Court ends Walker campaign finance probe

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) did not violate campaign finance laws during recall elections against him, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided in an opinion released Thursday.

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Wisconsin’s highest court ruled on Thursday that Walker did not illegally collaborate with conservative groups during 2011 and 2012 recall campaigns.

The ruling ends a significant legal challenge against Walker just three days after his entrance into the GOP’s 2016 presidential field. It halts any continuing investigation or legal discovery that could tarnish the Wisconsin governor’s image heading into next year.

"Today's ruling confirmed no laws were broken, a ruling that was previously stated by both a state and federal judge," said AshLee Strong, the press secretary for Walker's presidential campaign.

"It is time to move past this unwarranted investigation that has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars," she added.

The justices involved with the case split 4-2.

Justice Michael Gableman wrote in the court’s majority decision that the campaign finance law at issue in the case is “unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.”

“To be clear, this conclusion ends the John Doe investigation because the special prosecutor’s legal theory is unsupported in either reason or law,” he said. “Consequently, the investigation is closed.”

Prosecutors argued that Walker illegally coordinated his recall campaign activities with the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative organizations, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, raising funds for Wisconsin Club for Growth while coordinating with the group on campaign strategy.

R.J. Johnson, an adviser for the group, also served as an adviser for Walker’s recall campaign.

Walker’s defenders argued that the groups did not explicitly tell voters who they should back during the 2011 and 2012 recall campaigns.

Thursday’s decision lands firmly on their side, clearing Walker of any inappropriate activities during the recall elections.

The Journal-Sentinel said that issue groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth do not run campaign ads using phrases such as “vote for” or “vote against” in terms of specific candidates. As such, the court ruled their actions are protected as free speech under Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws.

Justice Shirley Abrahamson wrote in her dissent Thursday that “the majority opinion’s theme is ‘anything goes.’”

“The majority opinion adopts an unprecedented and faulty interpretation of Wisconsin’s campaign finance law and of the First Amendment,” she said.

“In doing so, the majority opinion delivers a significant blow to Wisconsin’s campaign finance law and to its paramount objective of ‘stimulating vigorous campaigns on a fair and equal basis’ and providing for ‘a better informed electorate.’”

Updated at 1:32 p.m.