High Court, School Chief Races Top $3 Million

Handful of special interest groups outspend the candidates

July 25, 2013

Madison – This year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court and state school superintendent races cost nearly $3.3 million and more than half of it was spent by wealthy smear groups on negative advertising and mailings to hijack the elections, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.

Candidates and smear groups spent more than $2.2 million in the Supreme Court race and $1.04 million in the state school superintendent race.

Fifteen special interest groups representing business, labor, real estate, conservative ideological and agriculture interests spent nearly $1.8 million on reported independent expenditures and unreported issue ad activity in the races. The candidates for Supreme Court and state school superintendent spent $1.51 million, according to fundraising and spending reports they filed this week with the state.

In the Supreme Court contest, three powerful special interest groups that supported incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack spent the bulk of the estimated $1.2 million doled out by all of the groups for that race. Roggensack and outside groups that supported her spent an estimated $1.74 million – more than three times the $487,928 spent by her opponent, Marquette Law School professor Ed Fallone, and outside groups that supported him.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group spent an estimated $500,000 and Club for Growth Wisconsin, a conservative ideological group spent an estimated $350,000 in the state Supreme Court race. Spending for these groups are estimates based on television ad buys and other electioneering activities reviewed by the Democracy Campaign because the groups are not required to report how much they raise and spend on phony issue ads in elections.

Rounding out the top three outside special interest groups in the Supreme Court race was the Wisconsin Realtors Association whose corporation reported independent expenditures totaling $206,648.

The three groups spent their money on television and radio ads to support Roggensack or to attack Fallone. Roggensack spent $652,318 to win reelection to a second, 10-year term on the court and Fallone spent $394,582. Milwaukee attorney Vince Megna who lost in the February primary spent $10,753.

In the state school superintendent race, four outside special interest groups reported spending $593,282. Incumbent state school superintendent Tony Evers and outside groups that supported him reported spending $842,186 – more than four times the $202,623 spent by Evers’ opponent, Assembly GOP Representative Don Pridemore, and groups that supported him.

The bulk of the cash – $588,662 – was spent by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teacher’s union, to support Evers’ reelection to a second, four-year term. A corporation controlled by We Are Wisconsin, a coalition of national labor unions, spent $2,700 to support Evers. Evers spent $250,824.

Two conservative organizations that hail from the Fox Valley and advocate low taxes and limited government spent a total of $1,920 to support Pridemore, who spent $200,703.

WMC and WEAC are frequently at the top of the list in special interest group spending on elections, and support opposing candidates. WMC has spent an estimated $18.4 million since 2006 on phony issue ads to mostly support Republican candidates for statewide office and the legislature. WEAC has spent nearly $8.2 million since 2006 on reported independent expenditures and issue ads to mostly back Democratic candidates for statewide office and the legislature. In addition to its millions in direct spending, WEAC’s PAC and corporation have funneled millions of dollars in recent elections to Democratic ideological groups to help pay for their outside electioneering activities.

The spring elections for Supreme Court and the state’s top school chief are technically nonpartisan, but that’s a farce. In the latest contests, groups and individuals that generally support Democrats backed Evers and Fallone who were viewed as the more liberal candidates in their races and groups and individuals that generally support Republicans backed Roggensack and Pridemore who were viewed as the more conservative candidates.

For more information about WMC, WEAC, Club for Growth and the other special interest groups involved in the spring races please visit the Hijacking Campaign 2013 feature on the Democracy Campaign website to read their profiles and check out their spending.