New Laws Could Decide High Court Race
2015 law allows unlimited spending, Screnock already taking advantage of this.
Big money can now influence Wisconsin Supreme Court races more than ever before due to actions of the GOP-dominated legislature, which radically rewrote the state campaign finance law in 2015.
How can the Republican Party of Wisconsin spend so much on what is supposed to be a “nonpartisan” race? Actually the amount they can now spend is virtually unlimited.
Before the 2015 law, the most a candidate for the state supreme court could receive from all committees combined was $140,156. So a candidate could accept $140,156 from either of the two parties, but then the candidate could not accept a single dime from any other committee.
Now the sky is the limit. Political parties can now give unlimited amounts of money to candidates of their choice, and can receive unlimited amounts from wealthy individuals they can pass on to any candidate, including in judicial races.
With both of these ceilings torn down, a billionaire could give $10 million to a political party, and that party could then turn around and spend that $10 million on the billionaire’s favorite candidate for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
This effectively undermines limits on direct donations to candidates for Wisconsin Supreme Court, which used to be $10,000 and now is $20,000. That doubling is by itself a huge change, but in fact that limitation can be evaded by simply contributing to a political party, which can then donate it to candidate.
An additional, huge hole in the campaign finance law was the state Supreme Court’s own decision in 2015 to legalize coordination between candidates and outside “issue advocacy” groups, and this legalized coordination was also put into the statutes in the 2015 rewrite.
So if you’re running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, you can now tell your billionaire friend to write that $10 million check to some bogus issue advocacy group, and that group can then run an ad saying your opponent is the biggest scoundrel in the world. It’s just as if your friend gave your campaign the check, except that it’s 500 times the legal limit — and the kicker is, your friend can do it in secret since the “issue advocacy” group doesn’t have to disclose who its donors are.
Wisconsin used to have public financing for our highest court here. Gov. Walker and Republican legislators also threw that out shortly after coming to power.
All of which opens the door to private financing by immensely wealthy individuals, much of it untraceable, in any race, which could have a huge impact on the Supreme Court election.