up roadblocks to the prosecutors so far. One state judge made the ruling that was rejected by the federal court this week; another had previously quashed subpoenas in the case on probable cause grounds.

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