“Brace yourselves for the most ugly and expensive state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin’s history in 2009,” warns Jay Heck, director of Common Cause Wisconsin. In his Capital Times op-ed, Heck takes shots at Wisconsin’s legislature for failing to act on a campaign finance reform bill, and accuses the group of quietly, ”smothering it with a pillow" during its special legislative session.
Heck’s brashness is understandable. Forget about the fact that Governor Jim Doyle called the special session specifically in the interests of campaign finance reform. Recent candidate special interest spending in Wisconsin’s last two judicial election cycles, makes clear that, now, more than ever, comprehensive campaign finance reform is needed in the state.
The bill that Heck so eloquently argues was “murdered,” would provide public financing to all of Wisconsin’s state races and full public financing for its state Supreme Court elections. Moreover, the bill would require interest groups to disclose the names of their donors when running television advertisements—hopefully discouraging the brand of “Willie Horton-style hit” ads deployed during the April election involving Justice Louis Butler and Judge Mike Gableman.
Heck effectively makes his point. Public confidence (and a little thing called democracy) are muddled when special interest money is allowed to dominate and ultimately, hold hostage the issues important to voters and candidates alike—particularly when the candidates in question are judges.