Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul Takes Action

For release: Wednesday - June 5, 2024

Image: Wisconsin Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General Symbol from WDOJ website

Common Cause Wisconsin Statement on the Indictment of Three in the Wisconsin Fake Electors scheme in 2020

In response to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul’s felony indictment felony indictment of three individuals for their participation in the Wisconsin Fake Electors scheme, Common Cause Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck released the following statement:

“For nearly four years now, Wisconsin voters have dealt with numerous negative consequences and have had their electoral intention and will undermined by the actions of Kenneth Chesebro, James Troupis and Michael Roman and by many others, who have spewed and spread misinformation and disinformation about our elections.

The fake elector scheme utilized by supporters of defeated President Donald Trump following the 2020 election in a number of closely contested battleground states apparently originated in Wisconsin apparently originated in Wisconsin. Their disinformation has resulted in the diminution of voting rights in our state and created numerous problems for election clerks and administrators. Holding bad actors like these three accountable is critically important in order to be able to reassure all voters that if anyone, regardless of their political affiliation, attempts to undermine their vote, severe legal consequences must and will follow.

The 2020 election was unequivocally won, both in Wisconsin and nationally, by President Joe Biden. As we gear up for another presidential election this year, we must continue to fight disinformation and hold bad actors who try to undermine our elections in 2024 or in future elections -- like these three are alleged to have done in 2020 -- wholly responsible and liable for their actions.”


Jay Heck
608/512-9363 (cell)

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 Johnson St, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703


Thursday, May 9, 2024

Common Cause Wisconsin Signs on to Lawsuit to Restore Secure Voter Drop Boxes in Wisconsin

For release: Thursday - May 9, 2024

Image: Ballot Drop Box (photo credit: WKOW 27)

Oral Arguments Before Wisconsin Supreme Court on May 13th in Case to Allow Voters to More Readily Be Able to Return Absentee Ballots

Common Cause Wisconsin (CC/WI), one of the state’s largest nonpartisan political reform advocacy organizations with more than 8,800 members and activists in every county and corner in Wisconsin, signed on to an amicus brief submitted in a lawsuit before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The suit seeks to overturn a 2022 decision to prohibit the use of secure voter drop boxes throughout Wisconsin. Voters used drop boxes safely and securely across the state from before the elections in 2016 until 2022 to return absentee ballots in time to be counted in elections.

In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of drop boxes was expanded to 570 located in 66 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. The expanded number of drop boxes, authorized by the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), offered voters a more convenient and safe way to ensure that their absentee ballots could be returned in time to be counted, in part because of the uncertainty of delivery of ballots in time by the U.S. Postal Service.

But in 2022, conservatives attacked the use of secure drop boxes claiming that the WEC authorization of their use was not sufficient. On July 8, 2022 the Wisconsin Supreme Court created new barriers to voting, including prohibiting the utilization of the voter drop boxes throughout our state in their narrow ruling in Teigen v. Wisconsin Election Commission. Secure voter drop boxes were not in use in Wisconsin during the November 2022 midterm elections, during 2023 and thus far in 2024.

CC/WI strongly opposed that misguided decision nearly two years ago and we welcome the opportunity to help overturn it now.

Fortunately, the Teigen v. W.E.C. decision was challenged last year and the Wisconsin Supreme Court will now reconsider their 2022 decision by agreeing to hear the case, Priorities USA v. Wisconsin Elections Commission.

In 29 states voter drop boxes are required or broadly accessible including in our neighboring states of Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois. Voter drop boxes are also utilized, albeit with some limitations in Iowa, Indiana and in Ohio. But currently in Wisconsin they are prohibited – the only “purple” or non-deep red state in the nation that completely bans them.

CC/WI is grateful to Zachary Goldstein and Mark Cherry of the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP for drafting the brief and incorporating the suggestions and concerns of Common Cause regarding this significant voting rights issue.

The highest court in our state should not create barriers to voting or restrict access to casting a ballot, including returning an absentee ballot through a secure drop box. We are hopeful that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will restore secure voter drop boxes for voters to be able to more readily participate in the democratic process in the pivotal 2024 election and beyond in Wisconsin.


Jay Heck
608/512-9363 (cell)

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 Johnson St, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703


Tuesday, April 30, 2024

To be truly fair Wisconsin courts must be free from big political money

For release: Tuesday - April 30, 2024

Image: A Gavel

"We went from being the progressive good government promised land to the political wasteland of the country."


The Wisconsin Examiner released Jay Heck's guest commentary piece on 4.29.24.


The April 12 announcement by Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, our state’s longest serving and most respected and distinguished court member, that she will not run for re-election in 2025, sent shockwaves through the political biosphere.

Next year’s spring election was already expected to be hugely expensive and fiercely contested.  But now, with the three-term justice bowing out, the stakes for ideological control of Wisconsin’s highest court are even greater. The price tag of the April 2025 election to succeed Justice Bradley is universally predicted to exceed the astronomical $57 million spent in 2023 in Wisconsin between current Justice Janet Protaciewicz and her opponent, former Justice Daniel Kelly — by far the largest amount of money ever spent in any state supreme court election in American history.

The unprecedented and obscenely high amount of political money being raised and spent in Wisconsin Supreme Court elections is a fairly new and horrific development in our state. It wasn’t always this way here and it cannot and should not continue. 

When I started with Common Cause in Wisconsin in 1996, the Badger State was still considered to be the national beacon for democracy, competitive but civil political discourse and clean elections and — most notably — was said to have the best, most impartial and least corruptible system of courts, at all levels, in the nation.  

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, was looked upon as the gold standard for how a state’s highest court should be elected and how it should conduct itself in the dispensation of justice to its citizens. It was widely respected, admired and even revered.   

The Supreme Court in turn set the tenor, tone and standard for Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals, circuit courts and municipal courts — all also widely praised and heralded.

Among the foremost champions in the nation for democracy and of free and fair elections, Wisconsinites decided long ago that our judges at all levels should be elected by the citizenry — not appointed or selected by a singular, select public official or by some elite entity. And so, since achieving statehood in 1848 Wisconsin has held nonpartisan elections for judges, almost invariably in the spring when voter turnout is never as robust as it is in partisan, November elections.

For many years the system worked well in Wisconsin. Elections for the Wisconsin Supreme Court were relatively tame and civil affairs where candidates were judged on their impartiality and on their judicial qualifications and temperament. Political affiliation and partisan leanings were not only downplayed, they were discouraged and much frowned upon. The central focus of Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates was on their impartiality and ability to uphold that long-held legal principle that justice is or should be blind, that courts should not make judgments based on appearance or on pre-ordained political disposition. What was prized above all by voters was the behavior any citizen would want and expect from a justice: that she or he be fair and impartial. 

But beginning in 2007 Wisconsin Supreme Court elections experienced a seismic shift. Partisan conservative special interest groups led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) cynically calculated that buying influence with the Wisconsin Supreme Court was at least as important and far more cost effective than trying to buy a friendly legislative majority. And so they began pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of it secret or “dark” money into judicial races to support candidates for the high court they deemed sufficiently “business friendly.”  

In 2009, the conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court also adopted a new recusal rule for justices and judges who were the recipients of campaign contributions.  In many other states in the nation, justices and judges must step away from and not participate in cases where one or more of the parties has contributed to that judge beyond a determined threshold, for the very rational and evident reason that a larger campaign contribution likely had an influence on the recipient and that transaction thereby created a conflict of interest for the justice or judge.  

But the Wisconsin Supreme Court majority adopted verbatim a recusal rule written by WMC which was essentially that no recusal at all is required if a campaign contribution is received. It is up to each justice or judge to decide whether or not to step aside. As a result, according to a 2014 study of judicial recusal rules across the nation, Wisconsin had the 47th weakest such rules of the 50 states. That “self-recusal” standard remains in place today.

The Wisconsin Legislature and former Gov. Jim Doyle reacted to the shocking special interest spending frenzy by deep-pocketed special interest groups in the 2007 and 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court elections by enacting into law sweeping and effective bipartisan campaign finance reform legislation — the Impartial Justice Act of 2009 — which imposed voluntary spending limits of $400,000 on candidates for the high court in return for full public financing of their campaigns – and no solicitation of private contributions. With no private money flowing into their campaigns, justices could be truly impartial and beholden to no campaign donor other than to the public. 

The new law was the most advanced and sweeping of any judicial campaign finance system in the nation and a model for clean elections and in reducing the influence of money on the judiciary.

But less than 18 months later in 2011, incoming Gov. Scott Walker and the new Republican legislative majority repealed the Impartial Justice Act and went even further by ending the 30-year-old partial public financing system and spending limits for all other state elective offices.

And then in 2015, Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature took an axe to the remaining safeguards and limitations in Wisconsin’s campaign finance law, including lifting virtually all limits on special interest money that could be raised and spent, weakening disclosure requirements and, most alarmingly, legalizing campaign coordination between special interest groups running phony issue advocacy communications with candidates — including Supreme Court candidates.

This insidious coordination had long been prohibited in Wisconsin and still is in almost every other state in the nation and in federal elections.

In less than a decade, between 2007 and 2015, Wisconsin was transformed from one of the more transparent and least “big money influenced” political campaign systems in the nation to one of the states with the least transparent disclosure requirements, corrupted by outside big dollar special interest groups and big donors. 

We went from being the progressive good government promised land to the political wasteland of the country.  

While there likely is not a lot that can or will be done to improve and reform Wisconsin’s judicial elections before the next state Supreme Court contest in April 2025, political leaders of all ideological stripes ought to begin to think about how to change the corrupt status quo.  Here are a few suggestions for inclusion in the necessary clean-up:

  • Re-establish an “impartial justice” law for the public financing of state Supreme Court elections modeled after the 2009 law which was in place for only one election before it was repealed.  Update and revise it to better fit current times and circumstances including more realistic spending limits and higher public financing grants.
  • Establish clear recusal rules for judges at all levels in Wisconsin that clearly decree that if a certain campaign contribution is reached or surpassed beyond a certain threshold amount, then the beneficiary of that contribution (or of the expenditure against her/his opponent) must recuse from any case in which the contributor is a party before the court.
  • Restore sensible limitations on the transfer of and acceptance of campaign funds and make illegal again campaign coordination between outside special interest groups engaged in issue advocacy with all candidates for public office — particularly judges.
  • Petition the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the disastrous 2010 Citizens United vs F.E.C. decision which ended over 100 years of sensible regulation of unlimited corporate, union and other outside special interest money in federal and by extension state elections, unleashing the torrential flood of campaign cash drowning democracy today.

Wisconsin needs to begin to figure out a better way to elect state Supreme Court justices and judges at all levels and those discussions need to begin in earnest now.  The upcoming 2025 state Supreme Court election to replace Justice Ann Walsh Bradley has already begun.  But there will be no rest for the weary as more equally critical state Supreme Court elections follow in April 2026, 2027, and 2028.

We cannot continue down the current path. If there is no change a $100 million election is in our immediate future. We can and must do better. Wisconsin enacted bipartisan legislation to fix our state Supreme Court elections in 2009 and we can and should again.  


Jay Heck
608/512-9363 (cell)

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 Johnson St, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703


Friday, April 26, 2024

Witnessing the Election Process

For release: Friday - April 26, 2024

Image: Voters in a polling place: WTMJ 4 News photo

Common Cause Wisconsin weighs in on the Role of the Election Observer

This week the Wisconsin Elections Commission held a public hearing for comments about their draft administrative rule on election observation. Common Cause Wisconsin submitted this statement in support of a rule that will provide clarity and uniformity for election observers to witness the election process while allowing election officials to complete their duties transparently and unobstructed and voters to cast their ballots privately and with confidence. You can see TMJ4 News coverage here and read the Common Cause statement below.

Jay Heck, Executive Director, Common Cause Wisconsin

TO: Legislative Members of the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules, Wisconsin Elections Commissioners and Staff

FROM: Jay Heck, Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin

DATE: April 24, 2024

RE: Statement from Common Cause Wisconsin on Wisconsin Election Commission Rule on Election Observer, Rule EL 4

Common Cause Wisconsin (CC/WI) supports the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) Draft Election Observer, Rule EL 4, which establishes much needed clear rules and standards for election observers. Founded in 1970, CC/WI is the state’s largest non-partisan citizens political reform advocacy organization with more than 8,000 members and activists in every county in Wisconsin.

Common Cause Wisconsin has recruited volunteer observers over many years and for several election cycles to be able to have our members observe and monitor the election process at polling locations throughout the state. Members of CC/WI have long been eager to have an opportunity to be part of the Wisconsin Election Protection programs in many different capacities, but they have particularly emphasized the value and importance of being trained as nonpartisan election observers by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin for Election Day.

Common Cause Wisconsin was an active participating member of the WEC Election Observer Advisory Committee to assist with the development of the draft rule. It is the position of CC/WI that election observers need clear rules in order to carry out their tasks at polling locations, and the legislative approval of the Draft Election Observer Rule EL 4 will help protect voting rights while informing observers to be able to better cooperate with election officials. The rule seeks to benefit observers but will also preserve and enhance access to the election process, and help improve transparency, security, and confidence in Wisconsin’s elections.

Common Cause Wisconsin supports Draft Election Observer Rule EL 4 in establishing clear rules and standards for observers at the state’s thousands of polling places. The rule strikes a careful and important balance between the election officials being able to carry out their jobs, an observer’s access and ability to be able to view the voting process, and a voter's right to privacy and confidentiality while casting a ballot.

The rule is also comprehensive and responsive to the many points of concern members of the advisory committee named specifically at the meetings. These areas include the use of recording equipment, how observers can interact with voters and election officials while in the polling place, respecting a voter’s right to privacy and the handling of confidential information, an observer’s role when working with Special Voting Deputies, the safety and authority of election officials and chief inspectors, and maintaining an open and transparent process that is observable. The rule ensures the basic needs of election observers are met, such as access to restrooms, access to the voting process without interfering with election officials and voters, and receiving disability-related accommodations.

Common Cause Wisconsin recognizes the challenging task the WEC staff had in compiling comments, first-hand accounts, and feedback of the advisory committee with various nonpartisan organizations and active political parties in the state who often work with election observers. WEC staff and commissioners spent many hours facilitating the advisory committee, considering outside input from individuals and organizations, and having honest discussions about how to improve the role of the election observer. The commissioners should be commended for finding common ground in the submitted draft of this rule in areas they initially had disagreements. As a result, this rule reflects fairness with clear, applicable expectations of election observers.

Observers, voters, and election officials rely on clear information from the WEC and the legislature. Common Cause Wisconsin supports Draft Election Observer Rule EL 4 and requests that the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules move to pass this rule as written (with discussion and consideration of the Clearinghouse Rule 24-032 Wisconsin Legislative Council [1] comments that offer clarifying suggestions). Establishing clear rules and standards for election observers across the state will help improve citizen confidence in the voting process and help observers in their important role of witnessing the election process.




Jay Heck
608/512-9363 (cell)

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 Johnson St, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703