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More News on Wisconsin Public Financing

Wisconsin’s legislature has voted to curb the influence of special interest spending in state Supreme Court elections, passing a bill to provide more taxpayer funding for candidates’ campaigns.

Both chambers of the legislature in the Badger State, where recent Supreme Court contests shattered spending records, voted Thursday in favor of the legislation. Backers contended the bill would offer a new revenue stream for candidates, although some critics maintained the measure fell short.

“Citizens need their high court to be completely above board,” said Democratic Sen. Pat Kreitlow, the bill’s main author, according to an article by the Associated Press. “A well-padded checkbook has no place in that chamber.”

“You can buy Supreme Court races” as the system now stands, said Democratic Rep. Pedro Colon, an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. “The sign is outside: ‘This court is for sale.'”

But Republican Sen. Mike Ellis cautioned the bill would not address issue advertising, Read more

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Final Push Sought on Wisconsin Public Financing

Reform supporters stand on the brink “of winning the most significant campaign reform in Wisconsin in more than 30 years,” Wisconsin Democracy Campaign announces in an e-lert, but the group said it needs help in getting “impartial justice across the finish line.”

Both chambers in the legislature agree on workings for a new public financing system for state Supreme Court elections, but their approaches about how to foot the bill diverge. The Democracy Campaign’s e-lert gives details and asks Wisconsin voters to contact their state senators to voice support for the Impartial Justice bill and emphasize that for it to work, the reform must be paid in full.

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Public Financing Bill Advances in Wisconsin

A public financing bill for state Supreme Court elections was passed by Wisconsin’s  Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform and Housing,  moving it closer to a floor vote.

Action on the bill was reported by the State Bar of Wisconsin, which has backed the legislation. A Wisconsin Assembly version of the bill was passed by a committee in June.

Wisconsin’s Supreme Court elections erupted in 2007 and 2008, both in spending and political mud-slinging. As the Justice at Stake Campaign  noted in June, “Only four states have exceeded the $3.5 million raised by Wisconsin high court candidates” in the last two years.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a Justice at Stake partner, testified in support of the legislation in May, saying, “The Impartial Justice bill would create a far more competitive environment while at the same time freeing Supreme Court candidates and their campaign committees from the money chase and enabling candidates to run for this office without undermining the public’s trust and faith in their ability to serve honorably once elected.”

To see earlier Gavel Grab reports on Wisconsin, click here.

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2/28/08: The Constitutionality of Terrorism Trials; Public Financing in Wisconsin?; Michigan is Starting to Heat Up

Monroe County will appeal court’s recognition of same-sex marriage – Wellsville Daily Reporter
Monroe County New York may be the scene for the next same-sex marriage debate involving the courts after the local government’s appeal yesterday.

The Right to Counsel, in the Right Situations – The New York Times
Adam Liptak takes a look at the Constitutionality surrounding Zacarias Moussaoui’s trial of a few years ago.

House GOP to decide if taxes fund Wisc. SC elections – Legal Newsline
The debate rages on in the Wisconsin Legislature over using public funds for Supreme Court campaigns. Here is an article taking a look at the bill sitting in the Wisconsin legislature at the moment.

Rita Jacobs: Time to reform court corrupted by money – Lansing State Journal
An OP-Ed piece on the need for changes in the Michigan Supreme Court election system.

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Bills Would Address Judicial Recusal and Discipline in Wisconsin

Wisconsin state Rep. Gary Hebl has introduced a package of bills to reform judicial discipline and recusal standards, according to The Capital Times. The legislation was introduced in the wake of ongoing controversy about the state’s highest court, campaign money, and recusal requests (see Gavel Grab for background).

His proposals include requiring a judge to step aside if a party to a case has spent $1,000 or more for a campaign contribution, or through independent expenditures, in the past four years; let the state’s highest court review justices’ recusal decisions; if a justice declines a recusal request, he or she shall report the reasons why; and have a panel of Court of Appeals judges discipline justices, as opposed to the Supreme Court doing so. Read more

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Wisconsin Judge Kloppenburg: End Supreme Court Elections

Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, who was defeated in a 2011 state Supreme Court bid, said in a public appearance that only by removing cash from judicial elections can outside influence be removed from the courtroom.

Judge Kloppenburg advocated an end to state Supreme Court elections and she tentatively suggested support for a merit selection system combining a screening commission and judicial appointments, plus subsequent retention (up-or-down) elections, the Daily Union reported.

“At its best, the merit system works like public financing to focus on experience qualifications and character,” Judge Kloppenburg said.

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Impact of Public Financing Ruling Weighed

What does the Supreme Court’s ruling in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, striking down a matching-funds mechanism in the state’s public campaign financing law, mean for elections in Arizona?

An Arizona Republic article interviewed three people involved with Arizona’s system for their analyses, and reached no conclusions. In a nutshell, the article said critics of public financing thought the ruling would lead to the demise of  Arizona’s Clean Elections system, while admirers thought the system could be reformed and endure.

A political campaign consultant, Constantin Querard, had helped conservative Republicans run for legislative office while taking advantage of Arizona’s public financing law. He remarked that he thought there was little future overall for the Clean Elections system. But he saw a potential for it in judicial elections. According to the article, “He suggests the public-finance model might be a nice fit for judicial elections, especially if voters can be persuaded to do away with merit selection for judges in Maricopa and Pima counties and go to direct election.”

Meanwhile a Los Angeles Times article was headlined, “Arizona conservatives scramble after campaign finance law’s defeat: The state’s Clean Elections Act had swept a surge of small-government Republicans into power.” Read more

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Both Sides Ask Dismissal of Public Financing Appeal

Both sides in a case challenging Wisconsin’s law for the public financing of state Supreme Court elections have asked a federal appeals court to dismiss the case as moot.

Gov. Scott Walker recently signed into law a biennial budget for Wisconsin, and that law included the repeal of provisions of the Impartial Justice Act that were challenged in the legal case.

Before the governor signed the budget, Justice at Stake had submitted an amicus brief urging the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the Wisconsin law (see Gavel Grab).

Attorneys at the law firm that drafted the JAS brief said Friday that both sides have moved the appeals court to toss out the case as moot. The parties in the case argue that the appeal is moot because there is no longer an active law for the Seventh Circuit to evaluate, the lawyers said.

The case is called Wisconsin Right to Life v. Brennan. Wisconsin Right to Life was seeking to strike down the “trigger supplemental funds” provision of the Impartial Justice Act, which grants additional money to publicly funded candidates when opponents spend above a certain limit. Read more

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WI Budget Axes Public Financing Dollars

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has signed a two-year budget that includes eliminating funds for the public financing of state Supreme Court elections.

Justice at Stake and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign recently defended the public financing program in an op-ed published in Wisconsin (see Gavel Grab). The op-ed said:

Rather than gut the state’s young public financing system for appellate court races, Wisconsin’s legislature must stand up and preserve one of the most powerful reforms available to help preserve courts that are fair, impartial and free of special-interest influence.”

Walker’s signing of the bill was reported by the Associated Press. The budget legislation represented one of multiple assaults on public financing, as it was signed one day before the Supreme Court struck down a provision of Arizona’s campaign public financing law (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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JAS: Public Financing 'More Critical Than Ever'

Justice at Stake’s executive director, Bert Brandenburg, called the Supreme Court’s ruling in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett on Monday “disappointing, but not fatal for America’s courts.”

The Supreme Court struck down a key provision in Arizona’s public financing law on a 5-4 vote (see Gavel Grab). Brandenburg said in a JAS press release:

“Today’s ruling is disappointing, but not fatal for America’s courts. State judicial elections are drowning in special-interest spending. Properly crafted public financing laws are more critical than ever, so that judges do not have to dial for dollars from major donors who may appear before them in court.”

Brandenburg emphasized that while the high court voided an important funding mechanism in Arizona’s law, called “triggered matching funds” for participating candidates, it affirmed earlier rulings upholding the constitutionality of public financing itself.

In 39 states, judges face some type of election, and public financing has proven to be a powerful reform. Campaign spending in judicial elections exploded during the last decade, Justice at Stake said. Read more

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