Butler-Gableman Election Nastier and Likely More Expensive Than 2007 Ziegler-Clifford State Supreme Court Contest


For Release: March 24, 2008

Contact: Jay Heck – 608/256-2886

Exactly a year ago, Wisconsin was experiencing the most expensive, negative, demoralizing election for the State Supreme Court in its history. The 2007 contest to replace retiring Justice Jon Wilcox was between Washington County Judge Annette Ziegler and Madison attorney Linda Clifford. By the time it was mercifully over–with Ziegler decisively prevailing–neary $6 million dollars had been spent. This was more than three times as much as had been spent in the previously most expensive State Supreme Court election — in 1999 when Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson turned back a challenge fron Green Bay attorney Sharren Rose. In 2007, for the first time, outside special interest groups weighed in heavily in a State Supreme Court election vastly outspending the candidates themeselves. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce alone spent about $2 million to finance phony issue ads.

That contest was throughly revolting and its last week was dominated by negative ads run by the Ziegler and Clifford campaigns, each trying to paint the other as being “soft” on child molesters — an issue that is almost completely ouside of the purview of a sitting justice on the State Supreme Court.

After the 2007 election there was a general sense that that expensive, nasty, almost totally negative election for the State Supreme Court was a total aberration and would and should not occur again.

Indeed, the current 2008 election between incumbent State Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler and his challenger, Burnett County Judge Michael Gabelman is different than the 2007 contest.

This year’s current election — which will be decided on April 1st — April Fool’s Day — is even more nasty, more negative and will likely come close to, if not surpass last year’s $6 million spending orgy.

The citizens of Wisconsin simply do not deserve this kind of disrespectful treatment. The Associated Press article published on the front page of Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal: Voters urged to ignore ads in Supreme Court race and in other Wisconsin newspapers attempts to provide some advice to voters about how to make their way through the slime and the muck of the Butler-Gabelman election. It follows on the heels of first, oustide special interest groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (for Gabelman and/or against Butler), the Greater Wisconsin Committee (for Butler and/or against Gabelman) and others, and then the canidates themselves going negative — most alarmingly Gabelman who is running an ad eerily reminiscent of the infamous Willie Horton ad that was used against Massachusetts Goveror Michael Dukakis in his failed quest for the Presidency 20 years ago: TV ad by Gableman comes out swinging

Forner state Republican strategist, top aide to former Wisconsin Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfuss and current Common Cause in Wisconsin Co-Chair, Bill Kraus, provides these “must read” insights about where Wisconsin has gone in the way we now elect our State Supreme Court Justices: The Layered Look

Obviously, with just eight days until the election, it is too late to do anything legislatively to change the way we elect State Supreme Court justices. But it doesn’t have to be like this ever again.

The Wisconsin Legislature has adjoured for the year but the Special Session of the Legislature on Campaign Finance Reform called by Governor Jim Doyle last November 30th at the behest of Common Cause in Wisconsin — is still very much alive. That legislation contains the so-called “Impartial Justice” measure that would dramatically change the way in which we elect State Supreme Court justices so that Wisconsin would not have to endure any more special interest spending-frenzied blood lettings like the one we are being forced to endure now, and last year and which erode citizen confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

If you hate this current Supreme Court election than you must contact both your State Senator and State Representative and demand that they reform these and all elections (including those for Governor, Attorney General, all other statewide constitutional offices and for the Legislature).

It is critically important that you contact your State Senator and your State Representative and demand that they support and bring to a vote in the very near future: SENATE BILL 1, December 2007 Special Session , a comprehensive reform plan that includes the “Ellis-Erpenbach bill” SENATE BILL 12, that provides sweeping reform of campaign finance laws dealing with legislative campaigns as well as statewide races. It was first devised by Senator Mike Ellis with CC/WI back in 1999. Senate Bill 12 is now in its fifth reincarnation. It also includes SENATE BILL 171, the “Impartial Justice bill” that reforms state Supreme Court elections.

You can call and leave a message to that effect on the legislative “hotline” (Monday-Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM) at 1-800-362-WISC (9472). You can e-mail your State Senator: Sen.LastName@legis.Wisconsin.gov and State Representative: Rep.LastName@legis.Wisconsin.gov (and obviously fill in the last name of your State Senator and State Representative). If you are not sure who your State Senator and/or State Representative is, go here: Find Your Legislator

Do not allow the Wisconsin Legislature to do nothing. Force them to take action by contacting them today!