Impartial Justice Bill Passes Senate Committee

In this update: 1. Supreme Court election reform gets Senate committee approval 2. With Doyle’s exit, what kind of race for governor will we get? 3. Lobbying at State Capitol up 24% in first half of year 4. ’Payday lenders’ spending big to play defense Impartial Justice Bill Passes Senate Committee 

Email date: 8/19/09

In this update:
1. Supreme Court election reform gets Senate committee approval
2. With Doyle’s exit, what kind of race for governor will we get?
3. Lobbying at State Capitol up 24% in first half of year
4. ’Payday lenders’ spending big to play defense

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Supreme Court reform gets Senate committee approval
The Impartial Justice bill overhauling state Supreme Court elections took another step toward becoming law yesterday as the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform and Housing approved the legislation, setting the stage for consideration by the full Senate in the upcoming September floorperiod.

Senate leader Russ Decker issued a statement in January promising that Supreme Court election reform would be one of the first things the Senate would act on this session.

An Assembly committee approved the Impartial Justice bill in mid-June and sent it along to the full Assembly. That puts the lower house in the position of being able to act on the bill in September as well.

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With Doyle’s exit, what kind of race for governor will we get?
One of the other bills Senator Decker pledged would get early action this session is proposed legislation. requiring full disclosure of special interest electioneering. With Governor Jim Doyle’s announcement Monday that he is not seeking re-election and the prospect of a wide open race for the state’s highest office, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorialized that there is no time like the present for state officials to act to prevent special interest ownership of next year’s election.

As we noted in a July 24 E-Lert, the escalation of the campaign arms race in recent elections for the state’s highest office has been astonishing. In an editorial published today, The Capital Times called on those thinking of running in 2010 to get serious of election and ethics reform.

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Lobbying up 24% in first half of year
A recent blog we posted offered several reasons why the drop in campaign fundraising in the first six months of 2009 probably had nothing to do with bad economic times and everything to do with the Assembly’s fundraising ban during state budget deliberations. The latest numbers on lobbying activity in the first half of the year buttress these arguments.

Interest groups couldn’t make campaign donations to most state lawmakers for much of the first part of the year but didn’t scrimp on lobbying, spending $20.8 million and more than 160,000 hours trying to influence Wisconsin lawmakers. The spending is up 24% over the same period in the last legislative session, and the time spent on lobbying is up 15%.

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’Payday lenders’ spending big to play defense
Among those who have spent big on lobbying so far this year is the so-called "payday lending" industry. Those engaged in what is essentially legalized loan sharking have a free rein in Wisconsin, and they want to keep it that way. They are seeking to block legislative efforts to cap the interest rates they can charge. Currently, interest on these transactions averages 500%.

As Dave Zweifel points out in his column today, the loan sharks aren’t just lobbying up a storm in Wisconsin. They have been lubricating the political machinery with campaign donations and lots of them, too.