Buying Time 2011: Judicial Public Financing in Wisconsin

April 5, 2011

Total special-interest spending through Tuesday, April 5, 2011:  $3,581,460.

Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC) — $1,365,340.

Issues Mobilization Council of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) — $910,970.

Citizens for a Strong America (CSA) — $836,090.

Wisconsin Club for Growth (CFG) — $415,860.

State Tea Party Express — $53,200.                                                   

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Wisconsin’s recent Supreme Court elections have featured costly multi-million dollar campaigns and vicious, mudslinging attack ads. Total TV spending in 2007 and 2008 races reached a staggering $6 million – more than quadruple previous years' races – and in 2008, more money was spent on TV ads in Wisconsin than was spent in any other state (more than $3.8 million). In 2009, incumbent Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson raised $1,452,000 for her re-election campaign, narrowly breaking the previous fundraising record set just two years earlier by Justice Annette Ziegler. Special interests have also been active in Wisconsin judicial elections; most recently, the Greater Wisconsin Committee spent about $306,000 in Justice Abrahamson’s 2009 campaign.

Recent elections have featured hard-hitting attack ads. One particularly controversial ad aired by Justice Mike Gableman in his 2008 campaign attacked incumbent Justice Louis Butler for allegedly coddling criminals. Numerous misleading statements in the advertisement led to ethics charges against Gableman, though the proceeding ended inconclusively in 2010 when the remaining members of the Supreme Court deadlocked on whether to sanction Gableman. 

In the wake of substantial negative press and concerns about the increasing influence of politics and special interest money in judicial elections, the state legislature passed Wisconsin’s public financing law in 2009. 2011 was the state’s first high court election with public financing.

The 2011 election kicked off with four candidates competing in a February 15th primary.  Three of the four candidates – incumbent David Prosser and challengers Joel Winnig and JoAnne Kloppenburg – opted into the public funding program, which provided $100,000 to each candidate for the primary campaign. The fourth candidate, Marla Stephens, did not seek public financing.   

Both publicly funded challengers ran TV ads during the primary campaign; the privately financed candidate, Stephens, did not buy any TV airtime.  Incumbent David Prosser benefitted from more than $400,000 in ad purchases by the conservative group Wisconsin Club for Growth.

Through the primary election, more than half a million dollars – $591,000 – was spent overall on TV air time.  Club for Growth, spending approximately $408,000, accounted for about 69 percent of all television advertising in the primary.  It spent more than twice as much for ads supporting Prosser than was spent on TV by the incumbent’s challengers combined.  Club for Growth didn't only ring up a higher total than the challengers, it paid more per advertisement. Club for Growth paid an average of about $400 for each of its ads, while Winnig paid less than $200 per ad, and Kloppenburg less than $150 per ad—indicating that Club for Growth’s ads were disproportionately placed in larger markets or during programming with larger audiences than the ads placed by Prosser’s challengers.  

Prosser handily won the primary, and Kloppenburg placed second.  The two candidates went on to face off in the April 5th general election.  Both received a base grant of $300,000 in public funds for the general election campaign.

Following the primary, many observers assumed Prosser would easily coast to victory in the general election, but outside political events transformed the race into a heated, highly competitive contest.  Governor Scott Walker’s push to change the state’s collective bargaining provisions, a move that sparked weeks of protests at the state Capitol, energized the Supreme Court election. Since the protests, interest in the race soared as liberal-leaning organizations attacked Prosser as a “rubber stamp” for Walker, and business groups warned that a Kloppenburg victory could endanger Walker’s legislative accomplishments if and when the Supreme Court ruled on challenges to the legislation.  Special interest groups on both sides poured money into TV ad buys through Election Day. Special interest groups spent just under $3.6 million on television ads, while overall spending in the state reached nearly $5 million. 

Prosser narrowly won the race, maintaining the court's conservative majority. 

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Real Time Analysis 

Throughout the election season the Brennan Center issued a series of analyses focused on judicial election spending 


Advertisements


April 2, 2011 - Prosser vs. Kloppenberg 2

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An advertisement by the Wisconsin Tea Party Express says respected legal experts agree that Justice Prosser is a great judge.


April 2, 2011 - Prosser vs. Kloppenberg

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An advertisement by the Wisconsin Tea Party Express says respected legal experts agree that Justice Prosser is a great judge.


April 2, 2011 - Sexist Slurs

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An advertisement by the Greater Wisconsin Committee says Justice David Prosser used a sexist slur toward his colleague.


April 2, 2011 - Refused

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An advertisement by Citizens for a Stronger America says JoAnne Kloppenberg refused to stop misleading ads aired by her allies.


April 1, 2011 - Law and Order 2

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An advertisement by the Wisconsin Glub for Growth states that Prosser guards children against crime.


April 1, 2011 - Prosser Supports Walker

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An advertisement by the Greater Wisconsin Committee claims that Prosser voted to restrict collective bargaining rights.


March 30, 2011 - Tough on Crime

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An advertisement by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Issues Mobilization Council says JoAnne Kloppenburg is weak on criminals.


March 30, 2011 - Courtroom Experience

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An advertisement by Citizens for a Stronger America attacks Kloppenburg for her lack of courtroom experience.


Police for Prosser

An advertisement by Prosser's campaign says that Prosser votes to protect law enforcement.*

*This ad is no longer available online 


Desperate Lies

An advertisement by Prosser's campaign says the advertisement attacking Prosser for a 30 year old sexual assault case is "sleazy and full of lies."*

*This ad is no longer available online 


Prosser a Healthy Choice

An advertisement by Prosser's campaign says Justice Prosser's leadership provides for injured patients and keeps down health care costs.*

*This ad is no longer available online 


March 24, 2011 - Justice Blind

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JoAnne Kloppenburg says that as a Supreme Court Justice she will ensure that "justice is blind."


March 24, 2011 - Refuses to Prosecute

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An advertisement by the Greater Wisconsin Committee claims that Prosser refuses to prosecute a priest for sexual abuse.


March 23, 2011 - Law and Order

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An advertisement by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Issues Mobilization Council says Justice Prosser protects Wisconsin families.


March 18, 2011 - Rubber Stamp

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An advertisement by the Greater Wisconsin Committee claims Justice Prosser is a rubber stamp for Governor Scott Walker.


February, 2011 - Justice David Prosser

A Youtube advertisement by David Prosser's campaign touts his experience.*

*This ad is no longer available online 


February 8, 2011 - Difference

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An advertisement by Joel Winnig's campaign states he represents independence, integrity and justice.


February 7, 2011 - Crossroads

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An advertisement by Joel Winnig's campaign states he is the independent candidate who will restore integrity to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.


February 7, 2011 - Prosser Understands

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An advertisement by the Wisconsin Club for Growth states that Prosser is tough on crime.


January 26, 2011 - Ralph Cagle

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In a JoAnne Kloppenburg advertisement, citizen's describe her as independent and tough.


News


Tea Party, Labor Spend Big In Wis. High Court Race, Associated Press, April 3, 2011.

Kenneth P. Vogel, Union Fight Hits Wisconsin Court Race, Politico, April 4, 2011.

Former Gov. Lucey Withdraws Support From Prosser, Associated Press, March 31, 2011.

PolitiFact: Says Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg “Put an 80-Year-Old Farmer in Jail for Refusing to Plant Native Vegetation on his Farm, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 31, 2011.

PolitiFact: Greater Wisconsin Committee Says State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser Equals Gov. Scott Walker, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 31, 2011.

Jesse Garza, Lucey Resigns As Honorary Co-chair of Prosser Campaign, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 31, 2011.

David Weigel, Conservatives Re-Discover Wisconsin, Slate, March 30, 2011.

A Misleading Ad, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 29, 2011.

Patrick Marley, In Madison Debate, Prosser Calls Kloppenburg an ‘Ideologue,’ Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 25, 2011.

Shawn Johnson, Wisconsin Court Race Turns Into A Political Dogfight, NPR, March 24, 2011.

Appointing Judges A Supreme Idea, Journal Times, March 24, 2011.

Abe Sauer, Wisconsin's Nasty Spring Election: Impartiality with Its Sleeves Rolled, The AWL, March 24th, 2011.

Stephen Moore, Wisconsin's Battle Supreme, Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2011.

Christopher Murray, Wisconsin Has Become 'Exhibit A' For Not Electing Judges, Washington Examiner, March 21, 2011.

Patrick Marley, Supreme Court Tensions Boil Over, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 19, 2011.

Hilary Dickinson, David Prosser Aims For Re-Election, Beloit Daily News, March 18, 2011.

Eric Kleefeld, Progressive Group's Ad Ties WI Supreme Court Justice To Scott Walker, Talking Points Memo, March 18, 2011.

Todd Richmond, Union Fight Could Carry Over To Court Race, Associated Press, March 14, 2011.

Steven Elbow, Supreme Court Race Could See Deluge of Special Interest Spending, The Capital Times, February 16, 2011.

Larry Sandler and Patrick Marley, Ad Won't Trigger Additional Funds for Court Candidates, Journal Sentinel, February 11, 2011.

Larry Sandler, Conservatives Try To Halt Public Funding Of Court Race, The Journal Sentinel, February 9, 2011.

Patrick Marley, Supreme Court Candidate Who Refused Public Support Sees Campaign Fund Lag, Journal Sentinel, February 7, 2011.

Jeff Patch, WRTL Targets Judicial Tax Financing In Wis., Center For Competitive Politics, February 8, 2011.

Election 2011: Four Seek Seat on Wisconsin Supreme Court, Wisconsin State Journal, February 5, 2011.


Methodology 

All data on ad airings and spending on ads are calculated and prepared by Kantar Media/CMAG, which captures satellite data in the nation’s largest media markets. CMAG’s estimates do not reflect ad agency commissions or the costs of producing advertisements, nor do they reflect the cost of ad buys on local cable channels. Cost estimates are revised by Kantar Media/CMAG when it receives updated data, resulting in some fluctuations in the reported ad spending.