WASHINGTON, DC – With less than a week to go before Election Day on April 5, television ad contract buys for the Wisconsin Supreme Court general election have reached at least $1,964,706. That brings total TV contract spending for the entire race to at least $2,688,306, according to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.
Two outside groups have dominated TV spending in the election: the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, which supports incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley, and the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which supports her challenger, State Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. The Greater Wisconsin Committee has spent at least $345,430 on TV ad contract purchases for the general election, according to FCC data. The Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent significantly more: at least $1,093,500 for TV ad contracts in the general-election portion of the race and $442,095 for the primary, for a total of at least $1,535,595.
The candidates’ campaigns, meanwhile, have spent less on TV ads for the general election. Justice Bradley’s campaign has booked contracts worth at least $223,350 for the general election. Judge Kloppenburg’s has booked contracts worth at least $302,426 for the general, and earlier booked contracts worth at least $139,000 for the primary.
Wisconsin’s most expensive single-seat Supreme Court election was in 2011, when Judge Kloppenburg ran against Justice David Prosser. That race saw total spending of over $5 million, including $3.7 million in spending by outside groups.
The ads can be viewed on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website. Spending totals are current as of 6 a.m. CT, March 31.
“Public confidence in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has plummeted in recent years, and high-cost and politicized elections like this one are one of the big reasons why,” 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. “When judges start looking like politicians in robes, the public may wonder if they can be trusted to decide cases fairly and impartially.”
“The deluge of special-interest money flowing into Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race is a sign of a judicial selection system that is out of balance,” 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. “High-priced, politicized judicial elections are no way to build fair and impartial courts. It’s time to look seriously at reforms, like merit selection, that will help get money and politics out of the judicial selection process.”
Meanwhile, reported fundraising by the two general election candidates has reached a combined $1,567,615, according to state disclosures, as follows: