Tag Archives: Wisconsin Realtors Association

State Supreme Court must adopt recusal rules for conflicts of interest

On behalf of the State Governing Board and the more than 12,000 members and activists of Common Cause in Wisconsin, we respectfully request that the Wisconsin Supreme Court consider and adopt Rule Petition 17-01 on recusal, submitted to you in January by 54 retired jurists, including two former members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.


Rule Petition 17-01 requests that the Court amend the Code of Judicial Conduct to establish an objective standard for requiring recusal or disqualification of a municipal court judge, circuit court judge, state court of appeals judge, or a Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice who has received campaign contributions from a party or lawyer. It further supports amending the Wisconsin Constitution so that the Supreme Court can maintain a quorum in the event of such a recusal, as lower courts routinely do now.

We believe that a failure to adopt sensible, reasonable recusal rules, such as those laid out in Rule Petition 17-01, put the integrity and reputation of all Wisconsin Courts at greater risk than they suffer currently, resulting in the further erosion of public confidence in the impartiality and fairness of judges at all levels and, in particular in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
As the retired jurists noted in their statement of purpose, “As money becomes more predominant, citizens rightfully ask whether justice is for sale. The appearance of partiality that large donations cause strikes at the heart of the judicial function, which depends on the public’s respect for its judgments.”

Public opinion polling in Wisconsin over the last half decade suggests that the public’s respect for the judiciary has never been lower.

The problem stems, in part, to the failure in 2009 of a majority of this Court to adopt a proposal, put forth by Justice N. Patrick Crooks, to require recusal if a justice had received substantial election support from one of the parties in the case. This error was compounded in 2010 by the adoption by a majority of the Court of essentially, a non-recusal rule written and accepted, apparently verbatim, from two of the state’s largest business organizations, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association.

As a result of these two actions and because of the failure of the Wisconsin Supreme Court to adopt a strong recusal rule at the explicit invitation of the Supreme Court of the United States in the wake of its landmark 2009 Caperton v.  A.T. Massey Coal Company decision, our state currently ranks 47th of the 50 states in terms of the strength of its recusal rules according to a survey cited by the retired Wisconsin jurists in Rule Petition 17-01. That is simply shocking and unacceptable.

Further, strong recusal rules are even more necessary in the aftermath of the Court’s 2015 decision to strike down Wisconsin law that had prohibited campaign coordination between candidate campaigns with outside special interest groups who spend vast sums of money engaging in non-express advocacy or phony issue advocacy, with a clear intent to influence the outcome of elections.

This controversial decision exceeded even the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United  v.  F.E.C.decision in allowing coordination between so-called issue ad groups and candidates. Citizens United prohibited this type of coordination. The fact that the four Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices who voted in 2015 to decriminalize this kind of coordination, had themselves been supported by one or more of the organizations engaging in that coordination during the 2011-2011 recall elections, further underscores the urgent need for strong recusal standards and rules.

The most recent contested Wisconsin Supreme Court election in 2016 further illustrates the growing need for recusal rules. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “issue ad” groups spent more than $2.25 million attempting to influence the outcome of the election while the two candidates themselves spent a combined total of $777,440 – about one third as much as the outside spending. And yet one of those outside groups could conceivably appear as a party to a case that came before the Court and the justice who benefited by the election spending of that group would not be required to recuse herself under current law.

That is simply a standard that invites even deeper cynicism and distrust on the part of citizens of all political and philosophical persuasions in the ability of this state’s highest court to be able to render justice fairly and impartially.

You, and the other six justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court have it within your power to restore a modicum of citizen confidence and trust in not only the state’s highest court, but in state courts of all levels by adopting the thresholds recommended by the distinguished group of 54 retired jurists in Rule Petition 17-01.

We respectfully urge that you seize this opportunity to do so.

Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause

[The letter above was addressed to Justice Patience D. Roggensack]



Scott Walker tries again to cut tax breaks for historic preservation

Advocates for historic preservation say they’ll fight Gov. Scott Walker over his proposed capping of a popular tax credit program used to restore and maintain historic properties.

Walker proposed in his state budget released this week to limit the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program to no more than $10 million a year. He called for the same limit two years ago, but was brushed back by the Legislature after a forceful lobbying effort by a coalition of development, municipal and historic preservation groups.

The same coalition is regrouping for another fight this year. Wisconsin Realtors Association lobbyist Tom Larson said he was surprised Walker was trying again given the broad support shown for the tax breaks.

“We demonstrated our case very well last session and showed this program is an important economic development program throughout the state, especially in more urban areas,” Larson said.

Larson and other advocates of the program say it’s vital to maintaining the integrity of historic neighborhoods and buildings by providing needed capital to undertake often expensive projects. The coalition two years ago commissioned a study to show that the tax credits helped increase revenue to the state and spur other economic development.

In just the first three months of the current fiscal year, $11.6 million has been promised to 12 projects in the program, based on data on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. website. Last year, $51.6 million was awarded to 34 projects. And in 2015, 48 projects were granted $80.4 million in credits.

Just because a project has been awarded a certain amount in credits doesn’t mean that’s how much will ultimately be claimed once the work is completed.

The awards have been spread throughout the state. This year alone projects in Appleton, Watertown, Kenosha, La Crosse, Stevens Point, Racine and Milwaukee have been awarded money. Similarly, last year projects were located in Madison, Oshkosh, Sheboygan, Janesville, Green Bay and Milwaukee.

“Capping this program will hurt local communities and prevent companies from hiring and retaining skilled Wisconsin workers,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. And Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca called the tax credit program “an excellent investment in local communities.”

The Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee rejected Walker’s call for a cap on credits in 2015. Bob Delaporte, spokesman for committee co-chair Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, had no comment on the proposal. “We’re still digging into the budget,” he said.

Rep. John Nygren, the other co-chair, said the tax credit had successfully revitalized local businesses, but that the program “has potential to become costly.” He didn’t say whether he would support the governor’s proposal.

Only property built before 1936 that is on the state or national register of historic places or identified by the Wisconsin Historical Society is eligible. Other property that is in a historic district that is on the state or national registers and determined by the state to be historically significant or connected to a building can also qualify.

Walker’s budget proposal would require the money to be competitively awarded on the basis of job creation potential, benefit to the state, projected impact on the local economy, likelihood the project would happen without the credits and number of credits given out in the area in prior years. If the promised jobs aren’t created, the tax credit awarded could be retrieved by the state.

The change is projected to save the state $3 million in the first year of the budget and $14 million in the second.

Ironically, it was Walker who in 2013 increased the tax credits from 10 percent to 20 percent of a project’s cost. That is on top of a 20 percent federal credit. There is no limit on how much can be awarded.