I just got off the air on WSAU in beautiful Wausau. The subject was the Wisconsin Supreme Court race and that will be the subject tomorrow at a forum sponsored by the Milwaukee Bar Association. The candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Milwaukee Circuit Court will be there. Yours truly will moderate.
One of the odd dynamics of this race will be the new public financing law. My sense is that it will result in rather anemic efforts by the candidate campaigns. The public grants are not adequate to run a statewide race and, if the race proves to be competitive, independent organizations will spend multiples of what the campaigns spend on media. Although one candidate, Marla Stephens, has "declined" public funding, correctly pointing out that, as a nonincumbent, she can't possibly run a credible statewide race on the amount provided. Nevertheless, word on the street is that she simply was unable to get her act together in time to qualify and, although she certainly is a serious and credible candidate, it is unclear that she can raise much more than the public grant. (I am unaware of her personal resources or willingness to commit them to the race.) Once again, it appears that the tenor and substance of the debate will be beyond the control of the candidates.
The new law seeks to address this by providing some additional public funding to candidates who face opposing independent expenditures (which will be, at least, both of the general election candidates.) But there are two problems.
The first is that these "matching funds" (and they are far from adequate to actually match what is likely to be spent) are only triggered by express advocacy for or against a candidate. That is easily avoided.
But there will probably be no need to do so. The "matching funds" provision is probably unconstitutional. A similar provision in Arizona is currently under review by the United States Supreme Court and that Court enjoined the operation of the law during the last election cycle. That is very likely to happen here as well so that the matching funds, even if they are triggered, will never be provided.