Lemon law lawyer lays an egg

By Bill Lueders
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Bill Lueders, Money and Politics Project director.

The Capital Times of Madison recently ran an article on Vince Megna, the flamboyant Milwaukee “lemon law” lawyer who plans to run against state Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack this spring.

“I’ve lived through four Supreme Court races in the last four years, and the first three were all controlled by the Koch brothers and out-of-state money,” said Megna, who sues companies that make defective products and stars in Michael Moore-ish YouTube videos lampooning Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans.

Asked what he thought of Roggensack, considered the leader of the court’s conservative majority, Megna replied, “I don’t really view her as my opponent. I view David Koch as my opponent.”

Turns out Megna is himself churning out defective products. Somebody call a lawyer.

In fact, the past four state Supreme Court races have played out over a six-year period and only the last one, which Megna exempted from his critique, had any apparent tie to oil billionaires David and Charles Koch. In that 2011 race between Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, a group affiliated with another group affiliated with the Kochs spent an estimated $985,000 bashing Kloppenburg.

Vince Megna

“The Koch brothers were involved in the 2011 state Supreme Court race,” says Mike McCabe, executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. “But if they were involved in other recent Supreme Court races, then they funneled money into those campaigns in a way that escaped our detection.”

That’s possible, since Wisconsin lets groups run “issue ads” that stop short of telling people how to vote without disclosing their funding sources. But Megna — who now says he meant to include each of the past four races in his critique — doesn’t have any evidence of this.

Megna says he’s evoking the Koch brothers “as a general concept,” to illustrate the role of out-of-state money. But he can’t prove recent state’s Supreme Court elections were “controlled” by this either.

An analysis of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign data shows that about $20 million was spent on the last state Supreme Court races. Just $6.7 million came from the candidates’ campaigns, the rest from outside groups. Leading the pack were the conservative Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which spent an estimated $5.1 million, and the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee, which spent an estimated $4.2 million. Both are state-based groups.

As Casey Stengel used to say, you could look it up.

Megna is on much firmer ground when he predicts that money will play a “huge” role in the election, which could determine the ideological tilt of the court. He plans to spend some of his own money prior to the Feb. 19 primary, which will narrow the field to two candidates for the April 2 general election. But he won’t be going hog wild.

“I would not put up $3 million to win a $150,000 a year job,” Megna says. “I’m running for the Supreme Court, not trying to be locked up in an insane asylum.”

Marquette law professor Ed Fallone, who has also plans to run, believes he can be competitive in the race but declines to publicly discuss his fundraising strategy. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi is also considering a run. Candidates have until Jan. 2 to file.

Brandon Scholz, Roggensack’s campaign adviser, rips Megna as an attention-seeker who’s careless with facts.

“There’s no evidence that the Koch brothers or the Greater Wisconsin Committee control the court,” Scholz says. He contends that groups on both sides have a right to back candidates and that Roggensack and other justices retain independence of thought. “She is beholden to her philosophy, not somebody else’s.”

Megna shrugs this off, calling Scholz “the former chairman of the state Republican Party” — actually, he was executive director — which “destroyed consumer law in this state.” The Republicans, says Megna, “go ahead without any concern of what they’re talking about.”

Look who’s talking.

 

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.

The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.


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8 Responses to “Lemon law lawyer lays an egg”

  1. This is really an interesting article..

  2. Andy Hall says:

    Thanks for asking about the funding for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The Center, as a matter of policy, discloses all of its sources of financial support at: http://www.wisconsinwatch.org/about/funding/ The links at that page also will show you our Policy on Financial Support and our tax returns.

    Kindest regards,

    Andy Hall
    Executive director

  3. U R Nitpicking says:

    Bill: Nitpicking Vince Megna about whether the Koch brothers in fact bought the last four Supreme Court elections and what Brandon Scholz’s title with the Republican party is missing the forest for the trees.

    Just because the Democracy campaign doens’t know whether the Kochs were involved in the earlier Supreme Court elections doesn’t mean they weren’t. Did the tooth fairy spend all that money against Linda Clifford and Justice Butler?

    The point is that we have no idea where the money is coming from. Maybe the money is coming from China. Perhaps the money is coming from some other set of billionaires. Maybe it’s all just corporate money that’s being spent on all these attack ads which tell voters “She’s not a judge”; “He’s soft on crime” etc. Wherever the money is coming from, Megna’s point is no less valid. Yet you attack him — in a silly piece that is truly a waste of time.

    By running down Megna as you are, you are serving as a tool for the moneyed interests backing Roggensack and the other right wingers on the court. Maybe we should ask you Bill: Where’s your money coming from. Perhaps you should ask the Democracy campaign: Where does its money come from? We know the answer in the latter case — they won’t tell. I wonder why?

    • Mike McCabe says:

      Information about the Democracy Campaign’s funding is included in our annual reports, which are posted each year on our website and archived at http://www.wisdc.org/annual_reports.html. We are not required by law to disclose any of this information, but do so voluntarily. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, our tax returns are public records and are posted on the IRS website as well as other sites such as Guidestar.org and the Foundation Center’s website.

      • B says:

        Andy Hall’s response is appreciated. It is clear where that funding comes from. Why won’t the Democracy Campaign reveal all of its sources of funding. “Because we don’t have to” is not an adequate response for a group which demands to know where everyone else’s money comes from.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Megna identifies himself as liberal, and a Democrat, an unusual stance for someone seeking nonpartisan office. He deserves points for candor, even if he may lose some for not always knowing what he’s talking about, as this column has reported. [...]

  2. [...] even if he may lose some for not always knowing what he’s talking about, as this column has reported. Vince [...]


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