Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Another Blame-The-Voters Editorial In 3, 2, 1....

Here's betting the Wisconsin State Journal pounces on the federal court ruling striking down a ban on judges joining political parties as further evidence Wisconsin needs to do away with court elections.

Before readers swallow what the State Journal will almost certainly serve up, they really should read the ruling judge's own insights on the matter.

In her decision, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb wrote "it is no small task to determine the best way to promote judicial integrity" but goes on to say that "(d)espite the challenges, it does not follow that the government, the legal community and the general public should simply throw in the towel and adopt an 'anything goes' approach. Nor does it mean that states must abandon elections if they wish to have any meaningful influence over judicial conduct. Although many in the legal community demonize judicial elections and exalt a system of appointment, a 'merit' selection process has its own flaws and is no guarantee that the judiciary will be free from partisan bias or the perception of it."

To underscore her point, Judge Crabb cited a study of federal appeals court decisions showing that the political party of the appointing president is an accurate predictor of how judges will vote and that decisions are more extreme when an appellate panel is made up of three judges appointed by a president of the same party. She also discussed the common assumption that Bush v. Gore would have been decided differently if the candidates' positions in the deadlock had been reversed.

Crabb observes that "(e)ven if it could be demonstrated that a nonelective selection process were superior, it is unlikely that the more than 30 states that use elections will abandon them any time soon."

She concludes, "Whatever route the government takes, it should be hesitant in seeking to improve the judiciary by limiting the discussions that candidates may have with the public. Such measures not only risk violating the rights of the candidates and keeping voters ignorant, but 'signal disrespect for the equality of citizens with their decision-makers' by assuming that voters must be protected from their own bad judgment."

Hear, hear.

Friday, February 13, 2009

State Agencies Support Special Interest Group Opposed To Closing Tax Loophole

Two state agencies, parts of the University of Wisconsin System and the state’s technical college system are among the financial sponsors of a special interest lobby group that wants to protect a state business tax loophole and opposes a legislative proposal to require workers’ wage claims be paid ahead of debts owed to banks by bankrupt businesses.

WDC found the state Department of Financial Institutions, the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, UW-Madison’s Office of Corporate Relations, the University Research Park, the UW-Extension’s Center for Community Economic Development and the Wisconsin Technical College System are among the backers of a group called the Wisconsin Economic Development Association.

The association, a registered lobbying organization, describes itself as a nonprofit group dedicated to expanding the state’s economy. “It is critical that the collective voice of economic development professionals is heard as public policy matters affecting our economy and workforce are debated and acted upon,” according to its website.

The state agencies, UW and technical colleges are among dozens of businesses and trade associations that pay varying amounts to support the lobby group. The UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations is listed as a silver sponsor at $3,500. The UW-Extension’s economic development center and the Department of Financial Institutions are listed as bronze sponsors at $1,500 each and the University Research Park, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority and Wisconsin Technical College System are associate sponsors at $500 each.

The association is among 17 bank, business, insurance and trade groups in a front group called the Coalition to Save Wisconsin Jobs that recently said it will fight Governor Jim Doyle's plan to enact a new $94 million a year business tax - called combined reporting - as part of Doyle's state stimulus package.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Election Law Charge Reduced To Fine

A Republican state representative accused of making false statements in campaign literature last fall has paid a $250 fine on a reduced charge.

Representative Dan Knodl of Germantown was originally charged in late October with a violation of state election law that carries a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in prison. Knodl was accused of naming numerous people as supporters who did not support him or give him permission to use their names in a campaign flier.

Knodl pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct that was approved in Ozaukee County Circuit Court in late January.

Knodl handily defeated Democrat Charlene Brady in the November elections to win the 24th Assembly District seat formerly held by Republican Sue Jeskewitz.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Wisconsin Donors Gave Record $3.8 Million To Shadow Groups

Wisconsin contributors gave a record $3.78 million in the 2007-08 election cycle to unregulated political hit groups that spend most of their money on negative advertising, mailings and other electioneering activities to foul state and federal elections with special interest propaganda, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Fundraising and spending reports filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service by these so-called 527 groups, which are mostly business, union and ideological organizations, also show some of them sent millions of dollars back to Wisconsin political and phony issue ad groups that smeared candidates in several legislative races last November.

The $3.78 million Wisconsin individuals, businesses and unions gave to 527s in 2007 and 2008 shatters the previous record $2.57 million Wisconsin contributors gave to 527s in the 2001-02 election cycle (see Bar Chart).

The key findings and highlights of the 527 groups’ Wisconsin fundraising and spending include:

Seven Wisconsin political groups, including three phony issue groups, got $2.48 million from mostly out-of-state 527 organizations to help fund their electioneering activities in legislative elections and campaigning on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

A big beneficiary was the Greater Wisconsin Committee’s 527 group – the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund – which got $1.07 million to spend in key legislative races against Republicans. Advancing Wisconsin, a pro-Democratic grassroots group that campaigned around the state on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and in about two dozen legislative races, got $918,393. Building a Stronger Wisconsin, which attacked Republican candidates in at least three legislative races, got $225,000 and Club for Growth Wisconsin, a conservative, pro-Republican group, received $100,000.

Seven Wisconsin contributors, which included individuals, unions, businesses and ideological groups, gave more than $100,000 to 527 groups during the two-year period including Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein who gave pro-Democratic 527s $1.16 million (see Table 1).

Fourteen 527 groups received more than $100,000 in Wisconsin contributions (see Table 2). In all, more than $2 of every $3 in Wisconsin contributions in 2007 and 2008 went to Democratic 527 groups - $2.63 million or 69.7 percent.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Hard Times

A week rarely goes by without word of another state newspaper reporter leaving the trade. Our state's not unique . . . it's happening everywhere. NPR just aired an excellent story focusing on the Hartford Courant and what it means to our democracy if newspapers like the Courant go away. In These Times just ran an article about the vanishing press corps in our nation's capital.

Democracy cannot long survive without a vigorous and always inquiring news industry. If newspapers go the way of the dinosaur, something will have to take its place. I just heard of a new enterprise called Your News. Visitors to this web-based news service not only can consume the site's content, they can contribute to it. Check it out.

Maybe this is what the future looks like.