MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: WI Supreme Court bought and paid for by corporate special interests

September 12, 2014
James Rowen

A short political quiz. Three questions.

1. Raise your hand if you were surprised that the right-wing majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court validated two of Scott Walker's signature measures - - Act 10, a false budget measure used to erase nearly all public employee collective bargaining, - - and the Voter ID law, (now blocked in Federal Court), aimed by Walker and his GOP legislative allies at phantom ballot box fraud to make voting harder in cities with large numbers of minorities and students that trend Democratic.

Everyone got that one, I see. No one was surprised. Me, neither.

But back to the Court:

2. Raise your hand if you knew that well-heeled and influential right-wing organizations like the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce had made substantial campaign donations to Walker AND to the right wing of the Court?

OK - - More of you knew that I see, but mull over as we get to the last question whether those kinds of overlapping donations are in any way unsettling to your view of judicial even-handedness; major donors funding one of the key players in cases before the Court and some of the justices in the majority who sided with Walker, too.

3.  Now...raise your hand if knew that the WMC, along with the Realtors, literally wrote the Court's very relaxed ethics code rule that says a judge or Justice need not recuse himself or herself if he or she had taken donations from a party in a case before them.

I don't see many hands going up.

But read all about it.

And here's a bonus question:

How many of you knew that one national analysis, using complex, multiple criteria, recently gave the Wisconsin's judiciary an "F" in ethics precisely because outside groups with a history of donations to the Justices were allowed by the Justices to write the Justices' ethics rule that made it less likely that Justices would opt for recusal when a campaign donor was a party to a case being heard by the Justices:

Wisconsin received a failing grade after its state supreme court adopted a recusal rule that literally instructs judges not to recuse themselves from cases involving campaign contributors. In 2010, the four-justice conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court voted to institute a recusal rule written by the Wisconsin Realtors Association and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, a group that subsequently donated nearly $1 million to support conservative Justice David Prosser’s re-election in 2011.

The rule says that recusal is not required “based solely on … a lawful campaign contribution.” The majority’s comments that accompany the rule say that requiring recusal for campaign cash “would create the impression that receipt of a contribution automatically impairs the judge’s integrity.” In other words, the four justices in the conservative majority are worried that mandatory recusal would lead the public to think that judges are biased.

The majority rejected a proposal from the League of Women Voters to mandate recusal for campaign cash. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley dissented, arguing that “judges must be perceived as beyond price.” She criticized the majority for adopting “word-for-word the script of special interests that may want to sway the results of future judicial campaigns.” Justice Michael Gableman was criticized for failing to recuse himself from cases involving a law firm that had represented him for free in an ethics investigation—and for failing to even disclose the gift from the firm...

The conservative justices will soon face another ethical dilemma if the court intervenes in a criminal investigation of several groups that have spent big money in Wisconsin state elections. The groups are reportedly under investigation for violating a Wisconsin law that prohibits independent groups from “coordinating” with the campaigns of candidates whom they support.

After an appeals court allowed the investigation to proceed, the groups under investigation appealed to the state supreme court. The Wisconsin Club for Growth and Citizens for a Strong America—two of the investigation’s targets—also spend enormous sums of money on judicial races. According to an analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice, they spent $1.8 million in 2011 on a single candidate—Justice Prosser.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s chamber of commerce and one of the groups that wrote the court’s recusal rule, spent more than $900,000 to help Justice Prosser’s 2011 campaign and donated nearly the same amount to the Wisconsin Club for Growth. Even though these groups spent millions of dollars to get some of the justices on the bench, the justices are under no obligation to recuse themselves in a criminal investigation that targets the same groups.


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