MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Just days after Scott Walker officially kicked off his presidential bid, the Wisconsin Supreme Court was set to announce Thursday whether investigators can resume a wide-ranging and secret probe into alleged election law violations during the Republican governor's 2012 recall campaign.
At issue is whether Walker's campaign and several conservative groups illegally coordinated their activities during the recall, which was spurred by Democratic anger over Walker's successful drive to effectively end collective bargaining for most public workers.
Walker and the groups have denied any wrongdoing and called the probe a violation of their free-speech rights.
No one has been charged in the current so-called John Doe probe, Wisconsin's version of a grand jury investigation in which information is tightly controlled. A previous John Doe investigation resulted in the conviction of six Walker staffers and campaign workers.
Questions about the investigation have dogged Walker for months.
The probe is on hold pending the high court's decision on whether it should be allowed to continue. Unnamed petitioners have filed two lawsuits seeking to block it, while prosecutors have their own action seeking to reinstate quashed subpoenas.
Partisan divisions in the Wisconsin Supreme Court have been laid bare in recent years due to unusually public squabbling between the justices, with conservatives holding a majority of the seven-member court. Special prosecutor Fran Schmitz asked two justices to recuse themselves because of donations and campaign help they received from the unnamed people trying to stop the probe, but the justices didn't respond.
The legal battle largely centers on the type of political activity conducted by Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups during Walker's recall and recalls targeting state senators in 2011 and 2012.
At issue is whether the groups were bound to follow state laws that bar coordination with candidates, require disclosure of political donations and place limits on how much money can be collected. Prosecutors have said Walker's campaign was part of a "criminal scheme" to skirt campaign laws and raise large amounts of money from donors for Wisconsin Club for Growth. However, an attorney for one of the prosecutors has said that Walker was not a target of the investigation.
Wisconsin Club for Growth has argued that the law does not prohibit politicians, including Walker, from raising money for issue-based advocacy groups, and that preventing campaign officials from talking with such groups is a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of association. The conservative group has also alleged that the investigation was motivated by partisan rancor.
Thursday's ruling may not be the last word on the John Doe.
Howard Schweber, an associate professor of political science and legal studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said prosecutors could seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court if they lose. And outstanding civil suits allege overreach by the John Doe prosecutors and Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board, which the plaintiffs say inappropriately helped initiate the investigation.