Disclosure Under Assault

In this update: 1. Court battles rage over new disclosure rules 2. Wisconsin figures prominently in national report on judicial politics 3. The Achilles’ heel of most every politician Disclosure Under Assault

Email date: 8/16/10

In this update:
1. Court battles rage over new disclosure rules
2. Wisconsin figures prominently in national report on judicial politics
3. The Achilles’ heel of most every politician

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Court battles rage over new disclosure rules
Where to even start.... First, a liberal group and a conservative counterpart sue in federal court to try to block new rules requiring groups seeking to influence state elections to disclose how much they are spending and who is funding their campaigning. Next, another group files a second federal lawsuit. Then the state agency that adopted the rules and is responsible for enforcing them appeared to get nervous, agreeing – unnecessarily, in our view – to a settlement with the groups that sued.

The state Government Accountability Board insisted the agreement merely clarified the intent of the rules and allowed for enforcement of the new disclosure requirements for so-called “issue ads” sponsored by interest groups that clearly aim to persuade voters to support or oppose particular candidates while carefully avoiding the use of words like “vote for” or “vote against.” Indeed, the willingness of the suing parties to settle their dispute with the GAB seemed to signal they were less than confident they could convince a judge of the legitimacy of their claims, namely either that the GAB lacks the authority to put such rules in place or that disclosure of their campaign spending and funding sources infringes on their free speech rights. For a sampling of the editorial reaction to all this, go here, here and here.

In any case, the federal court said not so fast. The judge refused to sign off on the deal.

Meanwhile, an assortment of tea party groups and other right-wing organizations asked the state Supreme Court to get involved. On Friday, four of the court’s seven members obliged, issuing a temporary injunction that puts the new rules on hold. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley criticized the majority’s judicial activism, writing that “the majority grants this injunction even though the petitioners have not requested it. By issuing this temporary injunction, four justices go above and beyond the relief sought by the petitioners.” Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Patrick Crooks joined Bradley’s dissent.

Time will tell who wins and who loses in these cases. But if the state high court’s injunction holds, the losers in any case will be state voters who will be left to guess who’s really behind many of this fall’s attack ads that soon will inundate the airwaves.

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Wisconsin figures prominently in national report on judicial politics
Wisconsin is front and center in a new study on the rapidly changing landscape of judicial politics and how these changes are affecting state courts. The exhaustive 108-page report was issued jointly by the national Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. For a National Public Radio report on the study, click here.

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The Achilles’ heel of most every politician
If there is a silver lining to be found in the sordid matter of New York Congressman Charles Rangel’s fate, perhaps it can be found in the last line of a New York Times editorial suggesting that maybe, just maybe, it is dawning on some politicians that “their endless begging for campaign money might be an Achilles’ heel.” You think?