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Spending in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Totals More Than $4.3 Million

Outside spending was 56 percent of total spending in the race.

April 6, 2016

WASH­ING­TON, DC – A post-Elec­tion Day tally of docu­mented spend­ing in Wiscon­sin’s 2016 Supreme Court race shows total spend­ing rose to at least $4,369,787 in the race for a single seat, accord­ing to an analysis of state disclos­ures and tele­vi­sion advert­ising by Justice at Stake and the Bren­nan Center for Justice. 

Incum­bent Rebecca Brad­ley defeated State Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Klop­pen­burg on Tues­day. Brad­ley’s campaign received a boost from the Wiscon­sin Alli­ance for Reform, an outside group that has spent an estim­ated $1,851,710 on tele­vi­sion ads, accord­ing to Kantar Media/CMAG. Justice Brad­ley’s campaign also benefited from $114,049 in other advert­ising by the Repub­lican State Lead­er­ship Commit­tee, the biggest multi-state spender in supreme court races in the 2013–14 cycle. An outside group support­ing Judge Klop­pen­burg, the Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee, spent $381,360 on tele­vi­sion ads accord­ing to Kantar Media/CMAG. The Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee also spent $107,323 on other advert­ising.

The ads can be viewed on the Bren­nan Center’s “Buying Time” website. Spend­ing estim­ates are current through Tues­day, April 5, 2016.

“Wiscon­sin is a perfect example of the politi­cized, high-cost judi­cial elec­tions we’ve been seeing around the coun­try,” said Alicia Bannon, Senior Coun­sel in the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program and 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. “The candid­ates were backed by groups that don’t have to disclose their donors, rais­ing concerns about conflicts of interest and leav­ing the public in the dark about who is seek­ing to shape Wiscon­sin’s courts. In Wiscon­sin and around the coun­try, campaign finance and judi­cial recusal rules have not kept pace with how these races are increas­ingly run.”

“Once again, we’ve seen a state Supreme Court race in which outside spend­ers pour­ing cash into TV ad campaigns have possibly made a signi­fic­ant differ­ence in the outcome,” 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. “So far 2016 is off to a very rough start, as we’ve seen outside groups spend heav­ily and succeed in defeat­ing two Supreme Court candid­ates in Arkan­sas, with the same thing happen­ing in Wiscon­sin just weeks later. This does­n’t bode well for the judi­cial elec­tions ahead this year.”       

Accord­ing to Bank­rolling the Bench, outside spend­ing by special interest groups was 29 percent of total spend­ing in the 2013–14 cycle, a record high. In this year’s Wiscon­sin race, outside spend­ing was 56 percent of total spend­ing.

Repor­ted fundrais­ing by the two general elec­tion candid­ates totaled a combined $1,610,115 accord­ing to state disclos­ures. Includ­ing the primary elec­tion, total repor­ted candid­ate fundrais­ing reached $1,915,346, as follows:

Brad­ley: $861,424

Klop­pen­burg: $748,690

Donald (primary only): $305,231

Spend­ing estim­ates from Kantar Media/CMAG are based on captured satel­lite data in the nation’s largest media markets. CMAG’s calcu­la­tions 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. CMAG’s data edit­ing process may take several months to complete, and as a result, estim­ated spend­ing totals may change once the process is finished.