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Greater Wisconsin Committee Books Ads in Supreme Court Race

With less than two weeks to go before the Wisconsin Supreme Court general election on April 5, the left-leaning Greater Wisconsin Committee has started booking TV ad contracts.

March 24, 2016

WASH­ING­TON, DC – With less than two weeks to go before the Wiscon­sin Supreme Court general elec­tion on April 5, the left-lean­ing Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee has star­ted book­ing TV ad contracts. The buys from GWC have reached at least $265,275, accord­ing to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake and the Bren­nan Center for Justice. Ads are slated to start airing March 28.

Mean­while, the other outside group spend­ing in the race, the Wiscon­sin Alli­ance for Reform, has booked TV ad contracts for the general elec­tion total­ing at least $804,170 to date, in addi­tion to book­ing contracts worth at least $442,095 for the primary, accord­ing to FCC records. WAR is support­ing incum­bent Justice Rebecca Brad­ley, and has put out a series of ads attack­ing Klop­pen­burg for “letting crim­in­als off on tech­nic­al­it­ies.”

With campaigns for both candid­ates also book­ing ads, total TV ad contract spend­ing in the general elec­tion portion of the race has reached at least $1,488,046. TV contract buys for the whole cycle, includ­ing the $723,600 spent in the primary, have reached at least $2.2 million accord­ing to FCC records.

The ads can be viewed on the Bren­nan Center’s “Buying Time” website within 24 hours of begin­ning to air. Spend­ing totals are current as of 7 a.m. CT, March 24.

“The Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee is a famil­iar player in the state’s long-running judi­cial elec­tion battles,” said Susan Liss, Exec­ut­ive Director of Justice at Stake, a nonpar­tisan nonprofit organ­iz­a­tion that tracks spend­ing in judi­cial races and advoc­ates for fair and impar­tial courts. “With two outside spend­ers now ratchet­ing up the TV ad wars, this elec­tion is going into the history books as another costly, attack-heavy contest that drags both the Court and the candid­ates through the mud.”      

“Wiscon­sin is seeing another high-cost and nasty supreme court race, which puts judges at risk for conflicts of interest when they reach the bench,” said Alicia Bannon, Senior Coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program and a co-author of Bank­rolling the Bench, a compre­hens­ive report on spend­ing in the 2013–14 judi­cial elec­tions by Justice at Stake, the Bren­nan Center for Justice, and the National Insti­tute on Money in State Polit­ics. “Unfor­tu­nately, rather than take steps to mitig­ate the harms from special-interest spend­ing, Wiscon­sin has weakened its campaign finance and recusal rules and elim­in­ated a judi­cial public finan­cing program. Together, politi­cized elec­tions and gutted reforms imperil fair courts in Wiscon­sin.”

The GWC has spent heav­ily in court-related elec­tions in past years, most notably in 2011, when Judge Klop­pen­burg unsuc­cess­fully ran for the Supreme Court against incum­bent Justice David Prosser. In that race, the GWC spent nearly $1.4 million and ran hard-hitting ads target­ing Prosser. In 2008, the GWC spent more than $1.1 million on TV ads oppos­ing Judge Mike Gable­man, who defeated incum­bent Justice Louis Butler. In 2009, the organ­iz­a­tion spent more than $300,000 oppos­ing Judge Randy Koschnick in his chal­lenge to incum­bent Justice Shir­ley Abra­ham­son. And in 2007, GWC spent an estim­ated $260,000 oppos­ing current Justice Annette Zieg­ler in her success­ful run for the Supreme Court against attor­ney Linda Clif­ford.   

In 2013 and 2015, the GWC did not spend on behalf of any supreme court candid­ate. However, in 2015, the group spent $280,000 support­ing an organ­iz­a­tion called Make Your Vote Count. Make Your Vote Count fought a ballot meas­ure that changed the way the state’s Chief Justice is selec­ted.

The Brad­ley and Klop­pen­burg campaigns have both increased their TV ad book­ings in recent days. To date, FCC filings show the Brad­ley campaign has booked TV ad contracts for the general elec­tion worth at least $195,758. The Klop­pen­burg campaign has booked contracts worth at least $222,843 for the general elec­tion. 

Mean­while, repor­ted fundrais­ing by the two general elec­tion candid­ates has reached a combined $659,985 accord­ing to state disclos­ures last updated on Feb. 1, 2016, as follows:  

Brad­ley: $323,292

Klop­pen­burg: $336,693

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