7th Circuit Overturns Ruling Halting ‘John Doe’ Investigation of Gov. Walker’s Campaign in Wisconsin


Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed a district court order that halted an investigation into apparent illegal coordination between the campaign of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and ostensibly “independent” outside groups.  In May, U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa issued a preliminary injunction in O’Keefe v. Chisholm halting the Wisconsin prosecutors’ investigation and ordering them to destroy evidence gathered in the case tying the Governor and his campaign to outside groups, including Wisconsin Club for Growth.  On August 8, 2014, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, filed an amici brief, focusing on the flawed constitutional argument the Judge relied upon in enjoining the investigation, and urging the Seventh Circuit to reverse the district court order.

“We are relieved to see the Seventh Circuit reverse Judge Randa’s outrageous ruling, which not only halted the investigation but ordered the destruction of evidence gathered by prosecutors of potential coordination between the Walker campaign and outside groups,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “While the Circuit Court did not reach a decision on the merits, its ruling reads as a rebuke of Judge Randa’s interpretation of existing precedent.”

The Court of Appeals concluded that the injunction was an abuse of discretion, and that moreover, all of the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity with respect to their involvement in the investigation. In reaching its decision, the panel recognized that “[i]f campaigns tell potential contributors to divert money to nominally independent groups that have agreed to do the campaigns’ bidding,” contribution limits become “porous” and disclosure rules are rendered “useless”—which is precisely why the Supreme Court has only protected “truly” independent expenditures from regulation.  It further criticized Judge Randa’s decision for finding a “right” to coordinate “issue ads” noting that “[n]o opinion issued by the Supreme Court, or by any court of appeals, establishes (‘clearly’ or otherwise) that the First Amendment forbids regulation of coordination between campaign committees and issue-advocacy groups—let alone that the First Amendment forbids even an inquiry into that topic.”

To read the Seventh Circuit’s order reversing the District Court’s injunction, click here.

The Legal Center and Democracy 21 were aided in the filing of the amici brief by Paul Smith of Jenner and Block. To read the brief, click here.