Partisan Special Interests Are Big Backers Again In High Court Race

February 13, 2008

Madison - Nearly all of the largest individual contributions going to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler and his challenger, Michael Gableman are coming from staunch supporters of Republican and Democratic candidates in past partisan races for other statewide offices and the legislature, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

These $1,000-plus special interest contributors represent a large proportion of the total individual contributions these candidates have accepted, particularly for Gableman.

WDC found all but six of the 72 contributors who have given Butler $1,000 or more through February 4, 2008 made all or most of their contributions from 2001 through June 30, 2007 to Democratic candidates for the legislature, governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Two of the six contributors who did not give the vast majority of their money to Democrats had not made large contributions to any Wisconsin candidates before Butler, records show.

Butler’s 72 mega-contributors gave him a total of $135,968, or 37 percent of his total individual contributions from July 1, 2002 through February 4, 2008.

Twenty-six of the 29 contributors who gave Gableman $1,000 or more through February 4, 2008 made all or most of their contributions from 2001 through June 30, 2007 to Republican candidates for legislative and partisan statewide races. Two of the three contributors who did not give the vast majority of their money to Republicans had not made any large contributions to Wisconsin candidates before Gableman, records show.

Gableman’s 29 mega-contributors gave him a total of $86,000, or 76 percent of his total individual contributions from January 1, 2004 through February 4, 2008.

The WDC review was the second in as many Supreme Court races that again found these judicial contests no longer fit their longtime nonpartisan label. That façade only hides from voters the motivations of the powerful special interests that throw their support and money behind the court candidates. Last year, WDC found that much of the support behind Supreme Court candidate Annette Ziegler came from business and other longtime backers of Republican candidates and much of the support behind candidate Linda Clifford came from lawyers, labor unions and other traditional backers of Democratic candidates.

Some of Butler’s top individual contributors who have given all or most of their support to Democrats in other races since 2001 include:

  • $5,000 from John C. Brogan, Bank of Kaukauna chairman, who has contributed all of his $33,250 to Democratic candidates;
  • $6,000 from William Cannon, a Milwaukee attorney, who has made all of his $12,750 in contributions to Democrats;
  • $3,000 from Patrick Dunphy, a Milwaukee attorney, who has contributed $14,350 to Democrats and $250 to Republicans;
  • $5,000 from Robert Habush, a Milwaukee attorney, who has contributed $27,500 to Democrats and $500 to Republicans;
  • $4,000 from James Jansen, a Madison attorney, who has contributed all of his $30,600 to Democrats;
  • $2,000 from Lawrence Fehring, an attorney from Wauwatosa, who has contributed $15,100 to Democrats and $500 to Republicans;
  • $1,000 from Marc Marotta, a Milwaukee attorney and former state Administration secretary under Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, who has contributed $20,210 to Democrats and $300 to Republicans;
  • $2,000 from Mark Young, a Milwaukee attorney, who has contributed all of his $19,700 to Democrats;
  • $6,750 from Lynde Uihlein, a Milwaukee philanthropist and longtime backer of women’s and Democratic causes, who has contributed $30,075 to Democrats and $500 to Republicans;
  • $2,500 from Martin Schreiber, a Madison lobbyist and former Democratic governor, who has contributed $10,621 to Democrats and $200 to Republicans;
  • $2,000 from Daniel Rottier, a Madison attorney, who has made all of his $26,150 in contributions to Democrats;
  • $2,000 from John C. Peterson, an Appleton attorney, who has contributed $11,602 to Democrats and $300 to Republicans.

Some of Gableman’s top individual contributors who have given all or most of their support to Republicans in other races since 2001 include:

  • $2,000 each from Jim, Lynn and Christy Walton, the Bentonville, Arkansas family that owns mega-retailer Wal-Mart. Christy Walton has contributed $27,250 to Republican candidates and $3,800 to Democratic candidates in Wisconsin. Jim Walton has contributed $25,575 to Republicans and $1,000 to a Democrat and Lynn Walton has contributed $25,475 to Republican candidates and $1,000 to a Democrat in Wisconsin races;
  • $2,500 from Mark Cullen, a Janesville builder, who has contributed $28,685 to Republicans and $1,850 to Democrats;
  • $5,000 from La Crosse businessman Phil Gelatt, who has contributed $18,626 – all to Republicans;
  • $10,000 each from Patricia and Tali Johnson whose Hayward families own Johnson Timber. Patricia Johnson has given all of her $16,500 in contributions to Republicans and Tali Johnson has contributed $13,275 – all to Republican candidates;
  • $2,500 from Carol and Randy Knox of Jefferson. Carol Knox, a Jefferson County supervisor, has contributed all of her $19,063 to Republicans and Randy Knox, an executive with his family-owned WD Hoard & Sons publishing company, has made all of his $33,332 in contributions to Republicans;
  • $4,000 from Mary Kohler and $2,500 from Terry Kohler, the Sheboygan owners of Windway Capital and longtime backers of GOP and conservatives causes. Mary Kohler has made all of her $36,700 in contributions to Republican candidates and Terry Kohler has made all of his $37,375 in contributions to Republicans;
  • $1,500 from Reince Priebus, Kenosha, former 2004 Republican state Senate candidate and current chair of the state Republican Party who has contributed all of his $40,690 in other races to Republican candidates.

In addition to individual contributions, WDC found that political action committee contributions to Gableman and Butler also fell along partisan lines. Butler has accepted $63,548 from PACs through February 4, including $47,711 or 75 percent, from labor unions – a traditional backer of Democratic candidates – and Democratic candidate committees. Gableman has accepted $12,850 in PAC contributions, including $3,000 from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state largest business group and a reliable backer of Republican candidates, and a total of $8,600 from two groups that support conservative Republicans – the Club for Growth and the Wisconsin Center for Economic Prosperity.

2008 Supreme Court Campaign