TV spending by special interest groups in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race has risen to more than $3.5 million and broken the previous record. On the morning after Election Day, the contest was too close to call.
The total of special interest spending on TV ads by Monday surpassed the $3.38 million spent in another heated and nasty contest, the 2008 race between then-Justice Louis Butler and challenger Michael Gableman, according to data released by the Brennan Center for Justice.
“Once again, costly spending and negative attack ads have raged out of control in Wisconsin,” said Charles Hall, a Justice at Stake spokesman, in a press release. “Regardless of who wins this election, public confidence in a fair, impartial court system will inevitably be damaged.”
“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 multi-million dollar judicial campaigns and vicious mudslinging attack ads are commonplace,” said Adam Skaggs, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Fair Courts Project.
Early today, Justice David Prosser held a lead of 835 votes over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg with all but 24 of the state’s 3,630 precincts reporting, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The cliff-hanger had political insiders talking about a possible recount. A recount could in turn be followed by litigation. And the outcome of litigation might ultimately come before the state Supreme Court.
Wisconsin is at the epicenter of a growing national fight over curbing the collective bargaining power of public employees, and polarized politics spilled over into the Supreme Court race — although it is officially nonpartisan. The political fight was accompanied by the record-setting spending pace of interest groups seeking to influence the makeup of the court.
“The political divisions of Wisconsin — and perhaps America — were on display in the high court contest,” said a Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog post entitled “Wisconsin: A Supreme Court Race for the Ages.”
The seven-member court now is regarded as having a 4-3 conservative majority, which includes Justice Prosser.
Four conservative groups that supported Justice Prosser spent a total sum that was 37% above the expenditure of a liberal group that supported Kloppenburg, the Journal Sentinel said. Spending by Justice Prosser and Kloppenburg was limited, as they accepted public financing for their campaigns under a new state law.
Other news reports included USA Today, “Wisconsin union debate reaches court election race;” Politico, “Wisconsin judicial race too close to call;” Fox News, “Republican Has Narrow Lead in Crucial Wisconsin Supreme Court Election;” and the Wall Street Journal, “Wisconsin Judicial Vote Appears Headed for Recount.”
You can learn more about the background of the race, and the overshadowing of the candidates and their qualifications, from Gavel Grab. The Brennan Center is a JAS partner.