High Court Race Cost Record $5.8 Million

Over half the money was secretly raised and spent by outside interests

July 23, 2007

Madison - Spending by outside special interests and the candidates in the 2007 Wisconsin Supreme Court race topped $5.8 million, more than four times the previous record spent in a high court race, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Candidates Annette Ziegler, Linda Clifford and Joe Sommers spent a combined $2.71 million on the race, which Ziegler won. WDC found Ziegler’s $1.45 million in spending was more than the previous record for spending in a high court race by all of the candidates and special interest groups combined. The previous spending record in a state Supreme Court race was in 1999 when Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and challenger Sharren Rose spent a combined $1.36 million.

As has been the case in targeted legislative races in recent years, outside special interests that made independent expenditures or sponsored phony issue ads spent more than the candidates in the court race – $3.1 million.

Groups that made independent expenditures, which must be disclosed, spent $99,748 but far more was secretly raised and spent – an estimated $3 million – by phony issue ad groups. Leading the phony issue ad groups was the state’s largest business group, the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce which spent an estimated $2.2 million. WMC spent most of its money on mostly negative television advertising to support Ziegler and smear Clifford and the rest on prerecorded calls and oversized glossy postcards.

The Club for Growth, which also backed Ziegler, and Democratic-leaning Greater Wisconsin Committee, which supported Clifford, spent an estimated $400,000 apiece on negative issue ads.

Phony issue ad groups do not have to disclose where they get their money even if it is from a corporation or a labor union’s treasury. Direct contributions to candidates from those sources have been illegal in Wisconsin for more than a century. The reason Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Greater Wisconsin and other sham issue ad groups do not have to report their spending like candidates, parties and others is because their ads and mailers do not explicitly tell people who to vote for or against, even though the smear campaigns they run clearly urge voters who to support.

Groups that make independent expenditures must publicly disclose their fundraising and spending because their ads, mailings and other electioneering activities clearly say who to vote for. The leading independent expenditures groups in the court race were WMC’s political action committee which spent $36,100 to support Ziegler and Planned Parenthood’s PAC which spent $35,285 to support Clifford.