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What allegations of ‘criminal scheme’ could mean for Wisconsin governor

Prosecutors are accusing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker of participating in a “criminal scheme” to get around a state law banning coordination “in an effort to illegally coordinate fundraising among conservative groups to help his campaign and those of Republican state senators fend off recall elections during 2011 and ’12,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. There was even an email from Walker to Karl Rove indicating that one of his top deputies, R.J. Johnson, would lead the coordination.

“Bottom-line: R.J. helps keep in place a team that is wildly successful in Wisconsin,” Walker wrote. “We are running 9 recall elections and it will be like 9 congressional markets in every market in the state (and Twin Cities).”

The documents came out as a federal appeals judge weighs a lawsuit from the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which is trying to stop the investigation because the group believes it violates the club’s First Amendment rights. A U.S. District court judge temporarily halted it. The state bars campaigns from coordinating with outside groups, but the Wisconsin Club for Growth maintains the ban does not apply to it because in the club’s ads — supportive of Walker and hitting his opponent — never explicitly said to “vote for” or “vote against” anyone.

On Thursday Walker called the allegations “categorically false” and said the effort by prosecutors “is nothing more than a partisan investigation with no basis in state law.”

He pushed back again Friday in an appearance on Fox News, noting that two judges had already ruled against the prosecutors and “actually shut the case down.”

Walker, who is facing a close re-election fight against Democrat Mary Burke this fall, said the investigation is a result of his push in 2011 to curb collective bargaining rights for state employees. “This is a prime example of what happens when you take on the big special interests.” The Democratic National Committee said the alleged coordination by Walker “is not only troubling and potentially illegal — it is a clear violation of the public’s trust.”

What’s next for Walker? He and his team have been the subject of scrutiny for alleged coordination as well as doing campaign work on the public’s dime for two years. Democrat Tom Barrett focused on the investigation of Walker aides during the June 2012 recall fight, but failed to unseat the Republican governor.

Following the release earlier this year of a fresh wave of emails from Walker’s staff during his 2010 run for governor (while he was Milwaukee County Executive), a Marquette Law School poll found the episode had a limited impact. Two-thirds of people surveyed said they had read or heard about the release of documents, but 53 percent of those respondents said the emails made no difference in their opinion of Walker. Forty-three percent said it gave them a less favorable view of the governor. How much the latest round of headlines resonates with voters will not only affect Walker’s chances this fall, but a potential run for the GOP nomination in 2016.

Editor’s note: This text was excerpted from Friday’s Morning Line.

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