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Supreme Court race will conclude peacefully

Madison — This year’s Supreme Court race has been quiet on most fronts, with one candidate declining to discuss recent court cases and both judges accepting limits on their campaign spending.Unlike last year’s Supreme Court race, Milwaukee Municipal Judge Louis Butler and Supreme Court Justice Diane Sykes aren’t trading jabs about professional misconduct, aerobics in court chambers, computer video games or toughness on crime.In fact, the two candidates in this year’s election aren’t sparring that much at all.“It’s dead quiet. It looks at the moment like it’s an almost invisible election,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Herbert Kritzer.One of the reasons for the relative calmness of the election is Sykes’ resistance to discuss past cases, citing the Judicial Code of Ethics. Butler has been more open about his political beliefs and past cases, but both candidates describe themselves as judges who don’t legislate from the bench.Sykes and Butler can spend only $215,000 because they accepted $13,500 each in public financing. She reported $189,517 in campaign contributions as of March 27, while Butler had raised $139,285, state Elections Board records showed.That also is a dramatic shift from last year’s race, when Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and attorney Sharren Rose broke records by together spending more than $1.36 million on their campaigns. Much of the money went toward feuding television ads.“Past races have been characterized by all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the qualifications of the candidates,” Sykes said. “Up to this point, it’s been really pretty quiet.”So far, the most heated point of the campaign stemmed from a Butler campaign ad that said on close calls, Sykes has “voted with the same rigid political philosophy every time” and that she “belongs to an activist judicial organization,” a reference to her membership in the Federalist Society, a conservative group.Sykes criticized Butler for the commercial after she signed a clean campaign pledge, saying Wisconsin residents “have had more than their fill of the kind of judicial campaigns that my opponent has unfortunately decided to run.”Butler said he didn’t see anything new or negative about the ad.Besides limiting advertising, the spending limits have cut the amount of time candidates have needed to spend fund raising and given them more time to campaign around the state, said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and proponent of campaign finance reform.He said the money wouldn’t be a deciding factor in the race.“I don’t know that an expensive campaign with lots of TV advertising gives people a lot more information,” McCabe said. “I think candidates can get their message out for $215,000, they don’t need to spend millions to do that. I just don’t think either candidate has been real anxious to distinguish themselves.”Butler and Sykes have traveled around the state to debate each other and meet with voters, and both said they would do the same with or without the public financing.Sykes said the public money has “brought common-sense spending levels to the campaign, and I think that’s a welcome change from past elections. It has required us to rely on grassroots efforts more than paid advertising.”Both candidates said they have not had a problem working within the spending constraints.Money for public funding comes out of the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund, which is only partially funded by the state Legislature. If the fund were filled to capacity, each Supreme Court candidate would get $97,000, but there is only $27,000 available for both candidates.The candidates agreed that if third-party interest groups decided to pour money into the race, that could scare off candidates from taking public money in the future. Third-party groups can spend unlimited amounts on campaign ads.“If third-party interest groups decide to spend a lot a lot of money on the race you’re not going to see candidates taking public financing in the future, because their campaigns will be hijacked from them,” said Sykes’ campaign manager, Bryan Wornson.

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