Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, I present this testimony on behalf of One Wisconsin Now’s more than 80,000 online supporters across the state in strong opposition to Assembly Joint Resolution 1.
This resolution is little more than an effort by the Republican legislative majority to oust Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson because she is ideologically divergent from the Republican legislature and their special interest allies. What they could not achieve at the ballot box in four statewide elections spanning back to 1979, they are trying to do through legislative fiat.
Our state Supreme Court has been politicized enough. Seventy-two year-old Justice and former Republican Assembly Speaker David Prosser physically attacked his female colleague. Conservative Justices Michael Gableman and Annette Ziegler have been the subject of ethics investigations into their misconduct. Justice Roggensack’s recent campaign was overseen by a lobbyist for special interests. The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Wisconsin Club for Growth have spent $8 million to secure a pro-corporate star chamber and then wrote the Court’s recusal rules adopted by this corporate bloc.
Enough is enough.
I note while this resolution is being fast-tracked by the Republican legislative majority, not one word has been spoken by the resolution’s authors about a true crisis of confidence that faces the Wisconsin State Supreme Court regarding the on-going John Doe investigation of criminal collusion involving Republican Governor Scott Walker and a number of the special interest funding mechanisms that have ensured the Republican lock on power in state government.
In April, One Wisconsin Now filed a formal letter with the seven justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, urging four of the court’s justices to recuse themselves from a legal request by the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker related to the ongoing John Doe investigation surrounding allegations of illegal coordination between Republican-aligned groups during the recall of Walker.
In our letter, One Wisconsin Now noted that two of the groups reported by media to be involved in the investigation, Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), financed over $8 million in spending to elect the four justices, who constitute a conservative majority on the court.
Involvement of a party, like Club for Growth or Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce that has spent substantial sums to elect the judge or justice hearing their case results in the appearance of bias if not actual bias.
Our letter notes that both the Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce were extremely active in the Supreme Court races in support of each of the most recent electoral efforts of Justices Annette Ziegler, Michael Gableman, David Prosser and Patience Roggensack. The four were elected to 10-year terms in campaigns from 2007 to 2013.
According to figures compiled by the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign:
- Club for Growth and WMC spent a combined $7.3 million in support of those four justices’ campaigns’ for the Supreme Court. In addition, $985,000 was spent by Citizens for a Strong America on behalf of the 2011 campaign of Justice David Prosser. A review of Club for Growth’s 2011 Internal Revenue Service 990 form shows that Club for Growth contributed $4.6 million to Citizens for a Strong America – the organization’s entire operating budget.
- In all four cases of these justices’ election campaigns, the percent of spending by these two entities was a substantial portion of the support these campaigns received. A Wisconsin Democracy Campaign total of the spending on behalf of Justice Prosser, including his own campaign, showed that spending of Club for Growth, WMC and the Club for Growth -financed Citizens for a Strong America, provided 75 percent of the $3.5 million in spending on behalf of Justice Prosser.If the public financing grant obtained by Justice Prosser is removed as “spending,” this figure leaps to a jaw-dropping 85 percent.
- A similar review of spending on behalf of Justice Michael Gableman, shows a similar and stunning lopsided percent from Club for Growth and WMC. These two entities provided in excess of 70 percent of the $3.2 million spent on his 2008 election campaign to the court.
Simply said: There is an $8 million weight on the scales of justice if the conservatives on the court move forward to shield the very entities that put them on the court.
If the Republican-controlled legislature is seeking to have an open and honest discussion about challenges facing the other branches of state government, including the state Supreme Court, it may want to start here, instead of this power grab, that if it were undertaken in another country, would be rightfully deemed a “coup.”