Spending Topped $2 Million In Spring Supreme Court Race

One special interest group outspent the five candidates
in the state school superintendent’s race

July 21, 2009

Madison - Spending by outside smear groups and the two candidates in April’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race topped $2.1 million, and the state’s largest teachers union spent substantially more than the five candidates vying for state school superintendent combined, according to a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review.

Final spending reports by the candidates involved in the spring election for Wisconsin’s highest court showed incumbent Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who won, spent $1.37 million and her opponent Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick spent $189,122.

Outside special interests that engaged in negative issue advertising and independent expenditures spent an estimated $577,000. All but $153 of the groups’ spending was spent to back Abrahamson. The liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee, which traditionally backs Democratic candidates in partisan races, led the pack and doled out an estimated $465,000 to back Abrahamson.

Abrahamson’s $1.37 million in spending was the second-highest ever spent by a candidate in a Supreme Court race. The record is held by Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler who spent $1.45 million to win a seat on the court in 2007.

This year’s Supreme Court race was the first in the last three where candidate spending was higher than spending by outside electioneering groups.

For more details about these outside electioneering groups and their spending in the 2009 Supreme Court race, please visit our Hijacking Campaign 2009 feature.

Abrahamson set a record for fundraising by a Supreme Court candidate. Abrahamson raised $1.47 million, edging the previous record $1.45 million also set by Ziegler in 2007. Most of Ziegler’s money – $840,000 – came from her own pocket. Abrahamson contributed about $77,000 to her own campaign.

Final spending reports by the candidates for state school superintendent showed the candidates and outside groups spent $1.1 million. Outside special interest groups spent an estimated $694,000. The smear groups were led by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, which doled out $564,993 to back Tony Evers, who won. Only about $25,000 in outside spending was done on behalf of Evers’ April ballot opponent, Rose Fernandez.

The teachers union’s $564,993 in spending alone was sharply more than the $428,040 spent by the initial field of five state school superintendent candidates combined. That field of five was pared in a February primary to Evers, who spent $228,418, and Fernandez, who spent $113,393, in the race.

The previous record for outside spending in a state school superintendent’s race was in 2005 when four political action committees spent $347,205 on independent expenditures.

For more details about these outside electioneering groups and their spending in the 2009 State School Superintendent’s race, please visit our Hijacking Campaign 2009 feature.

Phony issue ad groups are not required to disclose where they get their money, even if it is from the treasuries of corporations or labor unions which are prohibited under Wisconsin law from giving directly to candidates. Phony issue ad groups like the Greater Wisconsin Committee do not have to report their sources of fundraising and spending like candidates, political parties and independent expenditure groups because their negative ads, mailers and other activities do not explicitly tell people who to vote for even though their smear tactics make clear the candidate they want voters to support.

Independent expenditure groups like the state’s largest teachers union must publicly disclose their fundraising and spending because their advertisements and other outside electioneering activities clearly say who to vote for.