Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman has been at the center of judicial ethics controversy, and despite conservative pundit claims to the contrary, for good reason. Representative Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison) has circulated a resolution to remove Gableman from office, based on his ethically-challenged “fee arrangements” with Michael, Best, and Friedrich. An investigation by Badger Democracy into Gableman’s campaign finances has lead to a more insidious and partisan connection with Koch Industries and their national political agenda. Gableman’s allies John D. Bryan and Viet Dinh raise serious question as to whether Gableman is capable of exercising impartiality and non-partisanship from the bench in any politically-charged case.
Representative Mark Pocan’s (D-Madison) posting of the Rock County GOP “Lincoln Day Dinner” fundraiser announcement is just the tip of the political iceberg. Gableman is listed with Congressman Paul Ryan as a confirmed speaker at this partisan event and fundraiser. While this alone raises ethical questions for a “non-partisan” justice, the money trail to Gableman is more incriminating and partisan, especially in light of Koch attempts to influence the judiciary nationwide.
John D. Bryan has been one of Michael Gableman’s largest campaign contributors, to the tune of $10,000. Bryan is a retired oil tycoon living in Lake Oswego, Oregon who is an avid financial supporter of ultra-conservative campaigns and values – along with being a staunch ally and mouthpiece for Koch Industries politics as the head of Oregon “Club for Growth.” Club for Growth should sound familiar to those who followed the 2008 State Supreme Court race between incumbent Louis Butler and Gableman – the PAC was responsible for over $100,000 in campaign ads against Butler that were considered false and misleading. According to Federal campaign disclosures, Bryan (John D. of Oregon) spent over $200,000 in the 2008 election cycle – most of it to Club for Growth PAC.
In addition to his activities in the Koch-influenced Club for growth, Bryan started his own 501(c)(3) foundation, The Challenge Foundation. Bryan’s Challenge Foundation has been heavily active nationwide in promoting the expansion of both private and public charter schools. Federal Tax returns (Form 990 PF) for The Challenge Foundation include a list of charters nationwide supported by Bryan’s foundation (pages 40-47), as well as highly profitable investments in corporations linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)(pgs. 48-68).
Bryan’s participation goes far beyond financial. At the January 2011 Koch Seminar in Palm Springs, John Bryan was a featured speaker in a presentation promoting K-12 Charter school expansion. Bryan is a regular presenter at Koch-sponsored partisan seminars promoting charter schools and “free enterprise” agenda. Bryan’s active participation in state judiciary elections is not surprising, as Koch’s political agenda has long included influencing judicial outcomes.
Gableman’s office was asked by Badger Democracy on Wednesday, January 10 about the relationship between the Justice and Bryan, as well as if Gableman has ever attended a Koch sponsored Judicial Seminar (see Wall Street Journal link above). As of this writing, the justice has delayed response and stonewalled requests for information, promising a statement “in the future.” Badger Democracy has submitted an open records request with the State Court Clerk’s office.
In addition to being Gableman’s attorney, Viet Dinh is the author of the Patriot Act, as well as godfather to Rupert Murdoch’s son. Fox News Corp has had a long affiliation with Koch think tanks, supplying the “news” network with experts promoting Koch political agenda.
Koch PAC has spent more money on Wisconsin Judicial individual races than any other, save for Scott Walker – in Gableman and VanHollen. It is clear that Koch is attempting a hostile takeover of the Wisconsin Judiciary through people like John D. Bryan and Viet Dinh. Michael Gableman, if he were a Federal Judge, would be in violation of the US Federal Judge Code of Conduct, Canon 5, forbidding active participation in “partisan politics.”
As stated in the Code of Ethics, Gableman is undermining the confidence and faith in an impartial judiciary, necessary for Democracy. Both parties have a vested interest in his removal, as his actions and conflict create a dangerous precedent for future court activity and generations to come.