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FILE - In this March 16, 2013 file photo, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker arrives to speak in National Harbor, Md. As they gear up for re-election campaigns, many GOP governors, particularly those across the upper Midwest, find themselves in positions of strength, having benefited from improving economies if not changes of heart over their policies. Two years ago Walker faced angry crowds in the tens of thousands, vowing to oust him for signing legislation that stripped public employees of their bargaining power. Yet he attributed lawmakersí closing a $3.6-billion budget gap to the measure, and won a dramatic recall election last summer by a wider margin than his 2011 victory. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Well this sucks:

A federal judge ordered a halt Tuesday to the John Doe investigation into campaign spending and fundraising by Gov. Scott Walker's campaign and conservative groups, saying the effort appeared to violate one of the group's free speech rights.

In his 26-page decision, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa in Milwaukee told prosecutors to immediately stop the long-running, five-county probe into possible illegal coordination between Walker's campaign, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and a host of others during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections.

"The (Wisconsin Club for Growth and its treasurer) have found a way to circumvent campaign finance laws, and that circumvention should not and cannot be condemned or restricted. Instead, it should be recognized as promoting political speech, an activity that is 'ingrained in our culture,'" Randa wrote, quoting from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

He ordered an immediate halt to the investigation, the return of all property seized during it, and the destruction of any information and materials gained in the investigation. He told the Wisconsin Club for Growth it did not need to cooperate with prosecutors in any way.

Special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, who was leading the investigation, said late Tuesday he expects to challenge the decision by appealing to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

"I'm virtually assured we will appeal this decision," Schmitz said. "I have to consult with the others and my attorney" before making a final decision. - Milwuakee-Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel, 5/6/14

Here's some more info:

Some background: In 2012, Walker faced a recall election, which he survived with unprecedented support from Republican groups—and despite pro-union groups' attempts to oust Walker. One of those Republican groups, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, was accused of illegally coordinating its campaign funds with Walker's campaign, and a secretive "John Doe" investigation was launched. In Wisconsin, a John Doe investigation is "an independent, investigatory tool to ascertain whether a crime has been committed and if so, by whom."

In turn, one of the group's directors, Eric O'Keefe, sued the state attorneys involved in the probe, saying the investigation violated his First Amendment rights.

In effect, Randa's decision says the state's investigation against the Club for Growth is completely baseless. Randa even ordered that all materials collected in the investigation should be destroyed, and said the group did not need to cooperate with prosecutors.

This is just the latest instance of Wisconsin courts becoming a last resort for political maneuvering. Last week, a federal judge struck down Wisconsin's controversial voter-identification law, which Walker signed into law in 2011. And the status of Walker's most polarizing law, which banned public-sector unions from bargaining collectively, has become a judicial ping-pong match—upheld, overturned, upheld, ad nauseam.

O'Keefe's attorney, David Rivkin, said the investigation had prevented his client's group from raising or spending money, thus inhibiting its speech.

"We are delighted with the ruling," Rivkin told National Journal. "We feel that it begins the process of restoring our constitutionally protected rights that had been stifled by this unconstitutional and partisan investigation, and we look forward to prevailing with a permanent injunction and damage claims."

O'Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth are now suing special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, who spearheaded the John Doe investigation, along with the other attorneys who worked on the case. When reached by phone, Schmitz said he will almost certainly appeal Randa's decision.

Schmitz's attorney said Schmitz was only doing the job the state asked him to do. - National Journal, 5/7/14

So what does this mean?

The ruling is a victory for Walker, neutralizing a state criminal proceeding that had hung over him as he began moving to the national stage and considering a run for president in 2016.

Because of unusual secrecy rules in preliminary state investigations in Wisconsin, Walker and his conservative allies had been severely constrained in their ability to speak out and defend themselves while the probe plodded ahead. The exact nature of the criminal investigation had likewise remained shrouded in secrecy.

The investigation had grown out of an earlier probe of the Milwaukee County Executive's Office, which Walker ran until his election as governor in 2010. Six Walker aides and allies were convicted of various offenses as a result, though no allegations were ever made against Walker.

According to Randa, that investigation sparked a more wide-ranging examination of campaign finance in 2011 and 2012, a tumultuous time in Wisconsin politics that saw Walker lead an effort to end collective bargaining for many public workers and then survive a recall attempt. - Washington Post, 5/7/14

And Walker's timing couldn't be even more perfect:

Protesters fill the State Capitol on Friday, Feb. 18, 2011, in Madison, Wis.,   Union members, students and others have been protesting the governor's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers.  (AP Photo/The Rockford Register-Star , Max Gersh)  MANDATORY CREDIT
Three years ago, crowds of protestors filled Wisconsin's State Capitol building to protest Gov. Scott Walker's (R) proposed rollback of state employees' collective bargaining rights. The drama became national, even international, news, and Walker's proposal eventually passed.

But on Wednesday, Walker did his state employees a solid. He proclaimed May 7, 2014 to be "State Employee Recognition Day."

"Thank you for the good work that you do for the State of Wisconsin," Walker said in a video released by his office. "Over the years, I've met some amazing people who do incredible jobs for our state government." - TPM, 5/7/14

Class act, huh?  Meanwhile, Walker's opponent, Mary Burke (D. WI), has been out hammering Walker on Wisconsin's economy:

Asked if the voters should fire Gov. Scott Walker, Burke said, "Yes. Absolutely."

"We are lagging every other state in the Midwest but one in terms of job growth," she said. "We're 35th in the country in terms of job growth under Scott Walker and I don't see a plan on how he is going to change it around."

Burke spoke to several hundred people during a joint meeting of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Press Club.

She was questioned about how she might deal with legislation to block local ordinances on the minimum wage and said "local communities should be able to set those rates at what they think is good for their community and for local government."

The issue has arisen in the wake of the Milwaukee County Board overriding a veto from county executive Chris Abele to set a "living wage" of at least $11.32 an hour for county workers and some employees of county contractors.

Burke backs a three-step increase in the state's minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10. - Wisconsin-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/6/14

And there's a good reason she's focusing on the economy:

Walker is not hurting for money. He’s been a darling of the Republican establishment and Tea Party wing alike after staring down the unions in 2012. More than half of his money comes from out of state. But he is vulnerable on a range of issues. On Tuesday, a federal judge struck down the state’s voter ID law; a state court had already blocked it. Walker had said that if the courts ruled against the law, he would call the legislature back into session to rewrite it, but that could prove a bridge too far. He has cut way back on early voting, ended weekend voting, and repealed an “Equal Pay Enforcement Act” passed by Democrats when they were in charge.

His promise to create 250,000 jobs in his first term is well out of reach, and Burke says of his job plan, “I’ve seen eighth-graders’ term papers that are more thoughtful.” Her five-point jobs plan promotes “industry clusters” that align public policy with work force development and export policies: “I’m focused on making things work.” She says Walker’s refusal to accept Medicaid expansion makes “no common sense and no economic sense,” and his turndown of $800 million in federal money to build high-speed rail service to connect to Chicago was “definitely just political. We could use those jobs.” At 55, Burke is a political novice, and in a polarized electorate, that might be a winning formula. - The Daily Beast, 5/1/14

If you want to donate and get involved with Burke's campaign, you can do so here:

Thanks to bearsguy for this:

A federal appeals court has just ordered a stay of U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa's decision ordering prosecutors to drop their investigation into possible coordination between political campaigns and issue-advocacy groups.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals says it needs to first rule on an emergency appeal prosecutors filed. The appeals court has also stayed Randa's order that prosecutors return and destroy copies of evidence. "Compliance with those portions of the injunction could moot some or all of the issues on appeal," read the opinion signed by judges Diane Wood, William Bauer and Frank Easterbrook. - Wisconsin State Journal, 5/7/14

Originally posted to pdc on Wed May 07, 2014 at 01:32 PM PDT.

Also republished by Badger State Progressive and The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

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