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Freedom is on the Ballot

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 10 February 2023
in Wisconsin

scowis-race-2023MADISON - On Tuesday, there was a press conference in the Senate Parlor in the State Capitol on the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, and I made a few brief comments. Here’s basically what I said, though I’m an inveterate ad libber:

Freedom Is on the Ballot for Wisconsin Supreme Court

That evening, President Biden gave his State of the Union address, which I admired for its defense of democracy, voting rights, and equal protection. Here’s what I wrote about it:

Biden Stands Up for Democracy in State of the Union

The staff’s been busy this week chronicling all the money from last November’s election.

To see who the biggest corporate donors were to the political parties, check out this post:

State Parties, Legislative Campaign Committees Accepted Record Corporate Contributions in 2022

spending2-wdc-2023And we also tracked all the money in the legislative races, with 12 of them topping the $1 million mark, as you’ll see here:

Candidates, Groups Spent $41.1M in 2022 Legislative Elections

scowis-event-2023If you’re free on Saturday afternoon in Milwaukee, by the way, I’ll be on the Vel Phillips Forum panel at Turner Hall: "Wisconsin Supreme Court Election 2023: What’s at stake for Wisconsin Voters? If you’re there, please say hi.




Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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Breaking Down Barriers and Celebrating Black Resistance

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 08 February 2023
in Wisconsin

juneteenth-flag-buffalo-soldiersThe theme for Black History Month 2023 is Black Resistance. This month serves as a reminder that the fight for racial and social equity is nowhere near finished, and none of us should be on the sidelines.

MADISON - When the state of Wisconsin first tried for statehood in the 1840s, Wisconsin’s constitution allowed for referenda to expand suffrage to new groups. Activists wasted no time in getting Black suffrage on the ballot. Wisconsin’s first referendum for Black suffrage failed in 1847, but two years later in 1849 Black suffrage was approved by voters.

In reality, however, African-Americans would wait twenty years to exercise their franchise. In 1866, Ezekiel Gillespie, a prominent member of Milwaukee’s Black community, sued for the right to vote. The case went all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which affirmed that Black men had the right to vote since the 1849 referendum.

This illustrates one of the most enduring lessons Americans have learned from struggles for equality. Just as Black men in Wisconsin had to wait to exercise their franchise, equality under the law has not always translated to equality in practice. Commitment and courageous action of individuals defied the odds against an entire system of injustice.

From the early years of the Republic through the Civil Rights movement into the present, many courageous Black Americans have made their voices heard while facing physical violence or even death. Too often, narratives – written by white authors – focus on Black victimhood. That is not the story we need to tell.

The theme for Black History Month this year is Black Resistance. This is meant to reframe the conversation about Black history around a theme of empowerment. By celebrating Black Resistance, we honor Black people throughout Wisconsin’s history and rightly center their experiences and their accomplishments. While there are many important Black leaders that we celebrate by name, there are even more heroes whose names we’ve never heard. It takes the efforts of many to accomplish sweeping change.

jacob-blake-shooting-protestA quick glance at the news will show you many Americans who have a difficult time believing that racism still exists in our country. Since before America’s founding, both American leaders and the American populace have ignored so many brutal injustices, both individual and systemic. For decades, politicians have been aware of racial disparities in America. Yet it seems our country’s leaders either deny the disparities completely or only give lip service to how terrible they are, taking no meaningful action.

Meanwhile, the legacy of racism continues to impact Black communities and individuals, from income disparities impacting communities of color, to horrific acts of violence fueled by hatred, to stereotypes broadcast in the media. Any effort to eradicate racial injustice requires a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach. This injustice has impacted every aspect of our society, and there are no simple answers when it comes to untangling hundreds of years of bias and oppression.

Racial injustice cannot be fully addressed on an individual level. It is not enough to simply educate individuals; we must change the institutions that treat some citizens differently from others. Atoning for centuries of racism and discrimination is an effort that requires systemic and transformative social change.

jeff-smith-2022As I’ve discussed in previous columns, it is the job of legislators to evaluate state laws and change them when they are out-of-date. As state legislators and leaders, it’s our job to prioritize racial equality in our legislative work. We do this by introducing new legislation to tackle problems, but also by removing barriers to inequality that are currently ingrained in our laws.

As an ally and a public servant, I remain committed to working toward a more just and equitable future for all Wisconsinites. I am here to listen and learn. The fight for racial and social equity is nowhere near finished, and none of us should be on the sidelines.

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Local Government is Democracy in Action

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 01 February 2023
in Wisconsin

gb-city-hallSenator Smith writes about the different levels of local government and the importance of ensuring that the legislature funds them adequately.

MADISON - “Where do you live?”

There are a lot of ways to answer that question. I live in the United States, in the state of Wisconsin, in Eau Claire County, and in the town of Brunswick. Each of these jurisdictions is a “unit of government” and each has its own powers and responsibilities.

The term “local units of government” can mean cities, villages, towns or counties. Each of these local subdivisions has its own role and its own kind of authority. Each has limits to its powers, as determined by statute, and there are differences in the way each is governed and operated.

Seventy percent of Wisconsin’s population live in a city or village. Cities and villages are both created by the state, which delegates authority to local units of government. Our constitution describes these units of government as “home rule,” which means they have the ability to govern themselves as they see fit, so long as they abide by the state and federal law.

gb-bridge-closeHome rule is meant to ensure that cities and villages are able to be responsive to local concerns. Villages and cities have their own legislative branches, known as city councils or village boards. Members of the council or board can determine policy locally, as long as it does not conflict with the state or federal constitutions.

Many cities, like La Crosse, elect a mayor who works with the council. Others, like Eau Claire, operate with a hired city administrator who answers to the elected city council. In cities, city council members can be elected at-large (representing the entire city) or by districts.

Most Wisconsin villages elect a board president and board members. The Board of Trustees or village board, which acts as the legislative branch, is generally elected at-large.

In contrast, Wisconsin towns are not home rule entities, but their authority is granted by state law. Voters elect a town board, but citizen participation may be exercised at annual meetings and special meetings called for specific purposes.

Voters in a town can exercise direct powers, such as approving a tax levy to fund an improvement for the community or reorganizing local government. State law also allows town voters to grant authority to the town board to acquire property or exercise zoning authority.

I highly recommend you attend one of these meetings. They offer great examples of direct democracy in action. This kind of direct participation in democracy is a rare experience, otherwise only experienced by those who have been duly elected and sworn in.

gb-policeWhile cities and villages have constitutional powers of home rule, and towns offer more power to citizens in special meetings, counties are very different. Counties are the administrative arms of our state government. The members of the legislative body of the county are usually called county supervisors.

As in cities, some counties have an elected county executive, while others have a county administrator appointed by the county board of supervisors. While the method of appointment differs, responsibilities are the same across the state. Counties only perform functions that are expressly allowed or mandated by state statute or the constitution.

The state gives counties responsibility for a broad swath of services mandated by the state. These include road maintenance, jail and law enforcement, court administration, public health, human services, libraries, vital records, land conservation, property tax collection and elections.

jeff-smithThe problem comes when the state’s requirements are not supported by the funding necessary to fulfill those services. In areas like education and criminal justice, there are many examples of the legislature mandating services but not funding them. This impedes the ability of local units of government to provide essential services to our citizens.

As we enter into this year’s budget deliberations, it’s important to consider all that we expect from our local units of government and provide the resources they need to meet those expectations. As state legislators, as county supervisors, as city alderpersons, as village board members and as town supervisors, we are all elected to make sure the citizens of Wisconsin prosper. Let’s make sure we are doing everything we can to make that possible.

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2022 Secretary of State Race Sets $1.1M+ Spending Record

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 27 January 2023
in Wisconsin

money-behind-politicsMatt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign continues his report on money in politics with the Secretary of State race.

MADISON - Candidates and special interest groups spent a record $1.16 million in the race for Wisconsin secretary of state in 2022, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review shows.

The race drew seven candidates, including three Republicans, two Democrats, and two minor party candidates, who spent a combined $872,324. The leading spender was Republican challenger Amy Loudenbeck, who dropped $501,356. She survived the GOP primary to face incumbent Democrat Doug La Follette, who spent $229,689 and won reelection.

Five groups spent a total of $288,824 in the race.

One group, Election Integrity PAC, spent $192,868 to support one of the Republican candidates who lost in the Aug. 9 primary to Loudenbeck.

The four remaining groups – Voces de la FronteraBlue Sky WaukeshaNextGen Climate Action, and BLOC PAC – spent a total of $95,956 to support La Follette or his Democratic primary opponent.

Spending in the 2022 contest eclipsed spending by candidates and groups in previous secretary of state races by a lot. In 2018, the four candidates spent a total of $26,782 with no spending by outside groups. In 2014, eight candidates spent a combined $122,126 with no outside spending. And in 2010, the candidates spent $1,126 and one electioneering group dropped $71.

Allies of former President Trump, who has falsely claimed the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him due to voter fraud, sought to put pro-Trump supporters in key election posts running up to the 2024 presidential election. Trump has announced he will be a presidential candidate in 2024.

Secretary of State races in Wisconsin and throughout the country drew more candidates and outside spending in 2022 than most previous elections because that office oversees or certifies election results in numerous states, but not Wisconsin.

During the campaign, Loudenbeck said she would welcome the office having a larger role in administering elections in Wisconsin.

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Groups Outspent Candidates in Record $14M AG Race

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 26 January 2023
in Wisconsin

justice-statueIn Wisconsin these days, just about every race for every position is breaking a record in campaign spending. Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reports on the race for Wisconsin attorney general.

MADISON - Outside electioneering groups outspent the candidates in last fall’s record $14 million race for Wisconsin attorney general, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.

Nineteen special interest groups doled out $7.58 million (see Table below), including $4.18 million to support Republican candidates in the primary and general election and $3.4 million to back incumbent Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who won reelection.

The five candidates – Kaul and four Republicans – spent a combined $6.42 million with Kaul leading the pack at $4.8 million. Kaul’s final ballot opponent, Eric Toney, spent $962,884. The three other GOP candidates spent a combined $661,013 before Toney sidelined them in the Aug. 9 primary.

The total spent by groups and candidates in the 2022 attorney general’s race came to $13,996,086, which beat the previous record in 2018 by just $949.

The top-spending outside groups in the race were:

Republican Attorneys General Association, in Washington, D.C., which spent $3.11 million through a state political action committee called Wisconsin Freedom PAC . The group spent its money on television and online ads and mailings that accused Kaul of being soft on crime and cutting funds for new officer training and the State Crime Lab;

Democratic Attorneys General Association, in Washington, D.C., which spent $1.9 million through an independent expenditure committee called DAGA People’s Lawyer Project . The sponsored television and online advertising that said Toney would prosecute doctors and nurses for performing abortions and supported making the procedure a felony with no exceptions for rape or incest;

Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-backed state group which spent nearly $550,000 on canvassing, mailings, and digital and radio advertising to support Adam Jarchow, one of the GOP candidates Toney defeated in the primary.

To learn how much was spent by all of the outside groups involved in Wisconsin’s 2022 race for attorney general, please see the table below. For more information about the groups and their electioneering activities, check out their profiles in our Hijacking Campaign 2022 feature.

Spending by Outside Special Interest Groups in the 2022 Attorney General’s Race

Wisconsin Freedom PAC (Republican Attorneys General Association) $3,114,213
DAGA People’s Lawyer Project (Democratic Attorneys General Association) $1,899,564
Americans for Prosperity $549,691
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin Political Fund $474,952
Badger Values PAC $407,483
A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund $400,000
For Our Future $264,480
Wisconsin Conservation Voters Independent Expenditure Committee $193,492
Voces de la Frontera Action Inc. $72,712
Wisconsin Family Action $69,102
BLOC PAC (Black Leaders Organizing for Communities) $43,251
Leaders Igniting Transformation Action Fund $18,722
NRA Political Victory Fund – Federal PAC $18,674
Volunteers for Agriculture (Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation) $15,261
AFSCME Working Families Fund $14,716
Blue Sky Waukesha $11,799
NextGen Climate Action Committee $8,053
Power to the Polls Wisconsin $737
Human Rights Campaign Equality Votes PAC $32
TOTAL $7,576,934
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