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Estimates: Conservative group spent more than $300,000 on TV ads in support of Wis. SC justice

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Feb 22, 2013

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) -- Special interest spending dominated this week's primary for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, according to estimates released by the Brennan Center for Justice and Justice at Stake.

The conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth spent more than $300,000 on television advertisements in support of incumbent Justice Patience Roggensack, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG estimates.

Roggensack and Marquette University law professor Edward Fallone received the most votes in Tuesday's primary, besting Milwaukee attorney Vince Megna.

Roggensack and Fallone will now face each other in the state's April 2 general election.

The winner will serve a 10-year term on the Court.

According to its website, the Wisconsin Club for Growth is dedicated to "informing, educating and rallying citizens of Wisconsin to embrace and enact policies that lead to sustained economic growth, limited government and minimal taxation."

The group was responsible for more than 75 percent of the nearly $400,000 in TV spending in the primary race, and more than 80 percent of the total ad spots, according to the estimates released by the Brennan Center and JAS.

The Brennan Center is a self-described "nonpartisan public policy and law institute that focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice."

JAS, also nonpartisan, describes itself as a "nonprofit campaign aimed at keeping courts fair and impartial."

"Around the country, outside groups are increasingly focusing their attention on judicial elections, often outspending the candidates themselves," Alicia Bannon, counsel in the Brennan Center's Democracy Program, said in a statement Thursday. "When special interests take over judicial races, public confidence in our courts is threatened."

Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, agreed.

"Contests dominated by outside interest groups often grow nastier, shallower and more partisan. Wisconsin voters deserve a Supreme Court campaign that puts quality and fairness first," he said in a statement Thursday.

According to the Brennan Center and JAS, Roggensack was the only candidate to spend money on TV ads -- spending more than $90,000.

Past Wisconsin Supreme Court races have featured multi-million dollar campaigns and vicious, mudslinging attack ads.

In 2011, special interest groups spent just under $3.6 million on TV ads -- a new record, according to the Brennan Center and JAS -- in a race that many groups recast as a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker following his controversial decision to change Wisconsin's collective bargaining process.

This year's race has already been colored by charges of dysfunction on the Court itself, including an allegation by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley that fellow Justice David Prosser choked her during an argument.

Bradley recently criticized Roggensack for minimizing the Court's dysfunction during her reelection campaign.

The Brennan Center and JAS contend that with the high court's 4-3 conservative majority on the line, the state is likely to see another high-cost race with significant spending by outside groups.

The candidates themselves also will face increased pressure to fundraise, they argue.

After introducing public financing for judicial races in 2011, the state Legislature eliminated the program after just one election.

Roggensack has reportedly raised about $200,000 through early February, while Fallone has raised about $80,000.

TV spending data for the Wisconsin race, along with ads and storyboards, is available at the Brennan Center's Buying Time: Wisconsin 2013 webpage.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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