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State Supreme Court campaigns would be funded by taxpayers under new bill

Wisconsin Supreme Court campaigns would be funded by taxpayers instead of special interests under a bill passed by the Legislature Thursday.

The Assembly passed the so-called impartial justice bill on a 51-42 vote, and the Senate OK'd it 19-13.

Gov. Jim Doyle has said he would sign it.

It follows three years of big money Supreme Court races, in which special interests dominated the campaign contributions amid concerns they were buying justice.

The new system will let taxpayers donate voluntarily to a Supreme Court candidate fund, and other campaign gifts would be severely limited.

But Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, says special interests will still spend what they want on issue ads which slam candidates' positions.

Those ads are not regulated due to free speech rights.

Other critics said the bill does not grant enough money to attract good candidates, and only the rich will run.

Rep. Mark Gottlieb, R-Port Washington, said special interest problems with Supreme Court elections can never be resolved.

And he made another pitch for his recent constitutional amendment to appoint justices.

Voters would only get to say whether a justice should be retained after each 10-year term.