Justice For Just Us

How Special Interests Deceived The Public
In The 2007 And 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court Races

August 20, 2008

Five special interest groups that spent an estimated $7.7 million on mostly negative ads focusing chiefly on crime in the past two Wisconsin Supreme Court races had little or no interest in crime and public safety proposals being considered during the two-year legislative session that coincided with those races, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

WDC identified 77 crime and public safety legislative proposals from the lobbying reports of eight law enforcement groups representing police, sheriffs, state troopers and prosecutors during the 2007-08 legislative session (see Addendum). That information was compared to the outside electioneering groups’ (see Table) lobbying reports, legislative agendas and other public statements and activities about issues they are concerned about.

WDC found the groups’ work to reduce crime and improve public safety did not match the alarm they expressed in pricey smear campaigns they used to support or oppose Annette Ziegler and Linda Clifford during the 2007 Supreme Court race and Michael Gableman and incumbent Justice Louis Butler in the 2008 Supreme Court race.

Table
Estimated Outside Electioneering By The Top Spending Special
Interest Groups in the 2007 and 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court Races

Group Amount
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce $3,996,000
Greater Wisconsin Committee $1,974,831
Club for Growth Wisconsin $907,000
Coalition for America’s Families $480,000
Wisconsin Education Association Council $349,325
TOTAL $7,707,156

Three of the outside electioneering groups – the Greater Wisconsin Committee, Club for Growth Wisconsin and Coalition for America’s Families – did not publicly support or oppose any crime-related proposals during the two-year legislative period. They did not register as lobbying groups, which would have allowed them to meet with policymakers, testify at hearings and publicly urge support of any proposals they chose. And they did not use any other meaningful public means to legitimize their crime and public safety concerns before or after the elections.

Two other groups – Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Wisconsin Education Association Council – lobbied on more than 240 legislative proposals during the 2007-2008 session, but reported positions on a scant three crime or public safety measures. In addition, WMC opposed a measure to protect the jobs of first responders

WMC and WEAC used the crime theme in their negative advertising to prop up the candidates they supported because the real issues that drive WMC and WEAC to get involved in legislative and statewide elections – business taxes and corporate liability and teacher salaries and working conditions, respectively – are not mainstream concerns about which most of the public would be sympathetic.

Most of the groups’ television and radio advertising vilified candidates for being soft on crime or praised them for being a tough judge or prosecutor. They conned the public because the high court decides constitutional matters, trial evidence and procedure questions and other technical legal issues that rarely impact someone’s guilt or innocence in a given violent crime case.

Finally in addition to the groups’ lack of action on crime issues and solutions and their misleading messages about the real qualifications to serve on the Supreme Court, the timing of the groups’ messages – beginning and ending with each high court race – shows they were time-sensitive publicity stunts and not a genuine concern about crime and public safety.

Here’s a summary of what the groups said during the high court campaigns and their efforts on measures to protect the general public:

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce

The state’s largest business group and one of the most influential lobbying forces at the State Capitol successfully backed Ziegler and Gableman by secretly raising and spending an estimated $4 million in the two races. WMC outspent all of the other outside electioneering groups combined. Most of their ads mocked Clifford and Butler and portrayed Ziegler and Gableman as tough judges who have kept schools, neighborhoods and families safe, not issues that usually concern WMC’s membership.

WMC’s advertising was “part of a long-term public education and grassroots lobbying campaign,” according to a March 17, 2008 statement which was used to introduce a pro-Gableman radio ad.

In public comments advancing pro-Gableman broadcast ads, WMC vice president James Buchen said: “We think the public needs to hear the truth about Judge Gableman’s crime fighting agenda. And, they should call him and tell him tough judges keep us safe.”

“As part of our public agenda, we will continue to work to advance policies that keep our state safe,” Buchen said.

Not so much.

Only three of the 138 legislative proposals WMC listed as part of its 2007-08 lobbying agenda dealt with crime or public safety. The business group supported two of them and took no position on one.

WMC supported Assembly Bill 503 that makes someone guilty of retail theft if they receive a service and do not pay for it and Senate Bill 452 to allow the Department of Justice to develop a new type of crime information network to provide information to law enforcement agencies and the private sector.

The group took no position on Senate Bill 356 to remove the statute of limitations for childhood victims of incest or sexual assault from taking their assailants to court.

In addition, WMC opposed Assembly Bill 812 which would have prohibited job discrimination against volunteer firefighters, emergency medical technicians, first responders and ambulance drivers for missing up to 10 hours of work a year in order to respond to a call.

WMC’s real interest in judicial races is to protect business from judges it perceives would rule against them in fraud, product negligence and other business liability cases.

WMC President James Haney aptly put the organization’s real motives for getting involved in the Supreme Court races in a letter to WMC members announcing regional meetings to criticize Butler: “ WMC is dedicated to making Wisconsin the most competitive state in the nation. And we cannot be competitive if an activist supreme court expands liability and creates uncertainty in our legal system.”

Wisconsin Education Association Council

The state’s largest teachers union and like WMC one of the most powerful lobby organizations in the State Capitol, WEAC supported Butler in the 2008 race. It reported spending $349,325 – most of it on an anti-Gableman television advertisement that was one of the most lurid in the campaign. The WEAC advertisement portrayed Gableman as being soft on sex offenders for sentences he handed down in two cases as a Burnett County circuit judge.

Like most negative, special interest electioneering WEAC’s advertisement did not have anything to do with the issues the union is really concerned about – teacher salaries, benefits and other labor union matters.

A WEAC spokesman said in an interview the ad fairly criticized Gableman’s record, and that its members care deeply about “children and public safety.”

Teachers yes. Their union no, at least not if you review WEAC’s lobbying record.

Only two of the 105 legislative proposals WEAC listed as part of its 2007-08 lobbying effort were crime or public safety measures, and it took a position on only one of the measures.

WEAC supported Assembly Bill 282 and its companion Senate Bill 159, which would have made it a crime to threaten a school official. WEAC took no position on Assembly Bill 326 which would have created penalties for convicted sex offenders being on school property without permission.

WEAC’s real interest in a Butler win was expressed in a March 2008 newsletter urging its members to vote for him. It talked about a Gableman win giving conservatives a majority on the seven-member court. It also said Gableman has labeled himself a judicial conservative like former Justice Diane Sykes who did not rule WEAC’s way in an important school funding case. “She also took positions against an employee’s ability to use arbitration and took restrictive views of due process rights for employees.”

Greater Wisconsin Committee

This is an outside electioneering group that has spent nearly $2 million in the past two Supreme Court races to support Clifford in 2007 and Butler in 2008, usually with negative ads against their opponents. Like WMC, Greater Wisconsin secretly raises and spends money on misleading, phony issue ads. The group gets its funding from labor and other Democratic-leaning organizations like the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Attorneys General Association which get much of their money from some of America’s largest corporations.

In the 2007 race, it used television ads to criticize Ziegler for ruling on cases as a Washington County circuit judge in which Ziegler or her family had a financial interest with one of the parties and for handing out light sentences in sex offender cases.

In 2008, Greater Wisconsin ran ads against Gableman questioning the timing of campaign contributions and a fundraiser he organized for former Governor Scott McCallum relative to being picked for his Burnett County judgeship by McCallum. Its ads also criticized the speed with which Gableman’s court handled cases and his handling of sex offender cases when he was a district attorney.

Greater Wisconsin is not a registered lobbying group, nor does it have a web site to determine what issues – if any – it is interested in other than electing Democrats to public office, which begs the question: Why did the group spend millions in a nonpartisan judicial race?

The group said in a February 21 public statement that its involvement and negative ads in the past two Supreme Court races are borne out of a concern about judicial ethics and reforming the justice system.

That claim rings hollow. Their electioneering is peppered with negative references to the candidates’ handling of sex offender, murder and other hot-button crime cases unrelated to judicial ethics and reform. And like the other groups, Greater Wisconsin’s interest in improving the judicial system is a bout of spring fever that only occurs at election time.

Club for Growth Wisconsin

This group is the state arm of the national Club for Growth, an anti-tax organization that supports conservative Republicans. The group secretly raised and spent about $900,000 to air commercials in the nonpartisan 2007 and 2008 Supreme Court races to support Ziegler and Gableman.

The group says on its web site that crime hurts the business climate and tourism. It also says “lawmakers, judges and law enforcement should enact and follow policies that keep violent criminals in prison.”

However Club for Growth, like the others, does not identify or take credit for work on behalf of any specific proposals it believes would make communities safer. It has not registered as a lobby group to legitimize through action what they say they believe in their derogatory outside electioneering efforts.

And like the others, the television advertisement in its pro-Gableman campaign misleads the public by implying Gableman will be able to single-handedly go “toe to toe with the arsonists, sexual predators, domestic abusers and white-collar criminals who belong in jail,” after he is elected to the Supreme Court.

Club for Growth and the other special interests that engage in outside electioneering know Supreme Court justices are not frontline players like police, sheriffs, prosecutors, state investigators and circuit court judges who apprehend, try and sentence criminals.

Coalition for America’s Families

This is a Virginia-based group of businesses and nonprofit organizations that opposes taxes and supports conservative Republicans and so-called pro-family policies. Like other phony issue ad groups, the coalition secretly raised and spent an estimated $480,000 to support Gableman in the 2008 Supreme Court race.

Like WEAC, the coalition sponsored one of the more grisly ads in the Butler-Gableman race with graphic references to a 1980s murder case. It also aired an ad about a more recent Kenosha murder case and trial. The ads criticized Butler for Supreme Court decisions that ordered a new trial based on DNA evidence in the 25-year-old Madison murder case and an evidence ruling in the Kenosha murder case that did not affect the assailant’s trial and conviction.

The group’s web site says “The Coalition for America’s Families will not waiver in its support of policies that help every family thrive.”

Apparently the group does not believe helping to advance anti-crime and public safety policies help families thrive. The group’s website does not list crime among its four main issues of concern – taxes, guns, abortion and Milwaukee’s school voucher program. “Its mission is to fight to lower the tax burden and increase the decision making power of the American family,” according to part of a March 5, 2008 statement announcing a television ad it would air in the Gableman-Butler race.

And like Greater Wisconsin and Club for Growth, the coalition has not registered as a lobbying group to declare support or work on behalf of any crime or public safety proposals, nor has it taken credit in any other way for work it has done to validate the concern it expresses about crime and public safety in its negative electioneering in a court race that will not reduce violent crime.

AddendumPress Release

Addendum

Crime and Public Safety Proposals On The 2007-08 Lobbying Agendas
Of Eight Law Enforcement Organizations*

Bill Description
AB1 DNA submissions and data bank requirements
AB2 Additional drivers license requirements for older drivers
AB22 Computer seizures in child sex offender cases
AB35 The use of self defense
AB54 Repeat drunken driving and penalties
AB57 Fire fighter and law enforcement officer disciplinary procedures
AB92 Battery during a riot and penalties
AB113 Safety belt violations and penalties
AB135 Pointing a gun at a law enforcement officer and penalties
AB144 Penalties involving probation and parole escapees
AB162 Resisting arrest while armed or threatening use of a dangerous weapon
AB196 Penalties for giving minors alcohol that results in injury or death
AB209 Penalties for crimes against children
AB215 Penalties for inattentive driving
AB226 Vehicle registration plates for sex offender, and penalties
AB242 Child abuse, vulnerable adult and harassment injunctions
AB245 Battery of a prosecutor, and penalties
AB251 Firearm use near a public park, and penalties
AB269 Penalties for threatening social service, juvenile and child support workers
AB282 Penalties for threatening a school official
AB326 Prohibits convicted sex offenders on school property without permission
AB332 Sex offender registration, notification and information release requirements
AB337 Battery or threatening a witness, and penalties
AB338 Aiding or harboring a felon
AB340 Increased penalties for retail theft, and proof of ownership requirements<
AB366 Increased penalties for crimes on school grounds
AB367 Trespassing on school grounds, and penalties
AB397 Aiding a felon, and penalties
AB405 Increased penalties for first degree murder of a law enforcement officer
AB411 Penalties for receiving a stolen firearm
AB412 Penalties involving crimes against the elderly
AB421 Special drivers license and ID cards for convicted sex offenders
AB424 Changes in background checks for gun buyers
AB433 Library record disclosure to law enforcement officer
AB435 Drunken driving penalties
AB477 Prohibits growing and selling the drug in salvia, and creates penalties
AB490 Prison terms and penalties for drunken driving
AB499 Penalties for strangulation and suffocation
AB503 Creates penalties for theft of services
AB520 Allows leases to be broken under threat of harm
AB525 Increases penalties for battery or threatening city of Milwaukee employees
AB537 Release notification requirements for assailants of law enforcement officers
AB544 Human trafficking, and penalties
AB564 Duties upon causing injury to another, and penalties
AB565 Operating a vehicle without a license, and penalties
AB566 Creating a violent offender registry
AB569 Prohibit communities from not responding to federal illegal alien inquiries
AB581 Prohibit gun use restrictions in times of emergency
AB603 Fake gun use, and penalties
AB624 Civil immunity for neighborhood watch participants
AB639 Driver license and ID card photo access by law enforcement
AB645 Penalties for failing to provide name during investigative stop
AB651 Statute of limitations for sexual contact with a child
AB676 Juvenile court record disclosure changes
AB690 Harassment of neighborhood watch participants, and penalties
AB692 Lease terminations involving drug crimes
AB702 Preempting local ordinances involving sex offender placements
AB733 Requiring ignition interlocks involving drunken driving offenses
AB737 Creating an integrated crime alert network
AB759 Possession of a stun gun
AB778 Requests for child abuse restraining orders and injunctions
AB787 Psychological evaluations for law enforcement officers
AB790 Probation and parole conditions for sex offenders
AB791 Internet access restrictions on sex offenders
AB877 Concealed weapons by law enforcement and retired officers
SB27 Releasing people arrested for drunken driving
SB38 Dog possession by convicted felons, and penalties
SB104 Background checks involving certain gun purchases in Milwaukee County
SB115 Death or life in prison for vicious first-degree murders
SB120 Seat belt law enforcement, and penalties
SB199 Adding circuit court branches in seven counties
SB216 Gun background checks
SB250 Requires sex offenders meet with local law enforcement upon placement
SB271 Time limitations on criminal prosecutions
SB308 Regulations and sale of certain dog breeds
SB356 Extending statute of limitations in child sex offense cases
SB555 Public notification of the location of convicted sex offenders

*Proposals taken from 2007-08 Lobbying Reports filed with the Government Accountability Board by the Wisconsin County Police Association, Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs Association, Wisconsin Troopers Association, Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, Milwaukee Police Association, Wisconsin Professional Police Association, Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association and the Association of State Prosecutors.