Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nonstop Town Meeting on Reform — with Common Cause In Wisconsin

Blog Post
Saturday, May 10, 2008

By Bill Kraus

How do you ruin a perfectly good Bar Association convention? Invite Bob Williams and me to talk about the sad state of judicial politics and what can and can’t be done about fixing them.

We told them that nobody likes what Supreme Court campaigns have become.

We also told them that since nobody who dislikes what they have become likes any proposal to fix them–except perhaps their own–better than the current mess, the current mess is going to survive.

We told them that the forces of the status quo, which are always a three-touchdown favorite, are powerful and set in concrete and are major reasons no change is in the offing.

The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, would have to turn 180 degrees from its recent past to even take a look at the collateral damage that its decisions have caused.

The incumbents, even though they are wearing out their index fingers dialing for dollars, are afraid to change for fear they might become less invincible than they are.

The interest groups that are now the major players in the money race and who are getting what they seem to want—a biased instead of a disinterested judiciary—are not interested in giving up what they have spent a lot of good money to get.

The hired guns who are making the tasteless, misleading attack television ads and the television stations that are selling the time to run them are getting rich. They are going to give this up? Get real.

The only hint of good regulatory news we were able to dig up was the prospect of getting some transparency into the funding sources of the groups who are hijacking the campaigns. We know who is coughing up the dough for the manufacturers and the teachers generally if not specifically. But all we know about the Club for Growth, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, One Wisconsin, and the Coalition for Families is that their names are as unrevealing as are the names of the people who are sending them the money they are able to scarf up to denigrate the candidates they dislike.

The special session, we told them, is still alive. The disclosure bill which the senate passed unanimously ended up in a trash can in the Speaker’s office on its way to the floor of the Assembly despite the fact that this has always been the Republican preference over regulation and spending limits and the fact that the speaker is on the record in favor of the idea.


But the special session is still alive and transparency is part of the big reform bill that is gasping for breath and which could be passed [ha!] or modified down to a skeletal disclosure version..if someone, like all of the lawyers in the audience would call their Assembly Reps and raised something approaching hell.

Easy but perhaps a forlorn hope. We’ll see.

What we really asked them to do is a lot harder. We told them to get back into politics as candidates, as campaigners, as contributors, as citizens. They could start, we suggested, with their mouths, because judicial campaigns are still places where word of mouth counts.

Bob Williams closed this plea with two questions for all the 15,000 members of the Wisconsin bar who live in Wisconsin by asking:

If not now, when?

If not you, who?

Just what they wanted to hear. Or not.