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Growing Calls to Reign in Campaign Spending in Supreme Court Race

February 4, 2008

Madison, WI – As the campaign heats up for a State Supreme Court seat, some observers are worried about a rerun of last year's court race, with record campaign spending of almost $6 million.

Jay Heck, with Common Cause of Wisconsin, says special interest groups helped turn that election into a "negative race," centered on issues that had little relevance to what the Supreme Court actually does. He believes voters would be better served by a publicly-financed campaign, which he says would lower the influence of special interests.

"Justices would not be raising campaign funds, and not have outside groups trying to influence the outcome of the election. Really, it would be the public, the people who finance their campaigns, to render impartial justice. You want to make sure that the Justice, and the decisions made by the Supreme Court, are free from the taint of special interests."

Christine Bremer Muggli with the Wisconsin Association for Justice also believes Wisconsinites need to know that the court system will treat cases fairly and impartially. She agrees it's hard to be confident of that, when special interests pump so much money into elections.

"If a decision is made then to put in to someone who's sympathetic to one side's interests, rather than really neutral and impartial, then those interests will affect partiality, which is 'supremely' important in a Supreme Court race."

Wisconsin lawmakers are considering a bill (SB 171) that would create a system of public financing especially for State Supreme Court elections. This year, those elections will be held on April 1.

Rob Ferrett/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - WI