Unusual Money Trail in Wisconsin Supreme Court Race

April 9, 2015

The money trail on this week’s race for the Wisconsin Supreme Court between Ann Walsh Bradley and James P. Daley was an unusual one in several ways.

First of all, total spending by candidates and groups was far below the last two state Supreme Court races. Preliminary figures show spending in this year’s race totaled nearly $900,000 – a far cry from what was spent in 2011 ($5.4 million) in the race between JoAnne Kloppenburg and David Prosser or what was spent in 2009 ($2.2 million) between Shirley Abrahamson and Randy Koschnick.

Secondly, outside spending on so-called issue ads this year was a tiny fraction of what it was during the Prosser-Kloppenburg race. The total in that race was around $4.3 million. This year the total was about $169,000. That’s just 4 percent of what it was four years ago!

Mostly, that was because conservative groups chose essentially to stay out of the contest. In the 2011 race, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce spent $1.1 million in support of Prosser. This time it spent nothing in support of Judge Daley. Citizens for a Strong America spent $985,000 in 2011, and this time, it spent nothing. Four years ago, Wisconsin Club for Growth spent $520,000. This time, it spent nothing. In fact, the only conservative outside group that spent anything on outside electioneering was Wisconsin Right to Life, and it spent all of $181.21.

On the liberal side, the Greater Wisconsin Committee spent an estimated $168,900 in support of Bradley. In 2011, it spent nine times that – $1.6 million – in support of Kloppenburg.

Thirdly, final figures from campaign finance reports that will be filed in July are likely to show that the candidates in the 2015 race will have spent more than the outside special interest groups – a fete that only occurred once in the previous five races when Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who won reelection in 2009, and her challenger, Randy Koschnick, spent a combined $1.65 million and outside groups spent an estimated $577,000.

Current spending by the candidates through March 23 shows Bradley and Daley spent a total of $720,364, including $498,962 by Bradley and $221,402 by Daley.