Wisconsin took second place in the nation for spending on state judicial elections two years ago, according to a national report released today, highlighting out-of-control spending that the report says threatens confidence in the courts.
"Wisconsin has vaulted to the forefront of states where runaway judicial election spending is eroding public confidence in fair and impartial courts," reads a press release from the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which together compiled the report "The New Politics of Judicial Elections: 2000-2009."
The report found that … Wisconsin came in first in television spending by independent groups, which the report labels "super spenders," with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce outspending all other groups.
The report also makes mention of the now infamous attack ad by Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, which it called "the ugliest and most controversial ad of 2008." That ad portrayed sitting Justice Louis Butler as a criminal coddling defense lawyer earlier in his career and carried racial undertones.
The ad mired Gableman in a two-year legal battle in which he was accused of judicial misconduct. The charges fizzled out in recent weeks when a sharply divided Supreme Court failed to come to a consensus on disciplining the justice.
On the other hand, the report lauded Wisconsin for enacting a public financing system last year for judicial elections.
"This crisis of confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary is real and growing," says retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in a forward to the report. "Left unaddressed, the perception that justice is for sale will undermine the rule of law that the courts are supposed to uphold."