A report released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said financing sources both in and outside the candidates’ campaigns in Wisconsin’s April Supreme Court election spent over $5 million in advertisements and grassroots campaigning measures.
The total amount spent over the election was $5.4 million and includes contributions made by the four participating candidates as well as multiple special interest groups. It is the third-highest amount spent on a Wisconsin Supreme Court election, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Director Mike McCabe said.
“This was the third-most expensive Supreme Court race in history, following totals of $5.7 million in 2007 and numbers just shy of $6 million in 2008,” McCabe said.
The report’s $5.4 million estimate includes TV, radio and direct mail advertising as well as grassroots campaigning and door-to-door literature distribution. McCabe said he had no doubt the group was unable to observe some money activity.
This year’s election was the first since the Impartial Justice Law passed in 2009. The law allows candidates to limit their spending by receiving public spending on a volunteer basis. Candidates that choose to participate receive public financing in exchange for limited spending.
Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin Jay Heck said the law provided candidates with close to $1 million in campaign finance.
“Both Prosser, Kloppenburg and primary candidate Joel Winnig agreed to this, receiving $100,000 each in the primaries. Prosser and Kloppenburg then received $300,000 in the general election. This totaled to the $900,000 that was contributed directly by the candidates.”
Aside from money obtained through public finance, third party special interest groups contributed the remaining $4.5 million. Roughly $2.7 million and $1.8 million were spent to support Prosser and Kloppenburg’s campaign, respectively.
The Greater Wisconsin Committee, whose policies include health care reform, environmental protection and quality public schools, counted for nearly all of Kloppenburg’s third party contributions, spending close to $1.7 million to aid the campaign.
Prosser’s most significant contributor, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, donated $1.1 million and is Wisconsin’s “largest business group and one of the most powerful players in politics,” according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign report.
“I am not surprised by the amount of money spent in this election,” Prosser’s campaign manager Brian Nemoir said. “Any dollar spent on an electoral cycle shows the level of interest in that election. This high amount of spending reflects extreme interest in the outcome of this election.”
Heck said he believed the large difference in third party contributions would have been avoided had a certain provision of the Impartial Justice Law been passed.
The blocked provision would have offset differences in third party contributions by offering the opposing party public financing up to three times their spending limit.
“Had this provision not been blocked, we think we would have seen more from candidates and less from outside groups,” Heck explained. “Still, we see the Impartial Justice Law to be a success because we didn’t have candidates begging for money and it allowed them to have secure public financing.”
The $5.4 million election came to a close on Monday when Prosser officially announced his victory. Kloppenburg has until Wednesday to announce whether she will request a recount.