TV Spending in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Tops $1.1 Million, Outside Groups Dominate

April 4, 2013

Contact: Seth Hoy, Brennan Center for Justice, seth.hoy@nyu.edu, (646) 292-8369 or Lauren Ketchum, Justice at Stake, lketchum@justiceatstake.org, (202) 204-6015

Television spending in this year’s race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court topped $1.1 million, with nearly 70 percent of spending coming from conservative interest groups, according to estimates released by the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake. Incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack, who is part of the Court’s conservative wing, defeated Marquette law professor Ed Fallone in the April 2 election, maintaining the Court’s 4-3 conservative majority.

Television spending for this year’s Supreme Court race was lower than in recent years, where contentious races put Wisconsin fifth in the nation in TV spending from 2000-2009. In 2011, total TV spending in Wisconsin was more than $3.9 million, in a Supreme Court race that many groups recast as a referendum on Governor Scott Walker following his controversial decision to change the state’s collective bargaining process.

“While overall TV spending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race was less than in previous years, special interests continued to dominate,” said Alicia Bannon, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Wisconsin’s million-dollar spending puts public confidence in the courts at risk.”

“When interest groups routinely outspend the candidates, judges are pressured to be accountable to them instead of the law," said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake.

Fallone was outspent by Roggensack and outside groups nearly five-to-one*. The pro-business group WMC Issues Mobilization Council spent approximately $470,000 in ads supporting Roggensack during the general election, and the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth spent approximately $300,000 in ads supporting Roggensack in the primary. Roggensack spent about $155,000 on TV ads, while Fallone spent about $190,000. Progressive and labor groups sat out this year’s race after spending nearly $1.4 million on TV ads in 2011. 

Ads by Roggensack and the outside groups supporting her campaign struck a positive tone, highlighting her record and experience. In contrast, Fallone’s one ad focused on dysfunction in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, including an allegation by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley that Justice David Prosser choked her during an argument.

Television spending data for the Wisconsin race, ads, and storyboards, are available at the Brennan Center’s Buying Time: Wisconsin 2013 webpage.

TV Methodology

All data on ad airings and spending on ads are calculated and prepared by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, which captures satellite data in that 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. The costs reported here therefore understate actual expenditures.


CORRECTION: This press release originally reported that Fallone was outspent by Roggensack and outside groups nearly ten-to-one, when in fact, it is five-to-one.

UPDATE: After this press release was issued on April 4, 2013, Kantar Media/CMAG lowered its estimates for total TV spending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race.  CMAG’s data editing process may take between three to four months, and estimated spending totals were changed after the editing process was fully completed. These updated figures are as follows: $750,000 in total spending, with more than 65 percent of spending coming from conservative interest groups.  WMC Issues Mobilization Council: $280,000 in spending on ads supporting Roggensack.  Wisconsin Club for Growth: nearly $220,000 on ads supporting Roggensack. Roggensack ad spending: over $110,000.  Fallone ad spending: over $140,000. All numbers in this release were updated on October 22, 2013.