Thursday, February 5, 2009

Will the Wisconsin Supreme Court Race be Different in 2009?

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Wisconsin.

In 2008, Justice Louis Butler of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court was ousted because of an expensive campaign against him. One year earlier, the same happened to another candidate that was typically seen as liberal.

But the money and the controversial ads it produced was not coming from the campaign budgets of their conservative opponents, but rather from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), the premier business lobby in Wisconsin.

In 2009, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson - who has voted with Butler against WMC in the past - will be facing the conservative Jefferson County Judge Randy Koschnick. The only difference this year: WMC has promised to stay out of the race - as has the Club for Growth and the Coalition for American families.

Why is WMC shifting gears?

There are several reasons that might explain WMC's actions. First is the image they built with the ads they ran against Butler. The commercials which described the African-American Associate Justice as "Loophole Louie" used techniques that were seen as racist. even compared it to the notorious Willy Horton ad. As a result, several businesses left WMC and others declared they would not do business with any of its members.

The second reason is the changing tides of campaign finance reform in Wisconsin. Many in the state now contend that judicial races ought to be publicly financed as to not let special interest groups buy court seats. Recent action taken on campaign finance reform - the new ban on contributions to state legislators during the budget proceedings - suggests that the winds are heading in that direction.

Others are suggesting pragmatic reasons - perhaps they felt Abrahamson was too strong or Koschnick was too weak for them to take a chance with their money.

Should we be skeptical of WMC?

The recent campaign finance reports filed for state races in Wisconsin shows Abrahamson ahead of Koschnick financially with a 56-to-1 advantage. Koschnick has raised less than $15,000 - well short of the nearly $4 million spent in favor of Judge Michael Gableman (Butler's opponent) last year.

It is unlikely that he would raise so little without expecting some outside support.

A few potential support sources would be All Children Matter (a conservative interest group from Michigan that spent $900,000 against Wisconsin Democrats last year) and the Wisconsin Institute for Leadership.

It is not inconceivable that WMC could spend money through these groups or others for the Supreme Court race.

Abrahamson will face Koschnick on April 7th.

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