Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged students on the UW-Madison campus Friday to vote for Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet in her bid for the state high court.
Holder’s event, hosted by the Democratic student outreach group NextGen America, caps off a two-day swing through Milwaukee and Madison and comes as Dallet and Sauk County Judge Michael Screnock have less than three weeks to convince voters to elevate them to the state Supreme Court for the next 10 years.
Meanwhile Friday, the state Republican Party filed a judicial complaint against Dallet over donations made by lawyers to her campaign.
Holder, who was attorney general for President Barack Obama, now heads a group aimed at eliminating Republican-drawn legislative maps. The group has sued Gov. Scott Walker for not calling special elections for two state legislative seats.
Holder urged students to “come out in record numbers” to vote in Wisconsin elections in order to have a “more fair” legislative system, which he described as being gerrymandered to favor Republicans.
He said despite the Supreme Court race being officially nonpartisan, he wanted to support Dallet, whom he called a “progressive,” because of the out-of state money being spent on behalf of Screnock.
“We progressives — we Democrats — have got to get a little tough,” he said. “If we work hard, if we turn out people, then Rebecca Dallet will be the next Supreme Court justice. I think she should be.”
Dallet was not in attendance.
Holder told reporters Dallet was being “really outspent” and that he would consider spending more than what his group has already dropped into the Supreme Court race on behalf of Dallet. He also indicated his group would be involved in the Democratic effort to unseat Walker in November.
“I think it’s entirely possible — Wisconsin is one of the states we have targeted as far as our overall effort,” he said, adding that his group targets races that “can have the greatest impact on gerrymandering.”
Holder’s group has spent $140,000 on ads on behalf of Dallet. The state’s business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has spent more than $500,000 on ads on behalf of Screnock.
Though the race is officially nonpartisan, Screnock is backed by conservatives, while Dallet is backed by liberals.
Holder also called for the Wisconsin Legislature to immediately write new maps should the U.S. Supreme Court rule in favor of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s GOP-drawn legislative maps.
A day before Holder arrived in Madison, Walker’s campaign issued a fundraising plea to combat Holder’s involvement in this year’s elections.
“They announced the unusual move of getting involved in Wisconsin’s April 3rd Supreme Court race, which they see as a chance to hone their dirty tricks ahead of our November election,” the Thursday fundraising pitch sent via email said.
Meanwhile, during Holder’s visit, the state Republican Party filed a complaint against Dallet with the state Judicial Commission requesting an investigation into campaign donations to Dallet’s campaign by attorneys involved in cases before her.
The state code of judicial conduct does not require judges to step away from cases involving attorneys who are campaign donors. The code does require judges to recuse if there is an appearance of impropriety.
The complaint focuses on campaign donations from 39 attorneys who have contributed a combined $21,100 to her Supreme Court campaign, according to records compiled by the party.
Jessica Lovejoy, Dallet’s campaign spokeswoman, called the complaint baseless.
“The Screnock campaign is running scared,” she said in a statement. “Partisan attack dogs can file all the baseless complaints they want; it won’t fix his lack of experience or allegiance to big-money special interests.”