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Club for Growth Dominates TV Spending in Wisconsin Supreme Court Primary

Special interest spending dominated this week’s primary for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, with the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth spending more than $300,000 on television advertisements in support of incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack.

February 21, 2013

Club for Growth Domin­ates TV Spend­ing in Wiscon­sin Supreme Court Primary

Contact: Seth Hoy, Bren­nan Center for Justice,, (646) 292–8369 or Eeva Moore, Justice at Stake, emoore@justiceats­, (202) 588–9462

New York, NY – Special interest spend­ing domin­ated this week’s primary for a seat on the Wiscon­sin Supreme Court, with the conser­vat­ive Wiscon­sin Club for Growth spend­ing more than $300,000 on tele­vi­sion advert­ise­ments in support of incum­bent Justice Pat Roggen­sack. The Club for Growth was respons­ible for more than 75% of the nearly $400,000 in TV spend­ing in the primary race, and more than 80% of the total ad spots, accord­ing to TNS Media Intel­li­gence/CMAG estim­ates released by the Bren­nan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake.

Tele­vi­sion spend­ing data for the Wiscon­sin race, ads, and story­boards, are avail­able at the Bren­nan Center’s Buying Time: Wiscon­sin 2013 webpage.

“Around the coun­try, outside groups are increas­ingly focus­ing their atten­tion on judi­cial elec­tions, often outspend­ing the candid­ates them­selves,” said Alicia Bannon, coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “When special interests take over judi­cial races, public confid­ence in our courts is threatened.”

“Contests domin­ated by outside interest groups often grow nastier, shal­lower and more partisan. Wiscon­sin voters deserve a Supreme Court campaign that puts qual­ity and fair­ness first,” said Bert Branden­burg, exec­ut­ive director of Justice at Stake.

Justice Roggen­sack was the only candid­ate to spend money on tele­vi­sion ads, spend­ing more than $90,000. Justice Roggen­sack and Marquette law professor Ed Fallone received the most votes in the three-way nonpar­tisan primary and will face off in the general elec­tion on April 2.

Recent Wiscon­sin Supreme Court races have featured multi-million dollar campaigns and vicious, mudsling­ing attack ads. In 2011, special interest groups spent just under $3.6 million on tele­vi­sion ads – a new record – in a Supreme Court race that many groups recast as a refer­en­dum on Governor Scott Walker follow­ing his contro­ver­sial decision to change the state’s collect­ive bargain­ing process. This year’s race has already been colored by charges of dysfunc­tion on the Supreme Court itself, includ­ing an alleg­a­tion by Justice Ann Walsh Brad­ley that Justice David Prosser choked her during an argu­ment. Justice Brad­ley recently criti­cized Justice Roggen­sack for minim­iz­ing the Court’s dysfunc­tion during her reelec­tion campaign.

With the Court’s 4–3 conser­vat­ive major­ity on the line this year, Wiscon­sin is likely to see another high-cost race with signi­fic­ant spend­ing by outside groups. The candid­ates them­selves will also face increased pres­sure to fundraise. After intro­du­cing public finan­cing for judi­cial races in 2011, the legis­lature elim­in­ated the program after just one elec­tion.  Justice Roggen­sack has reportedly raised approx­im­ately $200,000 through early Febru­ary, while Professor Fallone has raised about $80,000.