Tag Archives: John Doe

Your Right to Know: Release John Doe II case records now

One of the most important court decisions in Wisconsin political history was argued largely in secret. The arguments were made in briefs that were heavily redacted or entirely shielded from public view. The evidence was hidden. Most of the litigants were anonymous.

The level of secrecy “is something I haven’t ever heard of happening in Wisconsin,” says David Schultz, a retired University of Wisconsin law professor who has watched the state Supreme Court for 40 years.

Unless the high court decides to unseal its files, the public will remain ignorant of the full facts and arguments it considered when it shut down the John Doe II investigation centered on Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign — known in court documents as “Unnamed Movant No. 1.”

Leaked and inadvertently unsealed records revealed that Walker raised large, undisclosed donations for ostensibly independent political groups, which in turn ran “issue ads” prior to the 2011 and 2012 Senate recall elections and the 2012 gubernatorial recall. These are unregulated, thinly veiled communications often intended to influence elections without expressly advocating for or against any candidate.

When two lawsuits aimed at killing the probe and a third filed by prosecutor Francis Schmitz attempting to save it made their way to the Supreme Court, the majority of justices agreed that most of the issues should be argued in secret to prevent “testimony which may be mistaken or untrue from becoming public.”

In July 2015, by a 4-2 vote, the court ended the probe, declaring that the conduct under investigation was not illegal and ordering that the evidence be returned to the subjects or destroyed. The court later amended its order to direct that the remaining evidence be turned over to the court. No one was ever charged.

But questions remain: What exactly did Walker do behind the scenes to fight the recalls? What evidence did prosecutors offer that two of the justices had conflicts of interest? Did prosecutors abuse their discretion in investigating activity that the subjects argued was protected political speech under the First Amendment?

And, importantly, did the court follow the law and precedent when it decided to shut down the investigation? Or did it, as Justice Shirley Abrahamson charged in her dissent, engage in a “blatant attempt to reach its desired result by whatever means necessary”?

In October, two nonprofit and nonpartisan groups — the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism — filed a public records request with Diane Fremgen, the clerk of the Supreme Court, asking that the case file be opened.

Fremgen denied the request, saying the court had directed her to maintain “certain filings” in the case under seal — even essential records such as motions and briefs filed with the court.

There are, we understand, concerns about releasing some exhibits attached to the court filings, on grounds that this evidence was illegally seized by prosecutors and should remain sealed. But Fremgen decided not to split those hairs, denying the entire request.

Abrahamson, for her part, has argued the case should be open, writing, “The public has a constitutional, statutory and common law right of access to judicial proceedings and judicial records.”

We agree.

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (www.wisfoic.org), a group dedicated to open government. Dee J. Hall is the group’s secretary and managing editor of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

 

Supreme Court declines to reopen Walker campaign case

The U.S. Supreme Court will not take up an appeal on the John Doe 2 case, permanently ending a probe into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign against a recall.

The high court declined to reopen the John Doe 2 investigation, leaving in place the state supreme court’s decision that halted the John Doe probe into whether the Republican governor illegally coordinated with outside interest groups, specifically the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth. The state court’s decision was considered highly partisan.

In the probe, prosecutors were looking into whether Walker’s campaign coordinated with conservative groups on campaign ads in 2012. The governor was fighting off a recall effort after he signed his bill stripping public unions of collective bargaining rights.

The Wisconsin Justice Initiative on Oct. 3 said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision highlights a need to reform state judicial campaign laws.

“This unfortunate decision doesn’t erase the perception that money corrupted the deliberative process of the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” WJI executive director Gretchen Schuldt said. “That court’s majority took too much in campaign funds from too many players with interests in the case. The money raises suspicions that will never go away.”

The state should bar judges from participating in cases that include or might affect campaign donors, according to WJI. Also, judges should be blocked from participating in cases involving groups or individuals who have provided endorsements in the judges’ races.

“The integrity of the state supreme court has rightly been called into question,” Schuldt said. “The court itself does not want to restore it and the U.S. Supreme Court does not want to restore it. It is up to Wisconsin voters to insist that their legislators enact laws that will ensure the state supreme court is the pride of Wisconsin, not the huge embarrassment it is now.”

Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm issue a joint statement after learning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision: “We are disappointed by today’s Supreme Court order denying our Petition for Certiorari. The state supreme court decision, left intact by today’s order, prohibits Wisconsin citizens from enacting laws requiring the full disclosure of disguised contributions to a candidate, i.e., monies expended by third parties at the direction of a candidate for the benefit of that candidate’s election. We are proud to have taken this fight as far as the law would allow and we look forward to the day when Wisconsin adopts a more enlightened view of the need for transparency in campaign finance.”

Wisconsin Club for Growth president Eric O’Keefe, according to Wisconsin Public Radio, said, “From its inception, this proceeding was a politically motivated attack and a criminal investigation in search of a theory.”

The high court announced the decision without explanation on Oct. 3, the court’s first day of the fall term. The order said, “The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

 

Transgender man sues Gov. Mike Pence over Indiana’s prohibition on name change

A transgender man prohibited from changing his legal name because of his immigration classification is suing Indiana state officials, including Gov. Mike Pence.

Pence is Donald Trump’s running mate.

The lawsuit, filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Transgender Law Center on behalf of a 31-year-old Indiana resident, alleges that a 2010 state law requiring proof of citizenship to obtain a change of legal name is unconstitutional.

“I want to use a name that is in line with my true identity,” said the plaintiff, who was granted asylum in the U.S. last year. “Without a legal name change, I am forced to use an I.D. that is inconsistent with who I am and puts me in danger of harassment, violence, and being outed as transgender whenever I present it. I am simply asking for equal treatment under the law.”

The plaintiff, listed as “John Doe” in the complaint, was born in Mexico and raised in Indiana, where he moved with his family when he was six years old. He has lived his adult life as a man and is recognized as a male on all official U.S. documents and his Indiana state ID.

However, he remains unable to change his legal name in Indiana because of the 2010 state law that precludes non-citizens, including legal residents, from petitioning the state for a change.

“There is no legitimate reason for Indiana to prevent non-citizens from living consistently with their gender identity,” said Matthew Barragan, a staff attorney with MALDEF. “Each of us should have the right to be known by the name of our choice.”

The suit alleges the citizenship provision of the Indiana law is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause that guarantees individuals will not be discriminated against based on their alienage. Additionally, it violates the First Amendment right to freedom of speech by compelling speech from the plaintiff that betrays and falsely communicates the core of who he is, according to the complaint.

“Everyone should be able to live as their authentic selves no matter their gender identity or immigration status,” said Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center. “Transgender immigrants already experience disproportionate violence without the government further jeopardizing their safety and privacy with this unnecessary and discriminatory rule.”

“This law is a Catch-22 for the plaintiff and other transgender individuals in Indiana who are not yet able to become citizens. Their immigration status should not prevent them from obtaining a change of legal name so that they can safely navigate their daily lives with identity documents that are consistent with their gender,” said local counsel Barbara J. Baird.

Walker insists secret donations from companies he rewarded were legal

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker insists there was nothing illegal about corporate leaders’ donating to a conservative dark money group that helped him and Republican legislators fend off efforts to recall them from office.

Walker responded to questions about a Guardian report on the donations during a news conference in an Edgerton parking lot to highlight his transportation budget. The newspaper obtained more than 1,000 pages of leaked documents from a secret investigation into whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with Wisconsin Club for Growth and other outside groups as he was fighting a bid to oust him from office over his signature law stripping most public employee unions of nearly all of their bargaining rights.

The state Supreme Court halted the investigation in 2015, ruling the coordination was legal since it didn’t lead to express advocacy, a political buzzword for ads that specifically call for a candidate’s defeat or election. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider whether to review that ruling later this month and the Guardian report has thrust the matter back into the headlines. The documents detail Walker and his fundraisers’ efforts to persuade business executives around the country to give to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a Koch-backed group that ran the ads.

Sounding irritated at times, Walker said no one has faced more scrutiny than he has during his six years as governor. Walker said that the courts have repeatedly found the investigation was baseless.

“This is old news,” the governor said. “You want to argue about something that’s already been discussed in the courts? Because people didn’t win in the courts under the law, they want to have a discussion where they’re giving out bits and pieces of information, trying to change the court of public opinion.”

Walker didn’t acknowledge working with the Club for Growth or even mention its name. Asked why he wouldn’t acknowledge having worked closely with it, he said only that he and his supporters were “under attack” in early 2011 after the union restrictions had passed and they thought it was important to get the message out about how the restrictions would help the state.

“We thought it was appropriate to get the message out about the facts, not talking about advocating for or against, expressly advocating for or against candidates, but getting the message out that the reforms would work and indeed they have and that’s what we focused in on,” Walker said.

The Guardian’s documents show that Harold Simmons was among the corporate executives who donated to the Club for Growth. Simmons was the owner of NL Industries, which was a major producer of lead that was used in paint before the practice was banned due to health risks. The documents show Simmons gave the club a total of $750,000 in 2011 and 2012 at the height of the recalls.

Walker and the Republican-led Legislature passed a law in 2013 retroactively shielding lead paint makers from liability and raising the amount of lead allowed in paint. That raised questions of whether the measure, which jeopardized the health of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites, was payback for the donations.

Walker said during the news conference that “nobody should be shocked. … I did what I said I was going to do.” He suggested that the timing was coincidental.

Lead paint is toxic. It can cause a range of health problems, especially in young children, when it’s inhaled or absorbed into the body. It can damage the brain, kidneys, nerves and blood. Lead can also cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures and even death.

Walker said that whoever leaked the documents to the Guardian, a British newspaper, committed a crime. John Doe investigations are akin to grand jury investigations that require documents to be kept secret. Walker told Milwaukee radio station WTMJ-AM earlier that he would support an investigation into who leaked the documents.

“I think those involved in law enforcement in this state, if they want people to take seriously the orders of the court, should certain do that no matter what the issue is. Otherwise what kind of a system do we live in?”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Rochester Republican, and two other GOP state representatives sent a letter to Attorney General Brad Schimel asking for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the leak. Schimel, a Republican, tweeted he was considering his options. His spokesman, Johnny Koremenos, declined to comment, saying Schimel wouldn’t discuss details that could jeopardize a potential or ongoing investigation.

Louis Weisberg contributed to this story.

 

Koch brothers investing in state-level Wisconsin lawmakers

After apparently shrugging off the 2016 presidential election, Charles and David Koch are focusing their campaign dollars further down the ballot to maintain control over state governments, according to the Center for Media and Democracy;

CMD intern David Armiak reported that the billionaire brothers, who are the bedrock of the modern Republican Party, have already spent $400 million this year on influencing campaigns around the nation. Some of that money is believed to have gone to Verona Swanigan’s failed campaign to oust Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm.

Chisholm and other district attorneys conducted a “John Doe” probe of Koch-backed groups they suspected of illegally coordinating their campaign activities with those of Gov. Scott Walker during his recall race. Justices who’ve received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from those same Koch-backed groups ruled unconstitutional the law under which the probe was conducted. They ordered the case closed and, in what many called an unprecedented move, they ordered the files destroyed.

The DAs appealed the case the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to hear it.

As this election year heats up, Wisconsin is once again in the Koch brothers’ sites.

Below are candidates for state office — all Republicans —  in whom the industrialist titans have already invested this year, Amiak’s research revealed.

  • Joel Kitchens (WI-01) is receiving campaign help from Americans for Prosperity’s door-to-door operation. Kitchens also received $500 from KochPAC to Joel Kitchens for Assembly.
  • André Jacque (WI-02) received $500 from KochPAC to his Jacque for Assembly.
  • Majority Leader Rep. Jim Steineke (WI-05) received $500 from KochPAC to his Steineke for Assembly.
  • Gary Tauchen (WI-06) received $500 from KochPAC to Tauchen for Assembly.
  • Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Daniel Knodl (WI-24) received $500 from KochPAC to Knodl Assembly 24.
  • Mark Born (WI-39) received $500 from KochPAC to Born For Assembly
  • Michael Schraa (WI-53) received $500 from KochPAC to Michael Schraa for Assembly.
  • Mike Rohrkaste (WI-55) received $500 from KochPAC to Rohrkaste for Assembly.
  • Speaker of the House Rep. Robin Vos (WI-63) received $500 from KochPAC to his Friends & Neighbors of Robin Vos.
  • John Spiros (WI-86) received $500 from KochPAC to Spiros for Assembly.
  • John Macco (WI-88) received $500 from KochPAC to Friends of John Macco.
  • John Nygren (WI-89) received $500 from KochPAC to Taxpayers for Nygren.

Prosecutors ask US Supreme Court to reinstate Walker probe

Prosecutors looking to revive an investigation into Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to vacate a state decision halting the probe.

A group of prosecutors led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm opened an investigation in 2012 into whether Walker’s campaign coordinated with Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups on advertising during the recall without reporting the groups’ contributions. They ran the probe as a John Doe investigation, a procedure similar to a grand jury where information can be kept secret.

The groups filed a lawsuit challenging the probe. Conservative-leaning justices who control the Wisconsin Supreme Court halted it last summer. They ruled that the groups and the campaign coordinated on issue advocacy, a political term for ads that don’t expressly call for a candidate’s election or defeat. Such coordination amounts to free speech and isn’t subject to disclosure requirements, the court ruled, shredding the prosecutors’ basis for the investigation.

Chisholm, Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne — all Democrats — filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in late April asking it to take the case and nullify the state court’s ruling.

“The decision permits unlimited candidate-controlled expenditures by … organizations funded with anonymous dollars; it is the very undoing of campaign disclosure requirements.”

They argued that the case offers the court an unprecedented opportunity to decide how broadly free speech rights protect campaign coordination with outside groups. They also maintained they never received a fair hearing before the state Supreme Court, insisting that Justices David Prosser and Michael Gableman should have recused themselves because some of the groups under investigation aided their campaigns.

Prosser wrote days after the ruling that some targets of the investigation “engaged in expenditures that … were very valuable to my campaign.” But he said he didn’t need to step out of the case, noting the spending took place four years previous. Gableman has never explained why he remained on the case.

The prosecutors also asserted that some of the groups launched a media campaign to discredit the investigation as a political witch hunt, which improperly influenced the conservative justices. The prosecutors noted in the filing that Chisholm tried to hand the investigation off to then-Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, but Van Hollen refused to take it.

Attorneys for two of the groups who brought the original lawsuit challenging the probe didn’t immediately respond to messages.

The U.S. Supreme Court is under no obligation to take the case.

The court takes up only about 1 percent of the petitions for review it receives each year.

 

 

Scott Walker backers set on ousting DA John Chisholm

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm may soon appeal the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that ended the five-county “John Doe” criminal investigation into whether Gov, Scott Walker illegally coordinated with supposedly “independent” dark money groups during the 2011–2012 recall elections to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As prosecutors ready their case, the secret money advocates at the heart of the investigation are planning their next move.

Dark money maestro Eric O’Keefe, who sits on the board of Wisconsin Club for Growth, has declared that Chisholm “is not fit for public office” and “should not be allowed to serve out his term.” He has threatened to get him disbarred, and he has tried to get Walker to fire him.

O’Keefe’s high-powered, D.C. lawyers are suing Chisholm in federal court on behalf of Cindy Archer. She claims to be a victim of a renegade prosecutor. But she was a top Walker aide caught up in Chisolm’s investigation of a sordid bid-rigging scheme detailed by the Center for Media and Democracy.

Now O’Keefe and his associates appear to be prepping to go after Chisholm in a low-turnout primary, using the new, relaxed electoral laws they worked so hard to pass in Wisconsin. They’re also expected to unleash a flood of coordinated secret money and phony “issue” ads.

Scott Walker John Doe headed to divided SCOTUS

In July 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court not only shut down the investigation of potentially illegal coordination between Walker and dark money groups, they took the extraordinary measures of firing the Republican special prosecutor, who was hired to coordinate efforts at the behest of a bipartisan group of five District Attorneys. They threw up roadblocks to any appeal by, for instance, telling prosecutors they could not use expert, outside counsel to help with the filing.

Those actions were unprecedented and reminded many of the Saturday Night Massacre, when Richard Nixon fired U.S. Attorney General Archibald Cox and his successors during the Watergate investigations.

“My career in the military and as a federal prosecutor fighting violent criminals and terrorists did not fully prepare me for the tactics employed by these special interest groups,” said special prosecutor Francis Schmitz.

“To somehow remove the lawyer representing one of the parties after the opinion (has been issued) is extraordinary,” said former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske.

The GOP-controlled legislature took action in 2015 to retroactively decriminalize the activities at the heart of the investigation. They made significant changes to Wisconsin’s campaign finance law, exempting political corruption from the John Doe statute and dismantling the nonpartisan Wisconsin elections board.

Now the three Democratic prosecutors are slated to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state Supreme Court ruling. At issue is the $10 million spent to elect the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court by the very same groups — Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce — that were under investigation in the John Doe probe.

According to the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Caperton v. Massey, outsized spending in a judicial election could be significant enough to demand that judges recuse themselves. Schmitz asked both Justice David Prosser and Justice Michael Gableman to recuse themselves from the John Doe, but they refused. Furthermore, they offered no explanation for their refusal.

It’s unknown whether prosecutors will also appeal on the merits of the case. It is notable that coordination between independent groups and candidates is prohibited in most states and at the federal level. In 2016, a state legislator in Montana was convicted of breaking state law after engaging in similar coordination and, in 2015, a political operative working on a federal campaign was sentenced to 24 months in prison after being prosecuted under federal law.

Common Cause’s Jay Heck tells CMD that it makes sense that O’Keefe would go after Chisholm this election cycle. “The dark money groups want to protect the gains they have made in Wisconsin, changing the law to allow coordination between candidates and issue-ad groups. They want to stop an appeal before it goes any further.”

The prosecutors’ appeal is sure to have Wisconsin’s far-right yelling “partisan witch hunt” again. Yet, the reality is that Milwaukee DA John Chisholm has a long record of prosecuting Democrats for political corruption.

In 2010, Chisholm used the John Doe process to prosecute Democratic Milwaukee County Supervisor Toni Clark on felony charges related to the use of just $6,300 in campaign funds. Scott Walker didn’t call that a witch hunt; instead he said the case was “a reminder to all others in office that we must maintain the highest ethical standards.”

Dark money advocates take aim at John Chisholm in re-election race

Chisholm announced on April 18 that he would run for re-election. The primary is Aug. 9.

John Chisholm’s Democratic primary challenger is Verona Swanigan, an attorney and Milwaukee native who is new to electoral politics. Swanigan holds a law degree from Northern Illinois University (2005), and has practiced law independently with her own firm, Swanigan Legal Services, for about a decade. She registered her campaign in August 2015, and released a video announcing her candidacy in November that focused on reducing crime and addressing domestic violence.

Swanigan is an African American who has participated in community rallies calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate police brutality. She calls herself a “conservative Democrat,” but her campaign is backed by the well-known GOP political operative Craig Peterson, who has worked closely with Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Eric O’Keefe on efforts to reshape Milwaukee politics in recent years.

According to news reports, Peterson has long been associated with Zigman Joseph Stephenson, a public relations firm, but has had financial troubles in recent years. Peterson has ties to former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was caught up in the “caucus scandal,” an earlier John Doe prosecution of campaign finance abuses, and who now works for big money groups trying to privatize public schools.

Peterson had reported $250 in monetary contributions and $1,681 worth of in-kind contributions to Swanigan’s campaign as of Dec. 31, 2015, a substantial part of the campaign’s $5,476 total take for the year. (Reports covering the first part of 2016 are not yet available.)

Earlier this spring, Peterson spearheaded an effort to reshape Milwaukee’s city government through a secretive group called “Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance,” which spent at least $200,000 on radio ads to influence mayoral and aldermanic races. The group, whose name strongly echoes that of the O’Keefe group “Citizens for Self-Governance,” has not been formally registered, and its funders have not been disclosed, but their impact is being felt.

“It really feels like we’re running against him, and not his so-called candidates,” Ald. Bob Bauman, a veteran Common Council member told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bauman’s opponent, who lost her race, was Peterson associate Monique Kelly, formerly known as Monique Taylor.

Using racial justice issues to advance a tea party candidate

In the 2014 Milwaukee County Sheriff’s race, a liberal dark money group spent big trying to unseat incumbent Sheriff David Clarke Jr. Clarke is a right-winger, a darling of Fox News and a Democrat in name only. The National Rifle Association rushed to his aid, and influential right-wing radio hosts urged Republicans in the county to turn out in the open Democratic primary.

Another unregistered Peterson group calling itself “Citizens for Urban Justice” also came to his aid, running radio ads attacking his opponent. In the ads, Monique Taylor presented herself as a community activist and listed the names of African-American men killed by Milwaukee police. “Now a lieutenant in that same police department wants to be our sheriff,” she said.

The ads had a big impact in the city’s predominantly African-American wards.

But Clarke, who is African-American, is famous for attacking the Black Lives Matter movement, which he has called “black slime.” He has never addressed police violence.

While he has been vague about the funding behind Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance and the city council takeover, Peterson has previously credited O’Keefe with arranging the funds to support Clarke. “Eric raised money for that campaign,” Peterson told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “And I spent the money. That’s another benefit to our relationship: He’s good at raising it. I’m good at spending it.”

Peterson also worked with the Wisconsin chapter of David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity and Citizens for Responsible Government in an attempt to rally support against a modern streetcar project under development in Milwaukee. Instead of telling folks the truth — that the Kochs object to any type of clean energy transportation, including trolleys and electric cars — the Peterson crew slammed the trolleys for furthering segregation. Peterson paid for radio ads featuring the brother of police shooting victim Dontre Hamilton urging listeners to send Mayor Barrett and John Chisholm a message by writing letters opposing the streetcar.

While the ads stated they were “Paid for the Black Lives Matter Coalition,” Peterson paid for them himself, according to Urban Milwaukee.

With big money friends like O’Keefe and the Kochs, who are trying to turn secret election spending by wealthy special-interest groups into a principled fight for “constitutionally protected free speech,” Peterson is well positioned to unleash a tidal wave of phony “issue ads” at the last minute to sway a low-turnout election. In the August 2014 Milwaukee Democratic primary, less than 114,000 people voted. That compares with the 332,000 who voted in the November general election.

Stay tuned.

Jessica Mason contributed to this report. Learn more about Eric O’Keefe in the Progressive “Dark Money’s Front Man” and in Sourcewatch.

Merit selection: The best way to end judicial corruption

In the almost 4,000 years since Hammurabi codified Babylonian law, Western cultures have held judicial fairness and impartiality as an ideal. To be sure, it’s an ideal sometimes honored more in the breach than in the keeping, but it’s an unchanging ideal nonetheless.

Today, in Wisconsin, that ideal is under attack, from enemies both old and new.

Wisconsin elects its judges and elections mean donations and donations mean influence. The more money that flows into a judge’s coffers, the greater the chances that fairness and impartiality are at risk.

It’s critical for Wisconsin to reconsider the way judges are selected. The American Bar Association has advocated for merit selection since 1937. Merit selection, which is used in two-thirds of the states, relies on neutral experts and nonpartisan boards to select a qualified pool of candidates from which the governor can choose. In some states, approval of the senate also is required.

Under the system, judges must stand for retention after a determined number of years. The public is asked to vote only on whether to keep them. There are no competitive elections.

Alternately, the Wisconsin Bar Association has proposed a constitutional amendment that would limit justices to a single, 16-year term. According to WAB, the term limits would “engender greater public confidence in the court’s ability to pursue justice independently of political influence.”

We don’t think term limits are strong enough to solve the problem. Only merit selection upholds the ideal of blind justice.

Wisconsin’s already corrupt system has been further damaged by two high court rulings, one from Washington and the other from Madison.

In its Citizens United ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ratcheted up brazen judicial bribery by removing limits on how much donors can contribute secretly to PACs to influence elections.

In Wisconsin, the problem is compounded by a state Supreme Court decision that campaigns can coordinate election strategies directly with dark money groups. The story of how such coordination became legal demonstrates how this kind of corruption works.

Several dark money groups were charged in a state “John Doe” case with illegal coordination during Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign. The same groups had given $8 million to four of the conservative justices on the bench.

So, when the case arrived at the high court, its outcome was a foregone conclusion. But the paid-for justices went further than anyone imagined they would. They not only dismissed the case against their donor, but ignored all legal precedent and tossed out the law banning such coordination. Then they ordered the evidence to be destroyed.

Why weren’t those justices recused from a case in which there was such a blatant conflict of interest? Just because, they said.

On April 5, with nearly four times the anonymous cash spent for her as for her opponent, Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley won a 10-year term on the high court. Now the dark money groups have five-two control over justice in the state.

Money over merit: A majority of area lawyers said Bradley was unqualified. She’d never served on a judicial bench until 2012, when Scott Walker appointed her to a Milwaukee Circuit Court position. Last fall, following the death of Justice Patrick Crooks, Walker elevated her to the high court to finish out Crooks’ term, making her the incumbent in the election.

WiG is not alone in calling for reform. On April 5, 11 diverse towns in Wisconsin held referenda asking whether to amend the Constitution to undo Citizens United by declaring that money is not speech. Between 74 and 88 percent of voters said yes. That brought the total number of Wisconsin communities who’ve voted to nix Citizens United to 72. Forty-four percent of the state’s citizens live in those jurisdictions.

We need Citizens United to be thrown on the trash heap of history, and we must stop electing justices and appoint them on merit. Fair and impartial justice must not be negotiable.

Scalia’s death increases odds for John Doe appeal

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia increases the chances the decision in John Doe 2 may reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin high court’s decision halted the investigation into allegations that Scott Walker illegally coordinated with outside groups during the recall elections of 2011 and 2012. The court held that the First Amendment forbids the state from banning coordination between candidates and issue advocacy groups, even though the U.S. Supreme Court never has reach any such ruling.

There are legal limits on donations to candidates, but contributions to groups that indirectly support specific candidates without naming them can raise unlimited sums of money from anonymous donors. That means in Wisconsin candidates have limitless dollars at their personal disposal — dollars that cannot be traced.

Campaign limits to candidates are intended to rein in the corrupting effect of money in politics. Allowing coordination between outside groups, more commonly known as “dark money” groups, and candidates defeats the purpose of limits on campaigns.

If the district attorneys fighting back against this John Doe decision were concerned that appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court might backfire, because a majority might uphold the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, they can put that fear to rest.

Scalia represented a problem for the district attorneys and for the liberal justices on the Court. The court now has a 4–4 split between conservative and liberal justices. The four liberal justices have consistently voted in favor of campaign finance regulations and they now essentially hold veto power.

In his concurring opinion in the Citizens United case of 2010, Scalia made a First Amendment argument that echoes that of the John Doe opponents. He wrote: “The individual person’s right to speak includes the right to speak in association with other individual persons. …The Amendment is written in terms of ‘speech,’ not speakers. Its text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals.”

But Scalia’s argument here is only about corporations and associations having free speech rights. It’s not about candidates being allowed to coordinate with issue advocacy groups.

Indeed, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in Citizens United, which Scalia signed on to, made this distinction: “By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.”

It is precisely that definition the Wisconsin Supreme Court erased in its John Doe decision.

Matt Rothschild is the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.