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Buying Time 2011: Judicial Public Financing in Wisconsin

This page reflects Wisconsin judicial advertisements in 2011.

Published: April 5, 2011

Total special-interest spend­ing through Tues­day, April 5, 2011:  $3,581,460.

Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee (GWC) — $1,365,340.

Issues Mobil­iz­a­tion Coun­cil of Wiscon­sin Manu­fac­tur­ers & Commerce (WMC) — $910,970.

Citizens for a Strong Amer­ica (CSA) — $836,090.

Wiscon­sin Club for Growth (CFG) — $415,860.

State Tea Party Express — $53,200.                                                   

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Wiscon­sin’s recent Supreme Court elec­tions have featured costly multi-million dollar campaigns and vicious, mudsling­ing attack ads. Total TV spend­ing in 2007 and 2008 races reached a stag­ger­ing $6 million – more than quad­ruple previ­ous years’ races – and in 2008, more money was spent on TV ads in Wiscon­sin than was spent in any other state (more than $3.8 million). In 2009, incum­bent Chief Justice Shir­ley Abra­ham­son raised $1,452,000 for her re-elec­tion campaign, narrowly break­ing the previ­ous fundrais­ing record set just two years earlier by Justice Annette Zieg­ler. Special interests have also been active in Wiscon­sin judi­cial elec­tions; most recently, the Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee spent about $306,000 in Justice Abra­ham­son’s 2009 campaign.

Recent elec­tions have featured hard-hitting attack ads. One partic­u­larly contro­ver­sial ad aired by Justice Mike Gable­man in his 2008 campaign attacked incum­bent Justice Louis Butler for allegedly coddling crim­in­als. Numer­ous mislead­ing state­ments in the advert­ise­ment led to ethics charges against Gable­man, though the proceed­ing ended incon­clus­ively in 2010 when the remain­ing members of the Supreme Court dead­locked on whether to sanc­tion Gable­man. 

In the wake of substan­tial negat­ive press and concerns about the increas­ing influ­ence of polit­ics and special interest money in judi­cial elec­tions, the state legis­lature passed Wiscon­sin’s public finan­cing law in 2009. 2011 was the state’s first high court elec­tion with public finan­cing.

The 2011 elec­tion kicked off with four candid­ates compet­ing in a Febru­ary 15th primary.  Three of the four candid­ates – incum­bent David Prosser and chal­lengers Joel Winnig and JoAnne Klop­pen­burg – opted into the public fund­ing program, which provided $100,000 to each candid­ate for the primary campaign. The fourth candid­ate, Marla Steph­ens, did not seek public finan­cing.   

Both publicly funded chal­lengers ran TV ads during the primary campaign; the privately financed candid­ate, Steph­ens, did not buy any TV airtime.  Incum­bent David Prosser bene­fit­ted from more than $400,000 in ad purchases by the conser­vat­ive group Wiscon­sin Club for Growth.

Through the primary elec­tion, more than half a million dollars – $591,000 – was spent over­all on TV air time.  Club for Growth, spend­ing approx­im­ately $408,000, accoun­ted for about 69 percent of all tele­vi­sion advert­ising in the primary.  It spent more than twice as much for ads support­ing Prosser than was spent on TV by the incum­bent’s chal­lengers combined.  Club for Growth didn’t only ring up a higher total than the chal­lengers, it paid more per advert­ise­ment. Club for Growth paid an aver­age of about $400 for each of its ads, while Winnig paid less than $200 per ad, and Klop­pen­burg less than $150 per ad—in­dic­at­ing that Club for Growth’s ads were dispro­por­tion­ately placed in larger markets or during program­ming with larger audi­ences than the ads placed by Prosser’s chal­lengers.  

Prosser hand­ily won the primary, and Klop­pen­burg placed second.  The two candid­ates went on to face off in the April 5th general elec­tion.  Both received a base grant of $300,000 in public funds for the general elec­tion campaign.

Follow­ing the primary, many observ­ers assumed Prosser would easily coast to victory in the general elec­tion, but outside polit­ical events trans­formed the race into a heated, highly compet­it­ive contest.  Governor Scott Walker’s push to change the state’s collect­ive bargain­ing provi­sions, a move that sparked weeks of protests at the state Capitol, ener­gized the Supreme Court elec­tion. Since the protests, interest in the race soared as liberal-lean­ing organ­iz­a­tions attacked Prosser as a “rubber stamp” for Walker, and busi­ness groups warned that a Klop­pen­burg victory could endanger Walker’s legis­lat­ive accom­plish­ments if and when the Supreme Court ruled on chal­lenges to the legis­la­tion.  Special interest groups on both sides poured money into TV ad buys through Elec­tion Day. Special interest groups spent just under $3.6 million on tele­vi­sion ads, while over­all spend­ing in the state reached nearly $5 million. 

Prosser narrowly won the race, main­tain­ing the court’s conser­vat­ive major­ity. 

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Real Time Analysis 

Through­out the elec­tion season the Bren­nan Center issued a series of analyses focused on judi­cial elec­tion spend­ing 


Advert­ise­ments


April 2, 2011 – Prosser vs. Klop­pen­berg 2

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by the Wiscon­sin Tea Party Express says respec­ted legal experts agree that Justice Prosser is a great judge.


April 2, 2011 – Prosser vs. Klop­pen­berg

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by the Wiscon­sin Tea Party Express says respec­ted legal experts agree that Justice Prosser is a great judge.


April 2, 2011 – Sexist Slurs

Stream Video QTDown­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by the Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee says Justice David Prosser used a sexist slur toward his colleague.


April 2, 2011 – Refused

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by Citizens for a Stronger Amer­ica says JoAnne Klop­pen­berg refused to stop mislead­ing ads aired by her allies.


April 1, 2011 – Law and Order 2

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by the Wiscon­sin Glub for Growth states that Prosser guards chil­dren against crime.


April 1, 2011 – Prosser Supports Walker

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by the Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee claims that Prosser voted to restrict collect­ive bargain­ing rights.


March 30, 2011 – Tough on Crime

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by the Wiscon­sin Manu­fac­tur­ers & Commerce Issues Mobil­iz­a­tion Coun­cil says JoAnne Klop­pen­burg is weak on crim­in­als.


March 30, 2011 – Courtroom Exper­i­ence

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by Citizens for a Stronger Amer­ica attacks Klop­pen­burg for her lack of courtroom exper­i­ence.


Police for Prosser

An advert­ise­ment by Prosser’s campaign says that Prosser votes to protect law enforce­ment.*

*This ad is no longer avail­able online 


Desper­ate Lies

An advert­ise­ment by Prosser’s campaign says the advert­ise­ment attack­ing Prosser for a 30 year old sexual assault case is “sleazy and full of lies.”*

*This ad is no longer avail­able online 


Prosser a Healthy Choice

An advert­ise­ment by Prosser’s campaign says Justice Prosser’s lead­er­ship provides for injured patients and keeps down health care costs.*

*This ad is no longer avail­able online 


March 24, 2011 – Justice Blind

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

JoAnne Klop­pen­burg says that as a Supreme Court Justice she will ensure that “justice is blind.”


March 24, 2011 – Refuses to Prosec­ute

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by the Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee claims that Prosser refuses to prosec­ute a priest for sexual abuse.


March 23, 2011 – Law and Order

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by the Wiscon­sin Manu­fac­tur­ers & Commerce Issues Mobil­iz­a­tion Coun­cil says Justice Prosser protects Wiscon­sin famil­ies.


March 18, 2011 – Rubber Stamp

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by the Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee claims Justice Prosser is a rubber stamp for Governor Scott Walker.


Febru­ary, 2011 – Justice David Prosser

A Youtube advert­ise­ment by David Prosser’s campaign touts his exper­i­ence.*

*This ad is no longer avail­able online 


Febru­ary 8, 2011 – Differ­ence

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by Joel Winnig’s campaign states he repres­ents inde­pend­ence, integ­rity and justice.


Febru­ary 7, 2011 – Cross­roads

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by Joel Winnig’s campaign states he is the inde­pend­ent candid­ate who will restore integ­rity to the Wiscon­sin Supreme Court.


Febru­ary 7, 2011 – Prosser Under­stands

Stream Video QT Down­load story­board here

An advert­ise­ment by the Wiscon­sin Club for Growth states that Prosser is tough on crime.


Janu­ary 26, 2011 – Ralph Cagle

Stream Video QT | Down­load story­board here

In a JoAnne Klop­pen­burg advert­ise­ment, citizen’s describe her as inde­pend­ent and tough.


News


Tea Party, Labor Spend Big In Wis. High Court Race, Asso­ci­ated Press, April 3, 2011.

Kenneth P. Vogel, Union Fight Hits Wiscon­sin Court Race, Politico, April 4, 2011.

Former Gov. Lucey With­draws Support From Prosser, Asso­ci­ated Press, March 31, 2011.

Poli­ti­Fact: Says Wiscon­sin Supreme Court candid­ate JoAnne Klop­pen­burg “Put an 80-Year-Old Farmer in Jail for Refus­ing to Plant Native Veget­a­tion on his Farm, Milwau­kee Journal Sentinel, March 31, 2011.

Poli­ti­Fact: Greater Wiscon­sin Commit­tee Says State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser Equals Gov. Scott Walker, Milwau­kee Journal Sentinel, March 31, 2011.

Jesse Garza, Lucey Resigns As Honor­ary Co-chair of Prosser Campaign, Milwau­kee Journal Sentinel, March 31, 2011.

David Weigel, Conser­vat­ives Re-Discover Wiscon­sin, Slate, March 30, 2011.

A Mislead­ing Ad, Milwau­kee Journal Sentinel, March 29, 2011.

Patrick Marley, In Madison Debate, Prosser Calls Klop­pen­burg an ‘Ideo­logue,’ Milwau­kee Journal Sentinel, March 25, 2011.

Shawn John­son, Wiscon­sin Court Race Turns Into A Polit­ical Dogfight, NPR, March 24, 2011.

Appoint­ing Judges A Supreme Idea, Journal Times, March 24, 2011.

Abe Sauer, Wiscon­sin’s Nasty Spring Elec­tion: Impar­ti­al­ity with Its Sleeves Rolled, The AWL, March 24th, 2011.

Stephen Moore, Wiscon­sin’s Battle Supreme, Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2011.

Chris­topher Murray, Wiscon­sin Has Become 'Exhibit A’ For Not Elect­ing Judges, Wash­ing­ton Exam­iner, March 21, 2011.

Patrick Marley, Supreme Court Tensions Boil Over, Milwau­kee Journal Sentinel, March 19, 2011.

Hilary Dickin­son, David Prosser Aims For Re-Elec­tion, Beloit Daily News, March 18, 2011.

Eric Kleefeld, Progress­ive Group’s Ad Ties WI Supreme Court Justice To Scott Walker, Talk­ing Points Memo, March 18, 2011.

Todd Rich­mond, Union Fight Could Carry Over To Court Race, Asso­ci­ated Press, March 14, 2011.

Steven Elbow, Supreme Court Race Could See Deluge of Special Interest Spend­ing, The Capital Times, Febru­ary 16, 2011.

Larry Sand­ler and Patrick Marley, Ad Won’t Trig­ger Addi­tional Funds for Court Candid­ates, Journal Sentinel, Febru­ary 11, 2011.

Larry Sand­ler, Conser­vat­ives Try To Halt Public Fund­ing Of Court Race, The Journal Sentinel, Febru­ary 9, 2011.

Patrick Marley, Supreme Court Candid­ate Who Refused Public Support Sees Campaign Fund Lag, Journal Sentinel, Febru­ary 7, 2011.

Jeff Patch, WRTL Targets Judi­cial Tax Finan­cing In Wis., Center For Compet­it­ive Polit­ics, Febru­ary 8, 2011.

Elec­tion 2011: Four Seek Seat on Wiscon­sin Supreme Court, Wiscon­sin State Journal, Febru­ary 5, 2011.


Meth­od­o­logy 

All data on ad airings and spend­ing on ads are calcu­lated and prepared by Kantar Media/CMAG, which captures satel­lite data in the nation’s largest media markets. CMAG’s estim­ates 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. Cost estim­ates are revised by Kantar Media/CMAG when it receives updated data, result­ing in some fluc­tu­ations in the repor­ted ad spend­ing.