Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Dark Money’s High Court Candidate

Michael Screnock blows off candidate forums, bets on special interest money.

By - Jan 23rd, 2018 12:35 pm
Michael Screnock. Photo from Screnock campaign website.

Michael Screnock. Photo from Screnock campaign website.

Michael Screnock is the invisible man in the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Madison attorney Tim Burns and Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet have been traveling the state and attending any candidate forums they can. Not Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Screnock.

Burns and Dallet faced off at last August at a candidate forum in Madison hosted by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and covered by the Wisconsin State Journal. Yet Screnock passed on this opportunity for media coverage, citing “scheduling difficulties,” the newspaper reported.

On October 15 Burns and Dallet attended a candidate forum at the East Side Progressive Forum at Lake Edge Lutheran Church in Madison and Screnock was once more a no-show, bedeviled yet again by those pesky scheduling difficulties. “His campaign manager said he had something else on his schedule,” says forum organizer Gretchen Lowe.

Screnock will also be a no-show at next week’s candidate forum at Greenfield Public Library on January 29th sponsored by the Citizen’s Coalition and moderated by former Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske. He reportedly told the forum’s organizers it was too far for him to drive.

A candidate for statewide office can’t drive from Baraboo to metro Milwaukee, less than two hours drive away? How serious is he about running for this position?

Screnock did attend yesterday’s candidate forum in Milwaukee held by the conservative Federalist Society, but that’s the first one he’s bothered with. Nor would he answer questions from Wisconsin Justice Initiative, about his resume, honors and judicial views, which published the answers as written by the candidates.

Even more surprising, he declined to participate in the traditional written Q & A done by the League of Women Voters.

“It’s disappointing,” says Erin Grunze, the group’s executive director.  The candidate guide, she notes, “are the words verbatim from the candidates themselves and reaches thousands of Wisconsin voters all around the state. It’s a missed opportunity for voters to get to know candidate Screnock and what he would bring to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The information is compiled to help voters make informed decisions when going to the polls.”

It’s all part of an obvious pattern, says Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause of Wisconsin: “Not only does Screnock not fill out questionnaires or attend forums, he doesn’t bother to raise much money.” Indeed, Dallet has raised five times more campaign dollars than Screnock, while Burns has raised three times more, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reports.

“That’s because Screnock knows the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Wisconsin Club for Growth will come through with hundreds of thousands of dollars to support his campaign,” Heck says.

That is probably a gross underestimate of what these two conservative groups will likely spend. Together they spent $2.6 million to reelect former Justice David Prosser, $2.6 million to support Annette Ziegler, $2.3 million on Michael Gableman and $850,000 to reelect Pat Roggensack. An incredible 76 percent of Prosser’s support came from Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers. For Gableman, the corresponding figure was 69 percent, for Ziegler 59 percent, for Roggensack 48 percent, as Urban Milwaukee reported.

And it was money well spent, for these four conservative justices did everything they could to support the two groups. In the face of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a problem existed where one of the parties “had a significant and disproportionate influence” on the election of a justice, and a resulting national movement by states to adopt recusal rules for judges, Wisconsin’s high court was one of just two to reject proposals whereby a specific campaign contribution amount would trigger recusal, an analysis by the National Center for State Courts noted.

Instead these four judges signed on to an opinion by Roggensack which accepted verbatim a rule suggested by Wisconsin Manufacturers, which stated that a campaign donation by itself could never require a recusal. Then Prosser and Gableman rejected a prosecutor’s request that they recuse themselves from the decision ruling on the legality of a John Doe probe of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Club for Growth, and then ruled with the majority shutting down the Doe probe and thereby protecting the two groups from prosecution.

Gableman has since decided to retire and Screnock will make the perfect replacement. He has already said he shares the same judicial philosophy as Gableman, and is likely to be just as supportive of these conservative groups and Gov. Scott Walker. As an attorney with Michael Best & Frederich, Screnock helped handle six different legal challenges to Act 10, Walker’s signature law decimating collective bargaining rights of the public employees, and also worked with Republican legislative redistricting now being challenged in the courts as unconstitutional gerrymandering.

For his reward, Screnock was named a circuit court judge by Walker, just nine years after his graduation from law school and with almost no experience handling trials: zero jury trials and just one non-jury trial. Just in case there was any doubt he was a Walker sycophant, Screnock, in his application to become judge, cited a court case upholding Act 10 as the “best Wisconsin or U.S. Supreme decision in the last 30 years.”

All of which helps explain the seemingly lazy way Screnock is conducting his campaign. “It used to be that candidates would campaign across the state meeting voters and speaking to lawyers’ groups,” Heck says. “Now they are special interest auctions.”

And few if any attorneys in the state has better proven his loyalty to right-wing special interests than Screnock.

As a result of the 2015 Republican law legalizing coordination between “independent” advocacy groups and candidate campaigns, Wisconsin is now one of just two states (Florida is the other) that allow coordination that past U.S. Supreme court rulings have said is Illegal. This means WMC and Club for Growth can not only run ads that support Screnock, but can coordinate their spending and ads with his campaign. “I’m sure they are coordinating with him right now,” says Heck.

No wonder Screnock is too busy to make those forums.

Because Florida and Wisconsin allow such coordination, it makes both states a magnet for dark money, which can be spent without disclosure and coordinated with campaigns. But Wisconsin is a much smaller state, and as a result, Heck says, “more dark money flows into Wisconsin per capita than any other state. This is the best place in America for a dark money shop to set up.”

It opens the doors to campaigns like the one Screnock is apparently conducting, where you avoid the public and most candidate forums, and simply let the secret consultants with unlimited funding pull the strings of your campaign. Those same experts, you can be sure, will have strong ideas on how Screnock should rule as a Supreme Court justice, assuming the campaign goes as they have planned.

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Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

33 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Dark Money’s High Court Candidate”

  1. John Casper says:

    Bruce, thanks for more great reporting.

  2. PMD says:

    Yes those organizations will spend a ton of money on Screnock, but is it enough to win if he doesn’t get out in public and allow voters to put a face with the name? Or will those who turn out to vote next month wonder who the hell this guy is and not having any clue vote for someone else? As you mention he is keeping a ridiculously low profile while the other two show up to public events and squabble in the media and work diligently to get the word out. It seems like you need to combine a public presence with the dark money to win, but maybe not.

  3. You might think Dallet and Burns were outnumbered at Federalist Society debate since this is an organization of very conservative lawyers and Republicans. But from news reports — not in JS — they did well striking back and at taking on each other. Screnock may have though this was safe terrain but the quotes from the others that were laid down will send him scurrying back to into his groundhog hole before Feb. 20.

  4. Terry says:

    Republicans+out of state mega rich donors+judges=Greasy

  5. WashCoRepub says:

    The answer is very simple… as society becomes much more polarized and tribal, a campaign realizes that there is very little to be gained by attending forums where 95-100% of those in attendance are hardcore activists/partisans who would never vote for someone with opposing political (or judicial) views.

    Nearly every organization cited above actually uses the phrase ‘progressive’ right on their Web site home pages. Their staffs are almost entirely ex-public defenders and trial lawyers.

    Today, it’s all about getting out the base, high-dollar campaign spending (including 3rd-party groups), and using the courts to obtain every advantage possible. I’m not defending it, but it’s reality.

  6. Terry says:

    @WashCoRepub, a “reality” you forgot to mention created by Republicans like career politician Scott Walker and others! You forgot that part! Pay to play, changing the laws to allow unlimited out of state donations from the mega rich, Citizens United…etc. This is a “reality” we all should be working to change instead of enabling and excusing as you and other republicans do. The same goes for republican’s disgusting enabling and appeasing of authoritarianism, crypto-fascism, Nazism, White Nationalism etc…You are on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of what is right on these issues! History will not forget, nor will voters in November.

    Now please, proceed with yet another ad hominem attack and insult as you always do, usually relating to pot, being crazy, an “addict” etc…proceed.

  7. daniel golden says:

    The Wisconsin Supreme Court used to be respected nationally. Now it is an institution in which even conservative lawyers have no confidence. The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has filled 5 of the 7 seats with right wing whores, who have no respect for the rule of law or an impartial system of justice. What does it tell you that shortly after the U. S. Supreme Court ruled is a West Virginia Case that it was unconstitutional for a west Virginia Justice to rule on a case in which he had taken a 2 million dollar campaign donation from one of the parties, that the Wisconsin Supreme Court passed a rule that said they could take any amount of money from parties before them. What use to be considered a crime is now the new normal for modern Republicans.

  8. Troll says:

    Pre-2010 and the ascendants of Scott Walker what did you lefties call all that AFSCME money or what do we call SEIU money. Dark money? A business can not fund a candidate but forced dues ripped from hard working people’s checks is freedom of speech. Apparently, all the white collar employees at a company say, Ford Motor company can write a check to Hillary Clinton but those blue collar employees have little say on where their money goes. They vote for Trump and their hard earn money goes to Hillary because the UAW says so.

  9. John Casper says:

    Daniel Golden,

    Many thanks.

    Didn’t know.

    “Cleaning Up the Courts, Citizen Hearings at Three Locations in Wisconsin”

  10. John Casper says:


    You’re a freeloader and opposed to “majority rules.”

    According to the elites, if a majority of workers in Wisconsin vote for representation, the union cannot compel dues. Workers who don’t pay union dues “freeload” off those who do.

    That means the union can’t fund the accountants and attorneys who workers need to assure they are getting their fair share.

    You want to force corporations to compete based on how much they can bleed out of their workers.

    Strong unions enforce quality across an industry.

    Strong unions provide stable labor costs for competitors. It’s a level playing field.

    That’s why Eisenhower&Reagan supported unions.

  11. Troll says:

    John you make a good argument. Every day some teacher at Milwaukee Public Schools is being beaten up, sexually assaulted or harassed by MPS students and the Pin heads on Vliet street that manage the school funding protect the students rights to assault over the teachers right of security.

  12. John Casper says:


    “You make a good argument,” that MPS teachers deserve higher pay.

    Are you blaming the Bradley Foundation? Lynde and Harry Bradley Technical School–use to be Boys Tech–is still MPS.

  13. The late Mary Petit were certainly conservative but on her hook as a heir to Bradley fortune she was also the city’s biggest philanthropist — Petit Ice Center, Bradley Tech, Bucks original arena and much more. And Dorothy Bradley gave over a terrific art collection to the museum. The tentacles of today’s Bradley Foundation, which probably have Mary spinning in her grave, have become a blot on what should be an honorable name.

  14. Troll says:

    The Petit’s agreed with Michael McGee senior. Blacks do not want the white man’s welfare. They want jobs. Unlike the current left wing Billionaires like Warren Buffett who keeps telling the little man to invest in a very high stock market. The little man will trust Buffett as Buffett weasles his way out of the financial markets.

  15. Terry says:

    Here’s some more greasy truth on Career Politician, Big Government mooching, Corporate Toadie Scott Walker, illuminating just how greasy “Walker’s Wississippi” really is…

    Walker is greasy y’all. Now the whole state is greasy as hell.

    But wait, in the distance, on the horizon, there is a Big Blue Wave forming…and it just might wash all these greasy, lyin’, cheatin’ scoundrels and charlatans out to sea in November, 2018…

  16. John Casper says:


    Learn the difference between left and right.

    While you’re starting on that, list all the “left wing” billionaires.

  17. Troll says:

    Too many to count. Jeff Bezos 1# 100 billion net worth …#2 Warren Buffett…90 billion net worth….# 3Bill Gates ..90 billion net worth..#4 Mark Zuckerberg …$75 billion…all Democrats

  18. Terry says:

    @Troll, nah, wrong again. Buffett is a value investor. He has in reality (not Troll World) always recommended ol’ Benjamin Graham’s advice. Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful. Thus everyone knows he is not recommending “little guys to invest” now. Valuations are a little rich but he’s rarely ever “out of the market” thus nothing to “weasle out of?” Are you 12?

  19. Troll says:

    They have a bill that may get passed in California that states, any business that gains from the tax cut must give half of those gains to the California welfare state. I would love your next candidate for the President of the United States say, Amazon..Facebook, Microsoft and Berkshire billionaires you must give half of your wealth to Medicaid or Disability Insurance. Those billionaires would stop giving to Democrat coffers and then what would your politicians do. Billionaires have protection and it revolves around Democrats.

  20. Terry says:

    @Troll, I was born, raised and then run out of Seattle by Bezos and such corporatist ilk. Stating he or Gates are “left wing” is an astoundingly ignorant comment and a gross underestimation of these men’s incredible capitalist prowess. I have lived it, my entire life. They are not “socialists.” These men are wild west capitalists.

  21. PMD says:

    Troll you are cherry picking and you are wrong. Here are the six richest families in America and their political affiliation. Notice the R after each one.

    1. Walton – Republican

    2. Koch – Republican

    3. Mars – Republican

    4. Cargill-MacMillan – Republican

    5. Johnson (Fidelity) – Republican

    6. Hearst – Republican

    Of the top 50, a grand total of 6 are Democrat. So once again The Troll has no idea what facts are.

  22. John Casper says:


    why did you leave out Wall Street billionaires like Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, who bankroll Breitbart?

  23. John Casper says:


    You haven’t gotten one right yet.

    Zuckerberg may be the funniest. He runs FB. He made a ton off the Russians bots.

    Why are you allergic to links?

  24. John Casper says:

    PMD, thanks.

    WRT Koch brothers, there are two: Charles and David.

    IIRC they each started with a billion from their Dad’s inheritance.

  25. Troll says:

    We can all at least agree that the three main owners of the Milwaukee bucks are three Democrats that happen to be billionaires.

  26. PMD says:

    Is that supposed to make you less wrong? It doesn’t.

  27. John Casper says:


    “we can all at least agree that” you’re allergic to links and you can’t find any that confirm even one of the Bucks owners is a Democrat.

  28. Thomas says:

    Scrernock is wise to keep a low profile. He has a face fit for radio. He looks like an annoying high school student who has not aged well. More to the point, he is a reactionary hack who has nothing to offer but nostalgia for a long-gone day that never existed. He has the endorsement of Leah Vukmir, another reactionary hack who appears hell-bent on taking our state and our country back to the days before FDR – doing away with social security, worker’s compensation, unemployment compensation, civil rights, Medicare, Medicaid …

  29. Terry says:

    Facts are presented and as usual, Troll runs for the hills!

  30. Troll says:

    Another insignificant local paper appears to be focusing on Rebecca Dallets’s prejudices. People of color don’t linger around at night in Milwaukee County or Jude Dallet will find you.

  31. John Casper says:


    Why don’t you “linger around at night in Milwaukee County?”

  32. mr.parker says:

    Thank you for the information. I’ll be voting for Michael Screnock. Just reviewing who supports Dallet is enough to make your skin crawl.

  33. Thomas says:

    Mr. Parker,

    I doubt that voting for Screnock will remedy the skin crawl. If I were a doctor, I would recommend lowering doses of Fox TV news and right wing talk radio. Skin crawl is the desired result of purveyors of misinformation on those outlets.

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