Filed under: Courts — Christian Schneider @ 10:37 am
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is disgusted with how political the institution has become. In fact, they are so repulsed by the political tone the Court has taken, they are trying to fix it by using the most powerful tool they have:
Generally, we think of “politics” as the act of trying to get someone elected. But three liberals on the Wisconsin Supreme Court are doing the opposite – essentially trying to get one of their colleagues un-elected. Their shady effort to force Justice Mike Gableman to recuse himself from criminal cases is merely a veiled attempt by his ideological opponents on the Court to nullify the election in which the conservative Gableman beat liberal Justice Louis Butler in 2008.
It’s not as if liberals exactly take any hints from the voters, anyway. In 2000, Butler lost to conservative Diane Sykes in a race for the Supreme Court. Shortly thereafter, when a seat opened up, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle appointed Butler to the Court, ignoring the previous popular vote. When the voters threw Butler off the Court in 2008 in favor of Gableman, the Obama administration appointed Butler to a federal judgeship. (Maybe if Butler loses one more time, he’ll be ready for a U.S. Supreme Court nomination.)
Clearly, elections are of minimal importance to liberal jurists. And we’re seeing that phenomenon in action with the Court’s actions to essentially overturn Gableman’s victory over Butler.
During the Butler/Gableman campaign, Gableman ran an ill-advised ad that accused Butler of being soft on crime. The ad dealt with Butler’s time as child molester Reuben Lee Mitchell’s defense attorney, accusing Butler of freeing his client so he could then go on to molest another child. In fact, Mitchell served out his entire term and only molested another child after his initial term was over.
The discretion in airing the ad was questionable – especially since the candidate himself ran it. (We normally associate those types of ads with third parties, which will be discussed shortly.) But Gableman didn’t show any bias against criminal defendants, and he didn’t break the cardinal rule of judicial elections by commenting on any future issues that may come before the Court. He was merely doing what Supreme Court candidates do these days, by painting himself as a jurist who upholds the criminal laws as written. (It should also be noted that Butler himself ran ads bragging that he’s “protected the public from criminals” and saying “if you rob someone, you should be punished.”* Chances of recusal motions being filed from criminal defendants if Butler had won: zero point zero.)
In fact, just a year later, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson ran her own campaign, having clearly learned the lessons of modern judicial campaigns. Abrahamson’s television ads featured Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney driving around in his squad car, informing the viewer of Abrahamson’s work “protecting Wisconsin families.” While much more vague than Gableman’s appeal, it was clearly meant to send a similar message: Shirley’s on the side of law enforcement. (See the ad here.)
However, nobody seems to care what legally intemperate statements Abrahamson made during her campaign – including her claim that she’s “helping homeowners work out solutions to home foreclosure” and “protecting consumers from abuse.” One would imagine any bank or business interest appearing before the Court might object to Abrahamson’s depiction of their industry as predatory. (Furthermore, even ex-gubernatorial candidate Barb Lawton – BARB LAWTON! – has pointed out that a quarter of Abrahamson’s donors will come before the court in some fashion. If you’re a lefty and Barb Lawton calls you out, you have done something historically objectionable.**)
Yet it’s the Gableman campaign’s TV ads that are now keeping defense attorneys up late at night, filing motions for him to recuse himself in criminal cases. Such was the case last week when Assistant State Public Defender Ellen Henak filed a motion attempting to force Gableman from participating in a case dealing with how sentencing credits are counted in Wisconsin versus other states. While standing in front of the Court, Henak nailed herself to a cross of fabrication, arguing that the Court was “forcing” her to move ahead with oral arguments against her will.
While the substance of the case is fairly run-of-the-mill procedural stuff, the Court’s public reaction to it has been unprecedented. The tumult began the week prior to oral arguments, when three of the Court’s liberal justices issued a public statement urging postponement of the case until Gableman’s situation was rectified. This is the first time many long-time Court observers can remember justices serving as their own press secretaries and discussing a case openly before it even hits their chamber. Three conservative justices then responded via the media themselves, saying Gableman’s case before a three-member panel has been taking too long.
Of course, Gableman took part in the oral arguments for the case last week. He simply has no choice – if he recuses himself from a criminal case just once, then defense attorneys across the state will smell blood in the water and grab hold of that loophole as long as he’s on the court. The legal toothpaste will then be out of the tube. In fact, it is rumored that some notable defense attorneys are already urging criminals to automatically file recusal requests as soon as their case gets to the Supreme Court, simply to tighten Gableman’s briefs (so to speak).
In the mean time, all the usual suspects arguing for public funding of Court elections have been coming out of the woodwork, saying that all this unrest is somehow the result of too much money in Supreme Court elections. In fact, this argument has exactly nothing to do with the Court’s current conundrum. Gableman’s ad was run by the candidate himself, not the “shady” third parties that taxpayer financed elections are supposed to thwart. If Gableman had been handed a $200,000 check by the taxpayers of Wisconsin, he likely would have run the same ad. Abrahamson would probably have used the money to continue to paint herself as tough on crime. Using the Gableman brouhaha to argue for public financing is like a doctor removing your pancreas if you’re complaining of an ear ache.
So it is clear that politics has taken hold of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. But it has nothing to do with elections. Instead, it has to do with the desire of three of the Court’s justices to nullify the results of a popular election when it comes to criminal matters before the court. And there’s no amount of campaign finance reform that can undo the desire of individual justices to politicize the institution by trumping up phony ethics charges.
*-Butler’s harsh “anti-robbing people” stance clearly lost him the much-sought-after “Flamboyant French Safe Cracker” demographic.
**-Lawton also claims that special interests spent less on the Abrahamson/Koschnick race than the Butler/Gableman race because of the “diminishing of the stature of the court.” This is Olympic-level goofballery. Special interests spent less because Abrahamson has been on the Court for 30 years, and her race with Koschnick was never close.
In other news, WPRI has obtained a behind-the-scenes video of the justices settling their battle behind closed doors:
Filed under: Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 11:48 am
I like charity. You like charity. Liberals like charity because it helps assuage their heavy consciences. Conservatives like charity because it shows people will contribute to the betterment of society without being forced to do so by government.
It makes sense, then, that the tax code reflects this inter-political-species hand holding. Many non-profit organizations are tax-exempt, in an effort to provide incentive for people to donate. (In fact, I can think of one such tax-exempt nonprofit… ahem… that provides, a safe, cozy, and warm home for your hard earned dollar.)
In the Wisconsin State Legislature, the powers that be go all out in getting people to donate to a select few of these nonprofits. Each year, they conduct the “Partners in Giving” campaign, with each employee receiving a book containing a list of charities seeking donations. According to the guide book, the Secretary of the Department of Administration (a.k.a., the governor’s right hand man) “gives final authorization to all participating umbrellas and charities.”
When looking through the eligible charities, one cannot help but notice that the book contains a laundry list of liberal causes – many of which who turn right around and lobby the State Legislature to pass their pet bills, and some of which actually spend money during campaigns to support and oppose candidates. For instance, state employees can give to:
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin
1000 Friends of Wisconsin
ACLU of Wisconsin
Citizen Action of Wisconsin
Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups
League of Women Voters
The Progressive Magazine
Sierra Club, John Muir Chapter
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
NARAL Pro-Choice America
All of these groups are liberal, most of them advocate for specific legislation, and many of them try to alter the outcomes of elections. (Many of them, such as the Wisconsin Democracy campaign, have both 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 status – if you’re a (c)3, you are not permitted to advocate for candidates or elections. If you’re a (c)4, you are permitted to speak out on legislation, but contributions to you are not tax deductible. If you’re BOTH, then it muddies the picture quite a bit.)
(See the complete list of charities here – the only one I saw that could reasonably be considered “conservative” would be Right to Life.)
Of course, the fact that these organizations are seeking donors isn’t at all controversial. People can give as much money as they want to whatever ideological group they want. But consider the fact that each of these groups goes out of their way to advocate for higher taxes on the Wisconsin public, yet they each seem more than happy to benefit from the tax breaks they get by having nonprofit status. They think high taxes are a wonderful thing – until it’s time to bankroll their own organizations.
Take, for example, the buffoonery that occurs at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a lefty front group that criticizes 3rd party organizations that advocate for legislation, while their Executive Director, Mike McCabe, travels the state advocating for a $15.2 billion tax increase to fund a single payer health plan. McCabe is more than willing to deprive the government funds in order to bait people into giving him money, but thinks we should all pay MORE in taxes to fund his prized legislative agenda.
In fact, the best thing these liberal groups can do to help their own cause is to forgo their own tax exemptions. Take, for, example, the League of Women Voters, who are spending all their time advocating for an expensive “public option” for health care on the federal level. Here’s a portion of their official position on “tax structure:”
The League: supports income as the major tax base for federal revenues; believes that the federal income tax should be broad-based with minimal tax preferences and a progressive rate structure;
See there? They’re against tax preferences… unless those preferences benefit their ability to lobby for a deficit-busting health care bill.
For the record (in case you’re at home scribbling all of this into a note pad), my position isn’t that these groups shouldn’t be given tax exempt status. (Although the interplay between (c)3 and (c)4 status should be examined more closely, as it’s clear some groups take advantage of this distinction.) Taxes should be lower for everyone, nonprofits included.
However, it says a lot about these groups that they essentially admit the benefit to their organizations by making money tax free; then they turn around and advocate higher taxes for other businesses seeking the same relief.
Finally, it should be noted that 95% of the charities on the state’s list seem to be worthwhile – so feel free to make a contribution here.
1. Minimum Wage If you charge more for something, you sell less of it. Labor is no different than any other commodity for sale. As economist Walter Williams says, “If higher minimum wages could cure poverty, we could easily end worldwide poverty simply by telling poor nations to legislate higher minimum wages.” A higher minimum wage means fewer jobs and makes it more difficult for people to start a small business. If you tell me you’ll pay me X dollars an hour to do a job, and I say, “That’s fine,” why shouldn’t I be allowed to do so? Why not just declare that everyone has to earn at least $100,000 a year? The answer is no different at $100,000 than it is at $15,000. It is just a matter of scale.
2. Taxes Business taxes are built into a product at a number of levels along the production and distribution chain, and then sales tax is added at the end. An ever-increasing government can appear to fund its growth by “taxing the rich” and to make business “pay their fair share,” but low income consumers pay a higher percentage of their total income in taxes. All products and services include taxes even when it is not obvious. For instance, rent contains property tax. Gasoline is highly taxed, but the actual tax rate is not listed at the pump.
Filed under: Reports — Christian Schneider @ 12:13 pm
Last week, my report recommending term limits for Wisconsin legislators was released. Reaction both for and against term limits has been rolling in, and it cuts across ideological lines. Conservative blogger Owen Robinson opposes them. Conservative radio talk show host Charlie Sykes supports them.
Liberal Ed Garvey’s position is, as usual, incomprehensible. He claims I have a “hidden agenda” to have “well financed opponents” take over the Legislature. But when he ran a failed campaign for governor against Tommy Thompson in 1998, Garvey said:
Thompson has amassed so much influence during his record span in the governor’s post that it’s time to enact term limits, Garvey said.
”He’s been in there so long that every agency of government has been dominated by his intellectual playmates,” Garvey said. ”And not only that, he’s built up the kind of campaign war chest that makes it impossible for him to be challenged.”
This is pretty much par for the course with Garvey. The next time he orders a pizza and it doesn’t have enough pepperoni on it, he’ll probably angrily blog about how it’s WPRI’s fault.
Perhaps the most interesting voice in opposition is that of the Capital Times’ John Nichols, who surprisingly gives me credit for “diagnosing” the Legislature’s problems correctly, but labels term limits a “lame” remedy. His editorial is even-handed (which is nice, since I have occasionally – and for good reason – been harshly critical of him), but still contains some questionable assertions.
For instance, Nichols says my “proposal would mirror the failed schemes enacted in other states, such as California, where legislatures have been rendered almost dysfunctional.” This is one of the reasons the effects of term limits are so difficult to measure – because states’ laws and situations are so disparate – and why I specifically cite California in my report.
First of all California is a Banana Republic not because of term limits – its main problem is the statewide referendum process, in which citizens directly enact laws, many of which directly contradict one another. No such process exists in Wisconsin. Furthermore, in order to pass a budget in California, the Legislature needs a 2/3rds vote – which leads to some disastrous remedies for their fiscal problems. Most notably, their state debt is off the charts, as Democrats try to buy Republican votes. None of these, of course, have to do with term limits.
Nichols goes on:
Wisconsinites have historically said “no thanks” to term limits because we are too smart to be suckered by political gimmicks – and because we have a taste for democracy.
Not exactly. “Wisconsinites” haven’t said “no thanks” to term limits – Wisconsin legislators have shunned them, for obvious reasons – they like the job security. Polls consistently show public support for term limits – two years ago, 72% of Wisconsin residents said they support them. In fact, in 20 of the 21 states that have enacted term limits, they have been imposed via citizen initiative – not by the Legislature. So “Wisconsinites” support them – it’s only the legislators who do not.
Nichols makes a pitch for public funding of campaigns, commonly referred to as campaign finance “reform.” He adds that “(t)hese changes would also reduce the ability of special-interest groups to influence the process in a manner that is far more destructive than aging and unproductive legislators.”
Actually, term limits could drastically reduce the influence of special interests over legislators. When elected officials sit in office for decades, they have plenty of time to cozy up to special interests, becoming inextricably linked to their agendas. Term limits breaks that never-ending link. And while it doesn’t guarantee any elected official won’t be corrupt (no law ever will), it means special interests will have to work a lot harder to maintain their foothold within the Wisconsin Legislature.
Finally, Nichols makes a point good enough to reproduce in its entirety here:
And here’s one more reform proposal: If you want legislators to write more bills, clean up the budget process. In recent years, the budget has become a catch-all that is jammed with policy initiatives. When the budget drafting process is the be-all and end-all of the legislative session, a handful of lawmakers on the Joint Finance Committee become the definitional players, while everyone else sits on the sidelines. And debates are scrapped in favor of back-room bargaining.
There is one final criticism of the report that I have been hearing primarily from conservatives. In the report, I point out that the typical legislator is getting older, staying in office longer, and working less. As evidence of their lack of work, I point out that legislators are introducing fewer bills than ever. To which many conservatives say, “GOOD!”
While I am sympathetic with the idea that fewer bills means fewer bad laws, there are couple points to make here. First of all, there are a lot of bad laws on the books that should be repealed. And it takes a bill to repeal a bad law.
For instance, a couple of years ago, lawmakers realized that church potlucks might be illegal under state law. It took a bill to allow granny to bring her peach cobbler to help raise money for the church. More seriously, we recently found out via a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigative report that up to 12,000 DNA samples may never have been collected from felons, thereby posing a significant safety risk. Now legislators are proposing a more rigid DNA collection process. It takes a bill to do that. Not all bills are bad.
Furthermore, there are at least a dozen ways listed in the report that show how the Legislature has changed – the lack of bills introduced is merely one. When put together, all the evidence paints a picture of a typical legislator as being older, less active, and much less likely to lose. The issue of bills introduced is but one aspect of a broad report.
As a young man in the early part of the 1900s, future Hall of Fame baseball manager Casey Stengel played for a barnstorming team, traveling to rural towns to play for big crowds. Oftentimes, their team would pull a fast one on the fans in attendance. Stengel would dress up as a farmer and sit in the stands, pretending to be one of the locals there to see a ballgame. During the game, he would dart out of the stands, yelling that he could do better than the professional players on the field. A phony argument would ensue, and the players would relent, allowing this “farmer” one at-bat. The pitcher would groove an easy fastball down the middle of the plate, and Stengel would knock the cover off of it, pleasing all the fans in the crowd who had dreams of playing baseball for a living.
One hundred years later, Wisconsin state government has become a similar charade, only in reverse. The people in the stands can do better than the professionals.
Read the full report here, as well as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel write up here and the Wisconsin State Journal story here.
And if you’re short on time, just watch the video:
Filed under: Budget,Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 7:22 am
Yesterday, Governor Doyle’s administration gleefully reported that 8,284 jobs had been “created” or “retained” due to the federal stimulus money received in the most recent state budget. The key word here is “retained” – because much of the funds the state spent merely displaced state general funds, which had been used to pay for state government prior to the economic downturn.
For instance, the final budget increased state funding for public schools by nearly $250 million in federal stimulus aid, then reduced the state share by the same amount. So it’s basically business as usual, just with a different funding source.
In effect, the state took out a one-time loan in order to keep government workers in their jobs. It would be like using a credit card to make your car payment, then patting yourself on the back for your achievement in “auto retention.” (Ironically, the Legislature is making a big push to shut down so-called “payday lenders,” who they believe prey on the desperate. No word on how this differs at all from the state running to the federal government for quick cash to keep buying their groceries.)
So congratulations to Governor Doyle and all the legislators who had the courage to go to Washington on their hands and knees and beg for an infusion of one-time stimulus money. We’ll see how many self-congratulatory press releases they’re sending out during the next budget while they’re raising taxes to “retain” these jobs when there’s no more stimulus cash.
With the Legislature currently considering an increase in the tax on hard liquor, State Representative Terese Berceau seems to think this would be a good time to resume her crusade to increase the tax on beer:
Proponents of this bill seem to want to have it both ways – one the one hand, they say the tax is “only” 2.5 cents per bottle of beer. But on the other hand, they believe that tax is enough to keep people from drinking and driving.
I wrote about the whole idea of using taxes to coerce people’s behavior (and increasing the beer tax) in one of my first ever WPRI columns.
Filed under: Health Care — Christian Schneider @ 2:38 pm
Last week, I wrote a commentary detailing how, rather than keeping health care costs down, government programs usually grow much more rapidly than expected. As an example, I used the BadgerCare program, which, after implementation in 1997, grew much faster than anyone anticipated. Within several years, the Legislature had to start scaling back benefits in order to keep the program going after membership in the program doubled in the span of 6 years.
Today, we get news that Governor Doyle’s new “BadgerCare Plus” program is suddenly short on cash. As a result, new registrants to the program will be suspended, leading to waiting lists of up to 20,000 people, by Doyle’s own estimate.
Ironically, this rationing of government health care leads Doyle to the head-scratching conclusion that somehow what we need is MORE government health care:
The heavy demand for the program over the last 3½ months highlights the need for national health care reform, Doyle said.
“I believe we must make sure that people have health insurance,” Doyle said. “We have done everything we can in Wisconsin. We have stretched all boundaries and still there are people falling through the cracks.”
So on the SAME DAY he announces his own health care rationing, Doyle calls for even more of the same, only at the federal level. As if this new federal program would contradict the evidence that his own state program has provided us – that such a program would do nothing to keep costs down, and only serve to drain citizens of their tax dollars. This is like arguing that the problem with the corrupt Wisconsin Shares program is that it isn’t adequately funded.
Filed under: Polling — Christian Schneider @ 9:26 am
Over the weekend, WPRI and the UW-Madison released the results of a joint poll they conducted to gauge Wisconsin residents’ interest over a variety of topics. Sunday’s release of results targeted citizens’ opinions regarding the state economy, the 2010 elections, and the state’s general direction. Monday’s results described the public’s feeling regarding health care and education.
Professor Ken Goldstein of the UW-Madison appeared on the ”Up Front With Mike Gousha” television program on Sunday to discuss the results.
A master document prepared by Goldstein summarizing the poll results with charts and graphs can be found here.