Campaign No-No: Judge candidates must ask no one for money - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Campaign No-No: Judge candidates must ask no one for money

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MADISON (WKOW) -- In the closing days of political campaigns in advance of the April 2 election, candidates for judge are the subject of TV and radio ads, and mass, campaign mailings, but must be careful to avoid one, natural political act.

Asking anyone for campaign money.

In an effort to remove even the appearance a judge could make decisions from the bench based on campaign donations, a state supreme court rule forces judicial candidates to leave campaign fund-raising to others: "A judge, candidate for judicial office, or judge-elect shall not personally solicit or accept campaign contributions."

"They can be on the campaign committee, but they cannot go out and personally solicit the funds," said Wisconsin Judicial Commission executive director Jim Alexander.

Alexander noted the ban on campaign fundraising by judicial candidates extends to campaign literatures, letters and emails.

At a recent forum involving candidates for a Dane County circuit court judge spot, the discussion appeared to veer into a description of a candidate, or candidate committee's fundraising approach.

"One of the most difficult parts about running for office is having to raise money to run your campaign," attorney Rhonda Lanford said. Lanford and opponent Judge Rebecca St. John were fielding a question about public financing of judicial races, something they both said they supported. 

At the Mar. 18 forum in Mount Horeb, Lanford said she longed for campaigning on qualifications and views, "...without having to spend, you know, a few hours a day, calling up people and trying to raise money for your campaign."

Lanford clarified her remarks for 27 News. "I do have a campaign staff that raises money for me, and part of that time of the day is spent with campaign staff doing that."

"I have not ever directly asked anyone for money," Lanford told 27 News.

Judicial candidates can attend, and speak at campaign fundraising events, as long as their remarks do not include any pitch for donations.

Alexander said there is gray area in the rule's delineation of a judicial candidate's nexus to campaign fundraising.

Alexander said complaints and cases before the commission in connection to the rule have been few. He recalled a circuit court judge who personally solicited several hundred dollars in campaign donations, actions that were addressed by the commission.

Alexander told 27 News he believed the rule needed strengthening to provide more specific guidance to candidates in judicial races. 

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