Wednesday, February 27, 2008

GOP Handler Biting Other Republicans In High Court Race

Supreme Court candidate Michael Gableman's campaign has been firing broadsides on numerous fronts in recent weeks and two longtime Republican Party soldiers are among the hits.

One of the targets of Gableman's Republican campaign manager Darrin Schmitz has been the Wisconsin Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee. The State Bar group was created to police the honesty of the candidates' comments, advertising and other campaign activities.

Schmitz says some comments in a series of emails among committee members in December and January shows the committee is a bunch of liberals who support incumbent Justice Louis Butler in the race. Schmitz says the emails disparage him and other Republican supporters and suggest strategies for pressuring Gableman to sign the committee's clean campaign pledge.

Ironically, the emails Schmitz cites came from the eight-member committee's two Republican members at the time - former GOP state representative and retired appellate court judge David Deininger and Republican campaign strategist Bill Kraus. Deininger has since left the committee, citing his workload as a member of the state Government Accountability Board.

Kraus served in the administration of former Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus between 1979 and 1982 and is a longtime Republican strategist. Before serving as an appeals court judge from 1996 through January 2007, Deininger was a Green County circuit court judge for two years and a Republican member of the state Assembly for eight years.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Swiftboating Our Supreme Court

All signs are indicating that this year's state Supreme Court race is heading somewhere between the low road and the gutter. If it's possible, a turn for the worse appears to be coming. The Democracy Campaign has learned that the PR firm that did a lot of the dirty work for Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in smearing John Kerry's military record is now involved in Wisconsin's Supreme Court race.

CRC Public Relations, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, was paid more than $282,000 by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for consulting and media work. CRC is now working to arrange media interviews for Wisconsin attorneys Dan Kelly, Rebecca Bradley, David Simon and Don Daugherty to badmouth the Wisconsin Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee and talk up conservative candidate Michael Gableman.

CRC initially was refusing to say who hired them to plant stories favorable to Gableman, but CRC's Jennifer Fedor finally fessed up to Wisconsin Public Radio's Gil Halsted. She says the firm is working at the behest of the Federalist Society.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Truth Every Bit As Strange As Fiction

John Grisham's latest thriller hits pretty darn close to home for members of Wisconsin's Supreme Court and the rest of our state's legal community, don't you think?

Friday, February 15, 2008

No Other Way To Fix High Court?

The Wisconsin State Journal has started something of a crusade to stop electing state Supreme Court justices and have them appointed instead. A guest commentary the State Journal published this morning echoing the paper's editorial position says the way judges are currently picked is becoming "increasingly dysfunctional" and "destructive of judicial independence and public confidence in the courts." No disagreement so far.

But then the column's author astounds with his conclusion that "(m)erit selection of judges is the only way to repair these problems."

The only way?

The first state Supreme Court election was held in Wisconsin in 1852 and for over 150 years elections produced a high court that enjoyed the citizenry's trust. It was not until last April's election that the public's confidence was profoundly shaken.

Given this history, why would anyone conclude that the "only way" to fix what's gone wrong with our system is to do away with elections? With all due respect to the State Journal's guest columnist, there is another way. Instead of taking away the vote, we could repair what's gone wrong with our judicial elections and restore them to good working order so they once again serve the state the way they did for a century and a half.

Appointing judges under a system like merit selection has its virtues but also conspicuous drawbacks, not the least of which is its elitist premise. And there is both good and bad that comes with electing judges. Wisconsin got a heavy dose of the bad in last year's election.

What the choice between appointing and electing judges comes down to is whether or not Wisconsin will continue to place its faith in its citizens to pick good judges to serve on our state's highest court, as we have for over 150 years.

I say let the people decide. But state Supreme Court elections are being corrupted. They're being taken over by powerful special interests and party bosses. They need to be reformed in a way that gives them back to the people.

All seven current members of the Supreme Court – from the most conservative justice to the most liberal – recently signed a letter calling for publicly financed judicial campaigns. This is incredibly significant. Our Supreme Court is not unanimous about much of anything. But the justices are unanimous about this. They support elections for the high court, but they want those elections cleaned up.

The public agrees. Polling done in Wisconsin by a leading Republican opinion research firm for the national Justice at Stake Campaign showed that 65 percent of state residents support publicly financed Supreme Court elections. When given arguments both for and against such reform, support for it went up to 75 percent.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

WMC Takes Aim

The 30-second attack ads will air on TV closer to the election. In the meantime, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce will busy itself softening up their latest victim – state Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler – with a multi-front offensive that includes broadsides like this YouTube video.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Low-Life Politics Catches High-Brow's Eye

A commentary entitled "Wisconsin: A case study in how corporations get the legislation they want" appeared recently on, the Web site of the Nieman Watchdog Journalism Project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. The subject of the article is something we've written about again and again and again and again and again and again. And again. That something is Wisconsin's new cable TV law written by and for AT&T.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Troha Co-conspirator Gave To State Candidates

A third Kenosha businessman charged in a conspiracy that doled out more than $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions to win approval of a Kenosha casino made $9,815 in donations to Democratic and Republican state candidates and committees.

Achille Infusino was accused in a federal complaint with concealing the use of nearly $87,000 in corporate funds to make illegal campaign contributions to reimburse others for making contributions to state and federal candidates and committees from October 2003 until August 2006. He was also accused of accepting $7,500 in automobile lease payments in exchange for making contributions.

Infusino reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to one count of participating in a conspiracy to commit campaign finance violations.

Infusino contributed $9,815 from 1998 through the first half of 2007 to state candidates and committees - most of it to Democrats - including $5,000 to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, $1,465 to Assembly Minority Leader Jim Kreuser of Kenosha, $1,250 to Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, $500 to Democratic Assembly candidate Al Foeckler and $250 each to the State Senate Democratic Committee and Democratic Senators Robert Wirch of Kenosha and Jeff Plale of South Milwaukee.

He also contributed a total of $850 to two Republican candidates, including $350 to William McReynolds and $500 to Reince Priebus. McReynolds lost to Democrat John Lehman in 2006 for the 21st Senate District seat in Racine. Priebus, who is now the state Republican Party chairman, lost in 2004 to incumbent Wirch for the 22nd Senate District seat in Kenosha.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A Real Whogaveit

Supreme Court candidate Michael Gableman's latest campaign finance report lists four political action committee contributions totaling $12,750, but it's hard to tell where the money really came from.

The report shows he got a $1,000 contribution November 8, 2007 from the Wisconsin Realtors Association PAC. That's kind of weird because the Realtor's group has endorsed Gableman's opponent, incumbent Justice Louis Butler.

But the confusion doesn't end there. The address of what Gableman identifies as the Realtors PAC is actually the address of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce PAC. WMC, the state's largest business organization, is expected to put up millions of dollars to pay for negative ads, mailings and other outside electioneering activities to support Gableman.

Maybe Gableman's operatives slapped the wrong PAC name on WMC's contribution. The problem is another contribution, for $3,000, is listed as coming from WMC's PAC - Concerned Business and Industry. The trouble with that entry is the address listed for the WMC PAC is actually the address of Microsoft's PAC in Washington State.

It's anyone's guess what PACs gave these contributions, or if the contributions are even correct.