The several-month-long race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court will come to an end today when voters across the state make a decision that experts said might be shaped by a historical influx of third party money for advertisements.
The increased interest around the usually sleepy Supreme Court election stems from the controversy surrounding the conservative governor’s budget repair bill. While current Justice David Prosser and challenger Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg stand by their nonpartisanship, third-party interests have poured more than $3 million into ads telling a different story.
“People are looking at this race as a barometer for Gov. [Scott] Walker,” Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said. “They make the assumption that a vote for Prosser is a vote for Walker.”
Since Prosser became a justice on the Supreme Court, his voting record has coincided with conservative justices more so than the liberal justices, University of Wisconsin political science professor Charles Franklin said.
Before former governor Tommy Thompson appointed Prosser as a justice, he served 18 years as a Republican in the state Legislature.
Conservatives accuse candidate JoAnn Kloppenburg of having a liberal bias, though she does not posses a voting record to validate this claim.
Kloppenburg is an assistant attorney general within the Department of Justice, typically a non-partisan actor within Wisconsin, and her job involved enforcing environmental law in Wisconsin, Heck said.
Prosser paints her as a left-winger because he claims she supported a candidate from the Green Party for the state Legislature, Heck said, but Kloppenburg later revealed it was her husband who supported the candidate.
“The outside groups make it seem as though they are absolutely certain of which way both of the candidates will vote if they are elected to the Supreme Court,” Franklin said. “It is to their benefit to act this way, but there is no way to know for certain which way either of the candidates will vote.”
A number of ads made to support Kloppenburg’s campaign frame Prosser as being lockstep with Walker. One ad specifically compares Prosser’s voting record in the Assembly with Walker’s, claiming the the pair voted the same a majority of the time. Another ad brings up Prosser’s relationship with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson who he had called a “bitch” last year.
Conservative organizations’ ads have chosen to ignore the budget repair bill and focus on Kloppenburg’s crime prosecution. The ads claim she is weak on crime, referencing a sound bite where Kloppenburg denied ever saying she was tough on crime.
Five special interest groups spent more than $3 million collectively on television advertising in the race, according to a statement the Brennan Center for Justice released Monday.
If outside group spending continues at the pace of the last several days, total spending by non-candidate groups in this Tuesday’s contest is likely to reach or surpass the $3.38 million seen in the record-setting 2008 election, according to the statement.
The liberal Greater Milwaukee Committee spent roughly $1.2 million for ads, while the conservative Citizens for a Strong America and Wisconsin Manufacturer and Commerce’s WMC Issues Mobilization Council, Inc. spent $1.4 million collectively.