Special Interest TV Spending in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Accelerates

April 1, 2011

Spending on television advertising continues at a blistering pace in the race between incumbent Justice David Prosser and challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg.

Special interest groups across the political spectrum are driving the spending, as they seek to recast the race as a referendum on Governor Scott Walker.  Through Thursday, March 31st, four special interest groups had spent more than $2.16 million on TV advertising in the race, according to data accumulated by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

According to Adam Skaggs, counsel at the Brennan Center, the overall leader in TV spending is the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC), which, through March 31st, had spent more than $993,000 on TV ads supporting Kloppenburg's campaign.  Three conservative interest groups have collectively out-spent GWC, however, spending more than $1.16 million on a series of ads that favor Prosser and attack Kloppenburg’s qualifications for the Supreme Court.  

The single largest TV spender among the conservative groups is the Issues Mobilization Council of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), which paid for more than $475,000 worth of TV ads through Thursday.  Wisconsin Club for Growth has spent $415,000 on pro-Prosser ads (almost all of which aired before the February 15th primary).  Most recently, a third conservative group, Citizens for a Strong America (CSA), has spent more than $276,000 on TV spots attacking Kloppenburg, which began airing on Tuesday, March 29th.

TV spending in the race has steadily escalated, with the GWC, WMC, and CSA combining to spend more than $340,000 on TV air time in a single day on Thursday, March 31st.  If special interest spending continues at the pace of the last several days, spending by non-candidate groups in this year’s contest is likely to reach — or surpass — the levels seen in the record-setting 2008 election between then-Justice Louis Butler and challenger (and now Justice) Michael Gableman.  In that race, non-candidate special interest groups spent approximately $3.38 million on TV air time.

Each day before Tuesday's vote, the Brennan Center will update TV spending figures on its website — at http://www.brennancenter.org/WI_2011 — where it also features streaming video and storyboards of every television advertisement aired in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election this year.

The special interest group TV ad spending data were calculated and prepared by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG for the Brennan Center.  CMAG captures TV satellite data in the nation’s media markets; its calculations do not reflect ad agency commissions, the costs of producing advertisements, or airtime purchased on local cable networks that are not aired by satellite. Accordingly, these estimates are conservative, and underestimate the precise actual amounts of expenditures.

Prosser and Kloppenburg, who each received $100,000 in public money for the primary campaign and $300,000 for the general election from the state’s new judicial public financing program, have also spent considerable resources on TV ad time — though much of their spending has been for cable TV purchases that are not reflected in the satellite capture data.  According to campaign finance reports filed with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, Kloppenburg has spent at least $290,000 on media buys (including TV and radio), and Prosser has spent at least $148,000 on media buys.