By BRYNA GODAR
and TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Prosecutors looking to revive an investigation into Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate a state decision halting the probe.
A group of prosecutors led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm opened an investigation in 2012 into whether Walker’s campaign coordinated with Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups on advertising during the recall without reporting the groups’ contributions. They ran the probe as a John Doe investigation, a procedure similar to a grand jury where information can be kept secret.
The groups filed a lawsuit challenging the probe. Conservative-leaning justices who control the Wisconsin Supreme Court halted it last summer. They ruled that the groups and the campaign coordinated on issue advocacy, a political term for ads that don’t expressly call for a candidate’s election or defeat. Such coordination amounts to free speech and isn’t subject to disclosure requirements, the court ruled, shredding the prosecutors’ basis for the investigation.
Chisholm, Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne — all Democrats — filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday asking it to take the case and nullify the state court’s ruling.
“The decision permits unlimited candidate-controlled expenditures by … organizations funded with anonymous dollars; it is the very undoing of campaign disclosure requirements.”
They argued that the case offers the court an unprecedented opportunity to decide how broadly free speech rights protect campaign coordination with outside groups. They also maintained they never received a fair hearing before the state Supreme Court, insisting that Justices David Prosser and Michael Gableman should have recused themselves because some of the groups under investigation aided their campaigns.
Prosser wrote days after the ruling that some targets of the investigation “engaged in expenditures that … were very valuable to my campaign.” But he said he didn’t need to step out of the case, noting the spending took place four years previous. Gableman has never explained why he remained on the case.
The prosecutors also asserted that some of the groups launched a media campaign to discredit the investigation as a political witch hunt, which improperly influenced the conservative justices. The prosecutors noted in the filing that Chisholm tried to hand the investigation off to then-Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, but Van Hollen refused to take it.
Attorneys for two of the groups who brought the original lawsuit challenging the probe didn’t immediately respond to messages.
The U.S. Supreme Court is under no obligation to take the case. The court takes up only about 1 percent of the petitions for review it receives each year.