By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON — A conservative group and its director asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to end an investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and more than two dozen supportive organizations, arguing that the probe was an unconstitutional infringement of their free speech rights.
Wisconsin Club for Growth and Eric O’Keefe want the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a September decision by the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. That ruling overturned a lower court’s decision that halted the probe. The appeals court, in tossing out the club’s lawsuit, said the issue belonged in state, not federal court.
The case largely centers on the type of political activity conducted by Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups during the recall campaign and whether it required them to follow state laws that bar coordination with candidates, requires disclosure of political donations and places limits on how much money can be collected.
No one has been charged as a result of the investigation, which is on hold while separate legal challenges are pending before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. That court is expected to hear oral arguments this spring and release its decision later in the year.
Questions about the investigation dogged Walker throughout his re-election campaign. Walker is now seriously considering a run for president in 2016.
The investigation grew out of an earlier probe that looked into activities by former aides and associates of Walker’s when he served as Milwaukee County executive prior to being elected governor in 2010.
Walker’s signature legislative achievement in his first term was passing a law that effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers. That spurred the 2012 recall election and a flurry of fundraising to help Walker and other Republican state lawmakers targeted for recall.
Wisconsin Club for Growth and O’Keefe filed a federal civil rights lawsuit last year to halt the latest investigation, which began in secret in 2012. They argued it was a violation of their First Amendment rights and an attempt to criminalize political speech.
Attorneys for O’Keefe and the conservative group argue in Wednesday’s court filing that they were “targeted for abuse and intimidation” by investigators.
“State officials should not be able to avoid federal-court scrutiny merely by cloaking retaliatory actions in the guise of investigation,” attorneys said in the request.
Randall Crocker, the attorney for lead investigator Fran Schmitz, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The investigation, known as a John Doe, was conducted largely in secret. Most of the details were not known until the ensuing legal battle. A John Doe investigation is Wisconsin’s version of a grand jury probe where information is tightly controlled and investigators can compel people to testify and produce documents while not allowing them to speak publicly about what’s going on.Follow @sbauerAP