December 3, 2009
IMPARTIAL JUSTICE REFORM IS LAW
PHONY ISSUE AD REFORM IS ON DECK
PHONY ISSUE AD REFORM IS ON DECK
On Tuesday, December 1st, Governor Jim Doyle signed into law the "Impartial Justice" legislation, that will provide full public financing to qualified candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court who agree to abide by a spending limit of $400,000 (for the primary and general elections).
This is the most sweeping and significant campaign finance reform in Wisconsin since public financing was first established in 1977. We now join North Carolina and New Mexico as the only states to have enacted into law full public financing for state supreme court elections.
For more on this momentous event, read the front-page article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Doyle signs high court election bill and in the The Badger Herald: Doyle signs bill for public financing of judicial races. Both articles contain commentary from Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI).
See also this editorial in The Capital Times: Reformers win a fight to clean up court races about the role of reform organizations and others in the battle for Impartial Justice.
To listen to a recent CC/WI analysis of Impartial Justice on Wisconsin Public Radio, go here.
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. That said, the criticism from some that the Impartial Justice law doesn't address the phony issue ads is unjustified. Separate legislation to require the disclosure of the donors and regulation of the funding for sham issue advocacy in all Wisconsin elections (not just those for the state supreme court) will be considered after the United States Supreme Court renders a decision later this month (perhaps as early as next week) in a critical, landmark case: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which will provide guidance about what Wisconsin can and cannot do with regard to these phony issue ads - ads that have been a cancer on our statewide and legislative elections since 1996 and which dominated the 2007 and 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court elections. It would have made no sense to tie the phony issue ad measure to the Impartial Justice bill because we do not know yet how the U.S. Supreme Court will decide on this matter.
Pending in the Wisconsin Legislature 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. Depending on what the U.S. Supreme Court does this month, there will still be plenty of time to pass and enact into law Senate Bill 43/Assembly Bill 63 in January and in time to be in effect for the 2010 legislative and statewide elections.
Wisconsin has hit a home run with the enactment into law of the Impartial Justice legislation. But to win the ball game, we need to shine light on the donors and regulate the money behind the plethora of campaign communications that masquerade as issue advocacy. There are enough votes to pass the Senate Bill 43/Assembly Bill 63 in the Wisconsin Legislature and Governor Doyle has promised to sign the measure. We just need to find out what the U.S. Supreme Court will do before we can act.
Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703
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