New committee will shield judges from their records

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Eric O'Keefe
Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The recently created Wisconsin Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee (WJCIC) trumpets itself as a nonpartisan committee “protecting fair and impartial courts” by monitoring the campaign activities of Supreme Court candidates and their supporters for the April 2008 election. Unfortunately the committee is neither fair nor impartial, and is decidedly partisan.

With the upcoming race between incumbent Louis Butler and Burnett County Judge Mike Gableman, it’s reasonable to review the backgrounds of the umpires before we accept claims of neutrality.

Nearly all committee members have ties to Gov. Jim Doyle and the Democratic Party—including Chairman Thomas Basting. (Doyle appointed Butler to the Supreme Court in 2004 and recently hosted a high-dollar fund raiser for Butler).

Seven of the eight committee members are former Democratic leaders or Doyle appointees and donors. Basting has strong ties to Doyle going back more than a decade, and he and his wife, Sally, have donated nearly $15,000 to Doyle. Former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tim Cullen made 18 contributions to Doyle, former Democratic Gov. Tony Earl made three, former Gov. Martin Schreiber cabinet member Carol Toussaint made eight and UW-Madison professor Dennis Dresang made four. What’s more, three of the group’s members or their spouses have direct ties to Butler’s campaign, and one member, Tony Earl even contributed to his campaign.

The only member without a direct tie to Doyle is Bill Kraus, a self-described “disaffiliated” Republican. Kraus’ wife contributed $200 to Butler in June 2007.

The integrity committee will meet in secret; all deliberations will be kept confidential, and Chairman Basting is the only member permitted to address the media. Basting recently used this authority to publicly rebuke Judge Gableman’s campaign for commenting on Justice Butler’s past judicial philosophy, which has expanded the rights of criminal defendants while restricting law enforcement power. The integrity committee is asking the Supreme Court candidates to sign a pledge agreeing not only to adhere to the Judicial Code of Ethics but to follow dubious guidelines outlined by the self-appointed “Star Chamber” in statements such as:

--Advertisements that state or imply that a candidate has been or will be biased in favor of a particular party to the legal system undermine public trust and confidence in a fair and impartial judiciary.”

-- “Judicial candidates—and their supporters—should focus their campaign messages on the candidates’ record of public service and similar judicial qualifications, rather than signaling how they or their opponents are likely to rule on matters that could come before the court.”

In other words, it’s OK for Butler’s opponent to talk about how Butler’s experience as a public defender and judge qualify him to serve on the Supreme Court, but his opponent must not discuss or attempt to evaluate how Butler’s job performance affects the public he is elected to serve. Rather than acting as a neutral umpire, it appears this kangaroo court, filled with Madison insiders, will use its self-appointed authority to stifle a free and open debate of the issues.

Eric O’Keefe serves on the Board of Directors of Wisconsin Club for Growth; readers can e-mail him at staff@wicfg.com. The Club for Growth is a national network of more than 40,000 men and women who believe that prosperity and opportunity come through economic freedom. Wisconsin Club for Growth Inc. is dedicated to informing, educating and rallying state residents to embrace and enact policies that lead to sustained economic growth, limited government and minimal taxation.

Last updated: 2:41 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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