Good-government watchdog groups in Wisconsin are up in arms following a report from a nonpartisan public policy institute that the state’s bitterly contested state Supreme Court race has set a new record for third-party TV ad expenditures.
Outside groups have spent more than $3.5 million on ads in the Wisconsin contest, which pits conservative incumbent Justice David Prosser against liberal Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg.
That easily eclipses the previous record of $3.38 million, which special-interest organizations spent in a 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court race.
Mike McCabe, the executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan good-government watchdog, tells Newsmax that the flood of campaign cash pouring into the state transcends partisan politics.
“It’s infected both parties, and so everything that I see is just rife with the influence of the less than 1 percent of the population that pays for all of this campaigning,” he says.
The final spending tally for the race will be much higher and could top the $5 million mark.
That’s because the information released late Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law includes advertising only through Monday, based on satellite TV data. It does not include the cost of ad agency commissions, production costs, or airtime buys on local cable networks that are not distributed by satellite.
The record level of spending reflects the importance of the battle now underway in Wisconsin. Tuesday’s vote has been billed as a referendum on the policies of GOP Gov. Scott Walker, and the state has been described as “ground zero” in the struggle between fiscal conservatives trying to rein in entitlements and the powerful public-sector unions who support Democratic candidates.
Tuesday’s outcome will determine whether conservatives or liberals will control Wisconsin’s supreme court, and some analysts believe it could even help set the table for political events leading up to the 2012 elections.
According to the Brennan Center, the largest single advertising underwriter in the campaign — $1.4 million so far — is the Greater Wisconsin Committee. That’s a group largely funded by unions and the Democratic Party, which is committed to defeating Prosser.
Each of the four major conservative groups seeking Prosser’s re-election has spent less than $1 million. But their combined total is nearly $2.2 million.
Independent good government watchdogs have decried the money pouring into the race as a sign that an independent judiciary could be at risk.
“Justice for Sale in Wisconsin” read the headline of a USAToday editorial on the race Tuesday.
Adam Skaggs, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Fair Courts Project, stated: “The feverish special interest spending on television ads in this year's Supreme Court race, which eclipsed the record-setting spending of 2008, has cemented Wisconsin's reputation as a state in which, unfortunately, costly multimillion-dollar judicial campaigns and vicious mudslinging attack ads are commonplace.”
Charles Hall, a spokesman for Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan group dedicated to keeping state and local courts fair and impartial, warned that, “Regardless of who wins this election, public confidence in a fair, impartial court system will inevitably be damaged.”
The four top organizations spending money on TV advertising in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, according to the Brennan Center:
- Greater Wisconsin Committee — $1,363,040
- Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce — $893,990
- Citizens for a Strong America — $813,660
- Wisconsin Club for Growth — $415,860
- State Tea Party Express — $53,710
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