Historic Supreme Court Election

In this update: 1. Supreme Court election a photo finish 2. Editorial: Public financing law is working 3. Political crony promoted, exposed and then demoted Historic Supreme Court Election

Email date: 4/7/11

In this update:
1. Supreme Court election a photo finish
2. Editorial: Public financing law is working
3. Political crony promoted, exposed and then demoted

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Supreme Court election a photo finish
The number of votes cast in this year’s state Supreme Court election was nearly double the number in the last high court race in 2009 when a grand total of 793,079 votes were tallied. Nearly 1.5 million Wisconsinites had their say on Tuesday, and when the votes were counted JoAnne Kloppenburg had 740,090 or 50.006892% and incumbent David Prosser had 739,886 or 49.993108%. A recount is certain.

During the weeks leading up to the election, the Democracy Campaign tracked the activities of 45 different committees and interest groups that were trying to influence the outcome of the race, and made daily updates to the section of our website devoted to this monitoring. Special interests spent nearly $3.6 million on television advertising alone, with one liberal group spending close to $1.4 million on ads supporting Kloppenburg while four conservative groups collectively spent more than $2.2 million on TV backing Prosser.

Regardless of the final outcome, this election sent shockwaves across the land. It also revealed a deep fissure in Wisconsin’s political landscape. That’s what our latest Big Money Blog is about.

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Editorial: Public financing law is working
Wisconsin’s new public financing system for state Supreme Court elections under the Impartial Justice Act is under assault legislatively as well as legally, though there has been some good news on the legal front recently. For more on that, go here.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published an editorial this week entitled “The law is working.” That the state’s largest newspaper thought the Impartial Justice Act had a beneficial impact on this year’s Supreme Court election is saying something considering that the law was operating at half strength.

As the editorial notes, the program provided public grants that allowed both candidates to avoid taking money from people who might come before them in court. And it freed them to actually go out and meet voters rather than spending most of their time dialing for dollars. According to the Journal Sentinel, this did “aid the cause of clean elections and removing conflicts of interest.”

But the system also was designed to provide extra funds to the candidates to counter special interest attacks against them. This depended on reporting of that interest group spending. Problem is, new rules approved by the state Government Accountability Board requiring such disclosure are tied up in court and a restraining order prevented the GAB from enforcing the rules. With no reporting of interest group spending, there was no way to give the candidates the extra funds the system was designed to provide. So the candidates were less able to respond to special interest attacks than they would have been if the public financing system had been fully operational.

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Political crony promoted, exposed and then demoted
Over the weekend it came to light that the 27-year-old son of a prominent lobbyist had been given an $81,500-per-year job in Governor Scott Walker’s administration. The young man’s father represents the Wisconsin Builders Association, which gave heavily to Walker’s campaign. The Democracy Campaign’s director spoke out against the move, saying the hiring had “all the markings of political patronage.”

Two days later, the hiring decision was reversed.