TV Advertising Ramps Up Ahead of Wisconsin Supreme Court General Election

March 16, 2016
WASHINGTON, DC – Television advertising for the Wisconsin Supreme Court general election has ramped up quickly as the April 5 election approaches. With both candidates booking broadcast TV ad contracts and the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform continuing to purchase ads, TV contract buys for just the general election portion of the race have reached at least $546,970*, according to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.
Incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley, who did not advertise on TV in the primary, has purchased TV ad contracts worth at least $79,885, according to records. Her challenger, State Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, has booked contracts worth at least $47,280 for the general election. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has booked ad contracts for the general election worth at least $419,805.* The Alliance’s ads oppose Judge Kloppenburg.

During the primary, TV ad contracts totaled at least $723,600, according to analyses by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center, bringing total TV spending to at least $1,296,745 to date. Judge Kloppenburg booked TV advertising worth at least $139,000 during the primary, while the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform ran ads worth at least $442,095.

The TV ads can be viewed on the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website within 24 hours of beginning to air. FCC totals are current as of 8 a.m. CT March 16.

“For years, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has been beset by high-cost and politicized elections, which have created troubling conflicts of interest for many of its judges,” 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. “At the same time, Wisconsin has weakened its campaign finance and recusal rules and eliminated a judicial public financing program, making it harder for judges to steer clear of special interest influence.”

“While candidates are jumping into the fray with their own TV ads, this Supreme Court election remains dominated by outside spending,” 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. “We’ve also seen the emergence of crime-themed ads and attack ads, which are all too common in judicial elections nationwide. Unfortunately, Wisconsinites are likely to get a heavy dose of these themes before Election Day.”

Meanwhile, reported fundraising by the two general election candidates has reached a combined $659,985 according to state disclosures, as follows:  

Bradley: $323,292

Kloppenburg: $336,693

*Correction (4/22/2016): Due to a calculation error, the general election television spending by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform was previously misreported as $445,980. The correct general election spending total is $419,805. Likewise, the total general election television spending was previously misreported as $573,145. The correct total general election television spending is $546,970.