Monday, December 28, 2009

Scraping The Bottom Of The Barrel

When Governor Jim Doyle signed the Impartial Justice bill into law on December 1, a Virginia group called the Center for Competitive Politics all but promised to sue to block the law. CCP's president left no doubt his outfit was shopping for a litigant in Wisconsin even before it got the governor's signature.

CCP is indeed behind a lawsuit filed in federal court last Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of Wisconsin's Supreme Court election reform law. But it seems the litigant shopping didn't go all that well. Turns out the only Wisconsinite they could find willing to be the public face of the lawsuit is someone who was for publicly financed Supreme Court elections before he was evidently talked into being against them.

As Wisconsin Public Radio reported last week:
Former candidate sues over public financing law for high court races

Former Supreme Court candidate and Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick has filed a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin's new public financing law for Supreme Court races. That's despite comments he made on the campaign trail in support of public financing.

Koschnick did not take public financing in his unsuccessful race for the state Supreme Court. Any money his campaign spent came either from himself or private donors, and not the state.

But at the press conference where Koschnick announced his candidacy back in November of 2008, he was asked directly how he felt about public financing.

Koschnick responded, "I think that's a great idea."

Koschnick went on to say he wasn't rich, and that he hoped to raise enough money from individuals to run a serious campaign. But, he added that he thought public financing would enable legitimate
candidates to run without necessarily having to be independently wealthy and might also reduce the influence of third-party groups who "obviously wield a lot of power and money."

Despite that praise for public financing on the campaign trail, Koschnick is now trying to overturn the entirety of Wisconsin's new public financing law.
As a candidate, Judge Koschnick made a compelling case that public financing of elections enhances free speech by giving more candidates the means to run competitively. In his lawsuit, he now claims public financing of Supreme Court elections "violates the Speech Clause of the First Amendment" by "suppressing the speech of candidates for the Office of Justice."

Care to explain the flip flop, judge?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Your Lawsuit's A Foul One, Right To Life

Most every voter
In the whole state of Wisconsin
Likes Impartial Justice a lot . . .

But Right to Life,
A powerful big old lobbying group,
Does NOT!

Right to Life hates Impartial Justice! The whole darn law!
Now please don't ask why. Who knows what they saw.
It could be their heads aren't screwed on quite right.
It could be, perhaps, that their shorts are too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason . . . ahem,
May be that they want judges to belong just to them.

But whatever the reason,
Their heads or their shorts,
Just days before Christmas, they're hating impartial courts.
Glaring from on high with a sour, Grinchy frown,
Every lawmaker who voted for it had to be wrong.
For they imagine every voter from Peshtigo to Paoli,
Really wants the best court money can buy.

"They might rule based on facts!" they snarl with a sneer.
"The next high court election is 2011! It's practically here!"
Then they growl, with their fingers nervously drumming,
"We MUST find a way to stop Impartial Justice from coming!"

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Warped View From The Bench

On October 28, four members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court approved rules written by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association allowing judges in our state to rule on cases involving their biggest campaign supporters. A little more than a month later, one of the four - Justice Patience Roggensack - wrote a newspaper commentary defending the action.

Judging from reader reaction, it fooled no one.

In a letter to the editor that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on December 11, Norm Littlejohn of Madison asks "Is Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack naive? Or does she think we are?" The rest of his letter makes his answers to those questions very clear.

Peter Beatty of Middleton pointed out in a letter published in today's State Journal that Roggensack overlooks the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of due process and the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling in a West Virginia case, Caperton v. Massey, that huge campaign contributions by one side in the case denied the other side a fair trial. Beatty concludes that it is "embarrassing to live in a state in which the highest justices are political hacks of monied interest groups. It makes a mockery of our high court."

This same sentiment was voiced by The Capital Times in an editorial posted last Friday. The newspaper called her attempt to "portray the Oct. 28 action as an embrace of democracy" a "tortured defense of legalized bribery."

The fate of the rules Roggensack so enthusiastically defends is now up in the air. It appears to have dawned on Justice David Prosser that it looks bad for the court to take what WMC and the Realtors wrote and approve it verbatim. So he has withdrawn his support, causing the new rules to be rescinded at least temporarily. Prosser says he still supports the thrust of the rules but believes the language needs to be fine-tuned. It looks like what he's really trying to do is figure out a way to remove the lobbying groups' fingerprints and make it look like the court did its own writing.

Talk about your tortured defenses of legalized bribery.

Been There, Seen That

We could have told Tiger Woods this was coming. Living up to contracts isn't Accenture's strong suit.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Jumpin' Justices

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association said jump and the majority of Wisconsin Supreme Court justices (namely Prosser, Gableman, Ziegler and Roggensack) jumped. WMC and the Realtors said jump again, and the high court held an "open administrative conference" yesterday to ask how high.

Amazing spectacle. The Flexible Four allowed two of the most powerful lobbying groups in Wisconsin to write rules for them allowing judges to rule on cases involving their biggest campaign supporters. Then the groups decide they are not completely happy with what they wrote and want some changes. The new rules promptly are retracted and Justice Prosser says he'll come back with some kind of proposal in about a week.

So we wait. To see how the court will degrade itself next.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Campaign Donations And The Cable Con

Democratic Governor Jim Doyle and 74 legislators who approved a controversial bill in 2007 to deregulate the cable industry have received more than $493,000 in campaign contributions since then from special interests that supported the measure.

The cable deregulation law, which supporters boasted would increase competition and lower customer bills, was the subject of a Legislative Audit Bureau report this week that found basic cable rates rose an average 21 percent over the past two years. Expanded basic rates increased 11.5 percent between July 2007 and July 2009, the audit said.

Business interests, the telephone industry and two unions - the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers - backed the bill led by AT&T. The telephone giant employed 15 lobbyists to push the bill because it wanted to break into the video provider market with offerings like U-Verse faster and cheaper than under the old cable franchising system. The new law set up a state licensing system that no longer required video providers to negotiate cable contracts with individual communities.

Between January 2008 and June 2009 - the first 18 months after the new law was in place - contributions by special interest backers totaled $493,109 to Doyle, 74 legislators who voted for the bill and are still in the legislature and four legislative fundraising committees.

Doyle has gotten $182,671 followed by the four Democratic and Republican legislative campaign committees, which are mega-fundraising committees used by legislative leaders to milk special interests for campaign cash. The committees accepted between $13,000 and $39,000 from cable deregulation supporters.

For additional information about campaign contributions by AT&T and the others while the bill was being developed and debated in the legislature check out this and this about the bill's authors, Republican Representative Phil Montgomery of Ashwaubenon and Democratic Senator Jeff Plale of South Milwaukee, and this about the 23-9 Senate vote in favor of the bill.

Doyle blamed the economy for souring cable competition - though the pay-to-play economy seemed to treat his campaign just fine. And Montgomery, who has received $6,825 from special interest backers since the bill was approved, told the Associated Press that he was disappointed cable rates haven't dropped.

So are we all.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Fix The Blessed Problem - UPDATE

Amended campaign finance reports for two mega-fundraising committees were filed on the Government Accountability Board's electronic filing system shortly after the Democracy Campaign posted a blog Monday saying the original year-end 2008 reports known to be erroneous had been on the GAB site for 10 months.