Why is John Doe Chasing Scott Walker in Wisconsin?

The Supreme Court won't stop a state investigation into whether an outside group improperly coordinated activity with the governor's campaign in the 2012 recall election.

CPAC 2015

Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The U.S. Supreme Court refused on Monday to end a state criminal investigation into whether a conservative group improperly coordinated with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign.

The investigation, still on hold, could complicate Walker’s potential campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. A ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court on whether the investigation should be restarted could arrive just before or after he announces his decision about a bid, something he's suggested would come in June or July.

Some background on the so-called "John Doe" investigations of Walker and those close to him:

Q: Who is John Doe?

A: In Wisconsin, a "John Doe" investigation is the equivalent of a grand jury probe, only without jurors. It's led by a district attorney or, in the Walker campaign finance case, by a court-appointed special prosecutor. Its proceedings are kept secret, with court documents filed under seal, ostensibly to protect the subjects of the investigation from being publicly identified until charges, if any, are brought. The Wisconsin Supreme Court last week released some documents from the case, though they were heavily redacted and didn’t offer great insight into any exchanges between the parties involved. One 150-page document, for example, had nearly every page redacted in its entirety.

Q: How does this connect to Walker?

A: He hasn't been formally accused of doing anything. But the investigation, now stalled by legal wrangling, is trying to determine whether his 2012 recall campaign illegally collaborated with supposedly independent groups, such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth. Court papers unsealed in the case show prosecutors have suspected the governor and his campaign staff of synchronizing messages with Club for Growth, and that Walker campaign donors were encouraged to give money to that group because it isn’t subject to donation limits or disclosure laws.

Q: What's the history of the case?

A: This is the second of two "John Doe" probes into potentially unlawful Walker campaign activity. The prior probe looked at whether Walker's staff, while he was Milwaukee County executive, did campaign work during their county work shifts. That investigation resulted in convictions of six associates, but no charges against Walker. John Doe II was launched by prosecutors in August 2012.

Q: What is the background of the special prosecutor?

A: The court-appointed special prosecutor leading the investigation, Francis Schmitz, previously was a federal prosecutor. In federal court papers filed last year, Schmitz's lawyers said he's not a member of any political party, but voted for Walker in the 2012 recall election.

Q: Is this the end of Walker's legal headaches?

A: No. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is looking at a trio of cases involving the investigation and is expected to decide in the coming weeks whether the examination can be revived or must be permanently abandoned. The Wisconsin chapter of Club for Growth and its director, Eric O’Keefe, are fighting subpoenas they received from Schmitz seeking financial records. Walker survived the recall vote, which was sparked by his efforts to curb the power of public employee unions, and then won re-election last year. He and his campaign aren’t directly involved in the Club for Growth case.

—Andrew Harris, Greg Stohr, and Marie Rohde contributed.

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