November 5, 2009
"IMPARTIAL JUSTICE" REFORM LEGISLATION PASSES FULL LEGISLATURE
Now Goes to Governor - Who Says He Will Sign It into Law!
The "Impartial Justice" State Supreme Court campaign finance reform measure Assembly Bill 65/Senate Bill 40 passed Thursday evening in the Wisconsin Assembly on a 51-42 vote after passing earlier today on a bipartisan 19-13 vote in the State Senate - on the last day of the Fall legislative session.
The legislation -- the most significant and sweeping campaign finance reform measure since the late 1970's in Wisconsin -- now goes to Governor Jim Doyle who has said he will sign it into law.
Wisconsin will soon join North Carolina and New Mexico in putting into effect a "clean" money system of full public financing for candidates for the State Supreme Court who agree to abide by sensible spending limits which in Wisconsin will be $100,000 for the primary election and $300,000 for the general election. High court candidates who abide by the limits will be eligible to receive additional publicly- financed grants if their opponent exceeds the spending limits and if outside special interest groups spend above a certain threshold against them or in favor of their opponent.
After the the last three high spending, expensive and nasty elections for the State Supreme Court in Wisconsin in 2007, 2008 and to a lesser degree - 2009, this measure was much needed to begin to restore public confidence in the once revered Wisconsin Supreme Court.
As we have said repeatedly, passage and enactment into law of the "Impartial Justice" measure is not enough to clean up Wisconsin Supreme Court elections. The 2007 and 2008 Supreme Court elections were dominated by nasty, undisclosed. unregulated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy. The donors to these phony issue ads must be disclosed and the money used to pay for them must come from a regulated source. Only then will elections for Wisconsin's highest court return to some level of sanity and civility.
Pending is Senate Bill 43, a bipartisan proposal requiring disclosure of the donors and regulation of the money utilized by outside special interest groups that run widely-disseminated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy during the period of 60 days or less prior to an election. This electioneering disclosure and regulation legislation mirrors new rules approved by the state Government Accountability Board in November of 2008. An identical Assembly version of the legislation is Assembly Bill 63. Both measures are ready to be considered by the full Assembly and State Senate. Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI), the first state reform organization to recognize the critical importance of this reform, proposed a version of this measure back in 1997 -- and has been leading the effort to get it enacted into law ever since.
If we ever hope to have a State Supreme Court truly free from the influence of campaign contributions and outside special interest spending, we must see to it that this measure is passed and enacted into law.
During the week of November 16th, the United States Supreme Court is expected to render a decision in a landmark case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that will provide clearer guidance about what the Wisconsin Legislature can and cannot do in requiring the disclosure and regulation of phony issue ads.
But in the meantime, today's votes in the State Senate and the Assembly in favor of "Impartial Justice" is an important first step toward cleaning up Wisconsin's Supreme Court elections and ensuring that our elected justices are beholden only to the people and not to campaign contributors and outside special interest groups..
Today's votes in the State Senate and the Assembly in favor of "Impartial Justice" are an important first step toward that goal.
Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703
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