Smear Groups Spend Nearly $1.3 Million
In High Court, School Super Races

Outside groups greatly outspend school superintendent candidates

April 28, 2009

Madison – Special interest groups spent an estimated $1.27 million mostly on negative television advertising in the two statewide races for the Wisconsin Supreme Court and state school superintendent, according to a preliminary tally of total spring election spending by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, and the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee, a secretive Milwaukee group that backs Democratic candidates in partisan races, spent an estimated $1.03 million mostly on television ads to support the eventual winners of the two supposedly nonpartisan races. WEAC spent $564,993 to help elected state school superintendent candidate Tony Evers and Greater Wisconsin spent an estimated $465,000 to help elect incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

Advancing Wisconsin, a group organized in 2008 to campaign on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Wisconsin candidates for state and local offices, spent an estimated $200,000 distributing fliers that supported Abrahamson and Evers.

The conservative Americans for Prosperity doled out an estimated $25,000 for a 60-second radio ad to support school superintendent candidate Rose Fernandez.

The three other outside groups that spent money in the races backed Abrahamson and Evers including $15,129 by Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, $448 by Madison Teachers Incorporated and $129 by the Kenosha Education Association Council. The two local teachers unions spent their money on newspaper ads and Planned Parenthood sponsored automated phone calls and mailings.

One individual, Randy Melchert, a communications consultant and former Republican Assembly candidate from Brookfield, spent $306 on signs to support Fernandez and Abrahamson’s challenger, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick.

By race, outside phony issue ad and independent expenditures totaled about $694,000 in the state school superintendent race and an estimated $577,000 in the Supreme Court race.

Spending by Abrahamson and Koschnick totaled $1.26 million through March 23 – two weeks before Election Day – including $1.2 million by the chief justice and $62,932 by Koschnick. The five state school superintendent candidates spent a total of $243,411 through March 23 led by Evers at $124,160.

The total cost of the two races will not be known until late July when the seven candidates file campaign finance reports to disclose fundraising and spending through June 30, including the final two weeks of the race before the April 7 election.

However, it is already apparent that this will be record spending by outside groups in a state school superintendent race and the first time outside special interests, namely WEAC, outspent the candidates – and by a considerable amount. The previous record for outside spending in a state school superintendent race was 2005 when four political action committees spent $347,205 on independent expenditures compared to candidate spending of nearly $390,000.

This year’s Supreme Court race will be the first in the last three where the candidates will spend more on their race than outside special interest groups. Abrahamson’s $1.2 million in spending as of March 23 already more than doubles what outside groups spent on her behalf. However, Greater Wisconsin and the other special interests spent nearly nine times more than Koschnick as of March 23.

For more details about the spending and outside electioneering by these groups, 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 corporation or labor union’s treasury which are prohibited under Wisconsin law to make direct contributions 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 clearly spell out the candidate they want voters to support.

Independent expenditure groups like WEAC must publicly disclose their fundraising and spending because their advertisements and other outside electioneering activities clearly say who to vote for.