This is terrible news for the people of Wisconsin and also for the rest of us. Wisconsin laws are strict on the question of coordination between outside groups and a candidate's campaign, with good reason. However, to Judge Randa, there is no possible good reason to suppress "speech."
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.
The investigation's focus on Walker and the Wisconsin Club for Growth has been clear for some time, but Randa revealed investigators also were probing candidates for state Senate and that "all or nearly all right-of-center groups and individuals in Wisconsin who engaged in issue advocacy from 2010 to the present are targets of the investigation."
Thanks, SCOTUS! Several associates of Walker's have gone to jail or been convicted in connection with Walker's campaign, but it's just all free speech now. Gotcha.