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Ruling deals setback in secret investigation

  • Associated Press
  • January 11, 2014 - 4:15 PM

MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin judge quashed subpoenas and ordered the return of property to the targets of a secret campaign-finance investigation that reportedly involves Gov. Scott Walker's campaign and conservative groups, according to a newspaper report.

Judge Gregory A. Peterson ruled Friday some of those subpoenas were improper, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday in a story on its opinion page.

Peterson, an Eau Claire County reserve judge, is overseeing the so-called John Doe investigation into Walker's campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups.

Peterson wrote that the subpoenas "do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws." His opinion remains under seal, but the newspaper said it obtained a copy. Peterson told The Associated Press he could not comment Saturday, citing the secret investigation.

The newspaper reported in November that a special prosecutor subpoenaed the campaign and the groups, seeking records and fundraising information related to recall attempts in 2011 and 2012 that targeted Walker and Republican state senators.

The now-quashed subpoenas were sent to Friends of Scott Walker, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Inc., the Wisconsin Club for Growth, and Citizens for a Strong America, as well as their officers and directors.

Voicemail messages from the AP left Saturday for the groups were not immediately returned.

Last month, Walker declined comment about the investigation in an interview with the AP but said he hopes it ends soon because otherwise, "It's like trying to have a discussion with both hands tied behind your back."

It's unknown whether special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, a former assistant U.S. attorney, is also looking at Democrats and their supporters.

Both sides combined spent more than $137 million on the 15 recall races in 2011 and 2012, based on an analysis done by the independent group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported the new probe, saying the investigation was following up on leads obtained during an earlier John Doe investigation that resulted in the conviction of three former Walker aides, a Walker appointee and major campaign donor.

John Doe probes are essentially the state equivalent of a federal grand jury probe.

© 2014 Star Tribune