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: