Special Interests Conned Public In High Court Races

Report finds attack groups’ interest in crime and safety doesn’t match negative ads

August 20, 2008

Madison - Special interest groups that spent an estimated $7.7 million on "issue advocacy" in the last two Supreme Court elections focused their advocacy on an issue - crime and public safety - that not only has little to do with the work of the Supreme Court but next to nothing to do with the groups’ own policy agendas, a new Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

The report, “Justice For Just Us,” compared the outside electioneering groups’ lobbying reports, legislative agendas and other public statements and activities on issues to 77 legislative proposals that enhanced or created new criminal penalties, policies or programs to directly aid law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges. The proposals were chosen from the lobbying reports of eight groups that represent police, sheriffs, state troopers and prosecutors.

WDC found two of the outside electioneering groups - the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and the Wisconsin Education Association Council - took positions on only three crime and safety related proposals out of the more than 240 business, union, tax and education measures and other proposed legislation listed in their 2007-08 lobbying disclosure reports with the Government Accountability Board.

The other three groups - the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee and the conservative Club for Growth Wisconsin and Coalition for America’s Families - did not publicly support or oppose any crime-related proposals during the two-year legislative session. They were not registered lobbying groups which would allow them to actively work to shape and advocate on behalf of crime and safety proposals. The Club for Growth and the coalition also did not use their web sites or any other public means to identify or take credit for work on any specific proposals they believed would reduce crime or make communities safer. Greater Wisconsin does not even have a web site to determine what - if any - issues it is interested in other than electing Democratic candidates.

The groups’ efforts to reduce crime and improve public safety did not match the concern they expressed in the pricey smear campaigns they ran against Linda Clifford and Annette Ziegler in 2007 and Michael Gableman and Louis Butler in the 2008 race. Rather, the timing of the groups’ messages - beginning and ending with each high court race - shows they were publicity stunts aimed at deceiving voters.

"The problem with what the special interests call ‘issue advocacy’ is that their advocacy has nothing to do with the issues they really care about," Democracy Campaign director Mike McCabe said. “They hijack campaigns with advertising that conceals their true motives.”

Report: Justice For Just Us