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John Doe investigation again halted, prosecutors continue to appeal

Probe looks into possible coordination between campaign, conservative groups

John Doe investigation again halted, prosecutors continue to appeal

MADISON, Wis. - An investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's recall campaign and outside-group spending has once again been halted, but prosecutors are continuing to appeal.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa ruled Tuesday to halt the investigation underway by Milwaukee County prosecutors. An appeals court stayed that decision Wednesday, saying Randa made a mistake in procedure. Randa then issued a new ruling Thursday morning once again blocking prosecutors from moving forward with their case.

The "John Doe," or secret investigation is looking into possible coordination between the governor's 2012 recall campaign and conservative independent groups that also spent money on advertising. Coordination between campaigns and independent groups is illegal under state and federal laws.

Judge Randa, in his decision Tuesday, said the investigation is in violation of the free-speech rights of the groups.

"If this ruling stands, and on appeal it is upheld, that means it will be much more difficult to prosecute any coordination of independent spending," said UW political scientist David Canon. "That basically means now that campaign spending can go underground."

Canon said the ruling also says it's too hard to define actual coordination between campaigns and groups. He said the result is that independent expenditures on elections will likely dramatically increase.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke said after an event Thursday that she thought the case should proceed.

"I just think that the people of Wisconsin are concerned about all this special-interest money that floods into politics," Burke said. "We don't know where it's coming from, we don't know who is behind it and that's having too much of an influence on our elections. So I think it's important that these issues are looked into and that our laws are being upheld."

Walker said Thursday that he's not focused on the case.

"For me, I don't get distracted by that, whether it's good or bad or somewhere in between," Walker said. "I leave that up to people who follow this to follow that closely. I just try not to stay distracted from what, in the end, people want me to do, which is the focus on the economic and fiscal issues that are of concern to the people of this state."

Prosecutors have appealed the most recent ruling to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. It's unclear when that court could make any decision about taking or staying the case.

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