Yesterday, the Club for Growth released the fruits of an open records record request that netted it at least some of the e-mail communications among members of the Wisconsin Judicial Campaign Integrity Committee.
Apparently, the video of an interview that I did with Jim Pugh of WMC came to the committee's attention. They decided not to take any "action" because they thought it was "debatable fair commentary" and that we'd be fortunate if election comentary remained "on the high plane of Prof. Esenberg's video." But the issue did prompt committe member Bill Kraus (who agrees that there is no action required by the committee) to suggest how the video (which he refers to as part of "the enemies tactics") is an opportunity for the Butler campaign to respond to my "oversimplifications." Another committee member Dennis Dresang agrees and says that Kraus' "suggestion" was well stated.
I understand that he may say that he is just expressing his personal views, but it certainly creates the impression of bias and seems to be one of the themes that emerges from the e-mails. Kraus is blatantly partisan.
But there is a more serious problem. Kraus' partisanship seems to have infected the committee's response to only complaint that it has acted upon.
In response to One Wisconsin Now's complaint about a Gableman mailing criticizing some criminal law cases, Judge Deininger points out that there is nothing in the mailing that "crosses any boundaries" and that what the Gableman literature said was consititutionally protected. He suggests that the complaint is an attempt on the part of one side to enlist the committee in its cause and warns the group that its response will, for that reason, have an impact on what will happen in the future.
The other members don't seem to have heeded that caution. Kraus immediately ignores the fact that the Gableman literature was constitutionally protected, announcing that he prefers candidates who say what they will do or who they are. He wants the committee to create a bright line. Other committee members agree. They should "draw a line in the sand" and "fire a shot across the bow" by issuing a mild rebuke. And that's what they did.
Now keep in mind that this is not just a group of citizens. This is a project of the State Bar to which every lawyer in the state who wishes to be licensed to practice must belong and support. It is, under applicable law, an arm of the state.
And so it issues a statement invoking all of that authority to rebuke a statement that it acknowledges is constitutionally protected speech and does not violate the Judicial Code because it would "prefer" that the candidate say something else.
That the committee wants to impose its own rules on the process is bad enough, but the rule that Kraus, at least, wants to impose is not even handed. You don't beat an incumbent without criticizing him. Not only was the committee's "mild rebuke" illegitimate, it was not evenhanded.
This reflects why the whole project was misconceived from the outset. The committee's belief that it can impartially police the campaign in a way that transforms campaign discourse and respects the constitution is self delusion. They are a cure that is worse than the disease. They ought to disband.