Wisconsin Club for Growth 

February 20, 2008
Volume 2, Number 8

 

Wednesday Update
 Special Edition  

In This Issue

1. Secret Deliberations 
    Exposed

2. Basting's Battle with
    the Truth

3. WJCIC's Bill Kraus

    Advising Butler

4. Fox Guarding the
    Henhouse

5. Meaning of Diversity


 

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This special edition of our Wednesday update is dedicated to exposing a growing scandal surrounding the Wisconsin Bar and their newly created Wisconsin Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee (WJCIC).

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Star Chamber's Secret Deliberations Exposed


The Wisconsin Judicial Integrity Campaign Committee (WJCIC), a "nonpartisan" panel designed to judge the ethical conduct of candidates and organizations for Wisconsin's upcoming Supreme Court race has made false and misleading statements to the media, coordinated partisan attacks to silence critics, and even recommended strategies for Louis Butler's campaign. 

E-mails obtained through an open records request by Wisconsin Club for Growth demonstrate that the clandestine attempt to railroad the campaign of Judge Mike Gableman does not match the "nonpartisan" rhetoric espoused by the committee's chair, Tom Basting, President of the State Bar of Wisconsin. (Copies of the emails referred to in this special edition can be viewed on the Club's website here)

In January, the Club for Growth exposed the overwhelmingly partisan nature of the WJCIC with a thorough review of members' campaign contributions and other political affiliations. 

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Basting's Battle with the Truth

Following the dust-up over the committee's Democratic bias, the WJCIC added two new members, both with Republican ties.  In a January 30th interview with WisPolitics.com, Basting was asked if the addition of these members was an attempt to quell criticism by providing more balance to the committee.  Basting said the addition of DeEtte Beilfuss Eager and John Torinus:

    "had nothing to do with that criticism and instead was about
     increasing the committee's size to be more in line with similar
     bodies in other states." 

Source: Basting WisPolitics Interview 1/30/08

Basting went on to say that Republican donor history played no role whatsoever in the selection of new members.  Both statements are flat out lies.

    Ross: "The first thing we want to talk about is this week the
     committee announced a couple of additions to the board. Can you
     tell me how that came about and why those people were added?"

    Basting: "The committee decided that after attending a workshop
    in Dallas, Texas that was for the Judicial Campaign Integrity
    Committees from a number of states, that most states with these
    committees had a larger committee than Wisconsin did, so we decided
    we would look to expand the number of members on the Wisconsin
    committee from 7 on up.  We're not sure where we may stop at this point.
    But that was the principle reason for adding two more people recently."

    Ross: "Obviously, the committee has received some criticism lately
    in the last few weeks raising concerns about the make-up, you know,
    there are too many ties to Governor Doyle, you know Tony Earl
    donated to Butler's campaign eight years ago, I think. You know,
    things like that. Did any of that criticism play a role in the additions
    of this committee?"

    Basting: "No."

    Ross: "But I also noticed they have some Republican ties, I mean at
    least they donated to Republicans. Was that a consideration at all?"

    Basting: "Uh, you're talking about John Torinus and DeEtte Beilfuss
    Eager."

    Ross: "Yes."

    Basting: "Um, well, we're trying to keep a balance on the committee.
    Uh, of people who may be, or may not be identified with either the
    moderate or conservative versus liberals. So, we do have a mix in
    that regard. But, we didn't look at the political donations - to us it's
    not relevant."

    Ross: "Do you feel like the committee right now is balanced, or was it
    balanced before the additions of, of... these two people?"

    Basting: "My opinion is that it was balanced before the addition of
    uh, the last two, and continues to be balanced."

Source: Basting WisPolitics Inteview 1/30/08

In fact, an email to WJCIC members from State Bar lobbyist Adam Korbitz on January 24th shows that partisan ties and political donations were clearly a consideration, and that Basting did not believe the committee was balanced. 

    "We have been advised by observers from other states to consider
     expanding the ideological, geographic and gender diversity of our
     committee.  We are hopeful that the addition of a few members with
     more Republican bona fides will encourage them to change their
     mind."

    "Tom Basting has approved inviting John Torinus and former state
     senator Joanne Huelsman to join the committee.  Their addition
     would bring more geographic and ideological diversity to the
     committee.  Ms. Huelsman is an attorney, Mr. Torinus is not, but
     both are reasonable and sensible individuals with extensive
     Republican donor records."

Source: Korbitz Email to WJCIC Members 1/24/08

Emails that follow discuss the partisan Republican histories of Huelsman, Torinus and Beilfuss Eager.  It is noted that Huelsman was a Republican State Senator, and that Eager served as an appointee in the administrations of Republican Governors Lee Dreyfus and Tommy Thompson. 

Former State Representative and Appeals Court Judge David Deininger cautions that Huelsman is likely to be labeled a "RINO," (Republican in name only) by conservative critics of the WJCIC because of her stances on abortion, gun control and "similar social issues."  Ultimately Huelsman was not added to the committee. 

In announcing the formation of his committee, Basting proclaimed that he would be a "non-voting" member.  Presumably, this was an attempt to downplay the role of the State Bar in the committee's operations, but a review of the committee's e-mail correspondences demonstrate that Basting is involved in every aspect of the committee's operations, including suggesting courses of action, crafting committee strategy, appointing new members, and talking to the press.

In December the WJCIC received a complaint from One Wisconsin Now (OWN) a group supporting Louis Butler.  The complaint alleged that a letter from the Gableman campaign was "unfair" since it discussed Butler's propensity to rule in favor of criminal defendants during his tenure as a judge.

During their secret deliberations on the OWN complaint, Basting urged members to send a "shot across the bow" of the Gableman campaign, suggesting it was unfair to say that Butler was in the majority on several 4-3 decisions, since "all four justices in the majority were" the swing vote, yet Gableman's letter and accompanying document said nothing of swing votes.

    "Although as Chair of the Committee, I have no vote, I thought I
     would weigh in with some thoughts....We want to teach the public
     that it is important to respect and honor the judicial office as a public
     trust and that judges and candidates for judicial office should strive
     to instill confidence in our legal system.  Candidates need to bear in
     mind the need for scrupulous adherence to the rules of fair play
     while engaged in a campaign for judicial office. (words from the
     code of conduct).  In his ad Judge Gableman is critical of Justice
     Butler for being on the majority side of 4-3 decisions.  So who was
     the swing vote?  All four members of the majority were."

Source: Bastings Email to WJCIC Members on 12/13/07 

The committee decided that no "formal" action would be taken, rather the WJCIC issued a statement including a lecture by Basting to the campaigns to "elevate the tenor" of their rhetoric.

Following the opinion, separate press releases issued by both OWN and the Gableman campaign claimed vindication in the WJCIC ruling.  Basting was the first to complain that the Gableman campaign's press release mischaracterized their opinion. 

On December 19th, Basting writes, "I would ask the committee to issue a strong rebuke to this kind of frankly 'crap' (sic)."  Basting said he thought OWN's response was appropriate. 

The emails that follow show the committee circulating a statement rebuking Gableman.  This statement was sent on December 20th, 2007 and Basting led the charge to take action in every step of the process.  Hardly the "passive" observer he portrayed himself to be.

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Sour Kraus: Advising the Butler Campaign 

Time and again the WJCIC demonstrated blatant partisanship when they thought nobody was looking, despite Basting's claims to the contrary. More from the WisPolitics interview:



    Ross: "Now obviously, all of you on the committee have an intense
    interest in the race for various reasons. I mean, you guys are all in
    law, so I assume there will be some personal feelings or political
    allegiances one way or another. How do you put those aside when
    you're judging these ads going from here through until April 1."

    Basting: "Well, uh, first of all, when you say we're all involved in law
    that's not correct, because there are more laypeople on this
    committee than there are lawyers. And, if you take a look at the
    make-up of the committee it is not dominated by lawyers at all, and I
    specifically wanted it that way. I think it would be unwise to have
    lawyers only on this committee, or to have a majority of lawyers on
    this committee. Uh, we have asked all the members of the committee
    to put aside their personal feelings about either candidate, it's none
    of our business who our committee members will ultimately vote for,
    that's why we have a secret ballot. Uh, and um, I don't think personal
    likes, dislikes, or anything else are going to play any role in the
    judgment of the committee members if and when we look at, or are
    asked to look at, political ads."

Source: WisPolitics Interview 1/30/08

Apparently "Republican" WJCIC member Bill Kraus didn't get the memo. 

Not only did Kraus openly express his personal disdain for individuals and organizations, but he took it upon himself to offer campaign advice to Butler and to try to coerce the Gableman campaign to comply with the committee's demands.

In a December 19th email regarding the Gableman campaign response to the WJCIC ruling Kraus takes a personal shot at Gableman consultant Darrin Schmitz and Wisconsin Club for Growth advisor, R.J. Johnson. 

    "Darrin is the legitimate child of the demon RJ Johnson an advocate
     of wedge politics from whence all the trouble arises.  A sharp poke
     in the slats is my recommendation."

Source: Kraus email to WJCIC Members 12/19/07

On January 6th, Kraus advocates threatening the Gableman campaign with a public shaming if they don't return the signed pledge.

    "We can, and should, make some noise if, as, and when the
     promised pledge from Butler arrives and ask where his opponent's
     is."

Source: Kraus email to WJCIC Members 1/6/08

In a separate email, Kraus reiterates his desire to go after Gableman:

    "If anyone in the press is attentive enough to ask the right question, it
     will give us the opportunity to let them know where Gableman is
     getting his bad advice."

Source: Kraus Email to WJCIC Members 1/8/08 



On January 12, 2008, after learning the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) had released a video featuring Marquette Law Professor Rick Esenberg, Kraus offers advice to the Butler campaign, referring to the state chamber of commerce as the enemy:

    "This seems to me to be a Butler campaign problem/opportunity.
     Surely they are familiar with the enemies' strategy.  If not, someone
     can refer them to something that happened in 1978 when a
     candidate was attacked by outsiders and used that to question the
     motives and even the fact of their participation.

    Butler can talk about the professor's oversimplifications and about
    the megaphone supplied by WMC and take the boost that gives him
    without mentioning his opponent.  And, of course, he can also use
    the platform this attack provides to talk about what the campaign is
     really about and his own virtues.

    Just a suggestion."

Kraus Email to WJCIC Members 1/12/08

Later Kraus reveals his mole:

    "Bob Williams reports that he got a call from Gableman which gave
     him the impression that he won't sign.  Williams told him that he's
     handing his opponent an issue that he shouldn't.  Butler doesn't
     have to attack or even criticize him; all he has to do is ask the
     unanswerable question:  Why isn't he signing?"

    "Paranoia induces stupidity."

Kraus Email to WJCIC Members 1/21/08

Of course no repudiation of conservative principles would be complete without a thorough condemnation of talk radio, and this partisanship wasn't limited solely to Kraus. 

When the Committee found out radio talk show host Charlie Sykes had been discussing the Club for Growth report on the committee's bias, Basting said

    "I figure that if Sykes is criticizing us, we MUST be doing a good
     thing."

Source: Bastings Email to WJCIC Members 1/4/08

Kraus followed up with;

    "Replying to Charlie is the equivalent of getting into a pissing contest
     with a skunk.  I concede he has more power than he deserves,
     particularly among Republicans.  But obviously he doesn't get it that
     we are trying to de-partisanize these elections."

Source: Kraus Email to WJCIC Members 1/4/08

A January 24th e-mail from Adam Korbitz spun Sykes' attacks as a positive:

    "Also, for what it is worth, we were encouraged by other attendees
     who stated that the withering attacks from bloggers and talk show
     hosts are a good and positive sign that we are being taken seriously,
     and we should feel good about that.  That, and the fact that the
     attacks have gained no traction in the legitimate press."

Source: Korbitz Email to WJCIC Members 1/24/08

But Kraus was not content to simply live and let live. 

    "A larger problem than Charlie is that the rest of the press seems to
     be ignoring us."

    "Someone - maybe me - should also question the advice he is
     getting and even the mercenaries he's getting it from if he doesn't
     take the pledge.  Or something."

    "What we have to become is a beat for the political reporters."

Source: Kraus Email to WJCIC Members 1/6/08


Still Kraus saved his best gem for last when discussing the problems associated with labels like moderate or RINO:

    "Until and unless the true believers stop letting Charlie Sykes be the
     GOP's gatekeeper we're just going to have to live with this.  My only
     suggestion is that we drop the 'moderate' label and adopt the
     "libertarian" one to let Charlie and his followers know that we
     regard their faith and sex lives as private matters and expect them to
     reciprocate."

Source: Kraus Email to WJCIC Members 1/25/08



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The Fox Guarding the Henhouse

The Wisconsin State Bar is a registered lobbying organization that seeks to influence legislation beneficial to its members.  These new laws often come before the Supreme Court when challenged.  Additionally the court decides on rules governing lawyer conduct in Wisconsin.

The State Bar employs five full-time lobbyists, and has advocated for the passage or defeat of over 74 bills this legislative session alone.  Thus, the so-called "neutral" arbiters of judicial campaigns are really the Supreme Court's ultimate special interest, and its members make up the single largest contributor block to Louis Butler's campaign.

In his interview with WisPolitics, Basting notes that special interests are using campaign donations in hopes of tilting the court in their favor and he believes this can "impugn the neutrality of our courts and erode public confidence in them."

In 2005, the Wisconsin Supreme Court revisited the issue of medical malpractice caps on non-economic damages.  In Ferdon v. Wisconsin Patient's Compensation Fund , the Court found that the state's statutory limit on "pain and suffering" damages violated the equal protection provision of the Wisconsin Constitution.  Justice Louis Butler, having recently joined the Court, joined with the majority in the Court's 4-3 opinion.

Later in 2005, the Legislature sought to remedy this decision by enacting new caps it believed the Court would find constitutional.  2005 Assembly Bill 766 set non-economic damage caps of $450,000 for persons age 18 and older, and $550,000 for persons under 18.

The State Bar of Wisconsin lobbied against this bill.  In a lobbying activity filing with the ethics board, they said, "Caps on non-economic damages run counter to the right of obtaining justice 'completely and without denial.' In addition, caps on non-economic damages place an unnecessary hardship on the most seriously injured."

Given the State Bar's lobbying effort against caps on non-economic damages and Justice Butler's vote to eliminate those caps, does anyone actually believe that Louis Butler isn't the preferred choice of the Wisconsin State Bar?

Tom Basting is fond of saying "judges have no constituents." Yet the State Bar does.  Ones with a great deal of money.



 

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 Depends on What the Meaning of the Word of Diversity Is

Five of the nine WJCIC members are from Madison and four of them are in the same zip code, in the heart of Madison's liberal Isthmus.  In fact, Basting and Carol Toussaint actually live in the same building.  All of the committee's members are Caucasian, 7 are men, 6 are former Democratic political leaders or appointees and/or donors of Governor Jim Doyle, and the average committee member is 72 years old.
 

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