How to pay for state Supreme Court races? Prospects are good for passage of the Impartial Justice bill, creating a system of full public financing for state Supreme Court elections. Less clear is how to pay for it.
State Representative Jeff Smith chairs the Assembly Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform. “That’s going to be he concern – is it going to be a tax? I understand that, and I know we have to address it just right, to make sure we’re not forcing people to pay for something they don’t believe in,” Smith, an Eau Claire Democrat, told the Governing Board of Common Cause in Wisconsin at the Capitol on Thursday.
One of several financing methods being discussed is a taxpayer “opt out:” those who don’t wish to contribute to a public campaign financing fund would not have to. State Representative Mark Pocan admits that’s imprecise. “There’s really no formal science to that,” said Pocan. “But, we know that even with a substantial opt out, you would bring in a substantial amount of dollars to pay for the bill.”
Smith’s Assembly committee continues work on funding proposals for the bill, something Pocan says is important. “We know some of the concerns that are out there,” the Madison Democrat said. “Right to Life doesn’t want their money going to me, all right? I don’t blame them, if I was them I wouldn’t want that either. But . . . if we can figure out a way to address that concern . . . doing this kind of process I think is a really smart way to go about it.”
Asked by Common Cause members whether passing the bill without stipulating a funding source, both lawmakers said that’s not their preferred option. “My personal view is, it’s a victory to pass Impartial Justice,” said Smith. “But, it’s a hollow victory if we don’t fund it. And I don’t want a hollow victory.” Pocan wants to make sure funding is in place for the bill, which is similar to a law already in place in North Carolina. Pocan says the tax form checkoff employed there may not be the best way to pay for the bill. “It’s not been very successful, given the current modern way people do taxes,” explained Pocan. “That’s why I think, on campaign finance reform in general, it’s time to start from scratch and think outside the box,” when it comes to funding.
There are versions of Impartial Justice in both the state Senate and Assembly, and action in one or both chambers looks likely this fall.