Hijacking Justice 2007
Issue Ads in the 2007 Supreme Court Campaign
Posted: February 28, 2007
Groups that made issue ads in the 2007 Supreme Court election. Links to information on past independent spending since 2000 are also provided.
This is the state arm of the national Club for Growth, an organization that raises and spends millions of dollars to support Republican candidates for federal office. It boasts 40,000 members nationwide. Like other national Republican- and Democratic-leaning groups, Club for Growth uses negative ads and other outside electioneering activities to influence elections.
In February 2007, Club for Growth Wisconsin kicked off its first electioneering activities ever in a state political race with a phony issue ad in the state Supreme Court contest where Madison attorney Linda Clifford, Washington County Circuit Judge Annette Ziegler and Oregon lawyer Joe Sommers sought a 10-year seat on the high court.
The February 20 primary later narrowed the April 3 race to Ziegler and Clifford.
The group’s 60-second statewide television ad tried to use humor to emphasize Ziegler was the only candidate in the race with experience as a prosecutor or a judge. Clifford’s campaign claimed the Club for Growth spent $250,000.
WDC has found that comparable political television ads generally cost in the $400,000 range to produce and air statewide.
The Milwaukee-based Greater Wisconsin Committee was organized in 2004 to support Democratic candidates and oppose Republican candidates using radio, television and newspaper advertising and mailings. Like other phony issue ad groups, the committee refuses to disclose its contributors, fundraising and spending. The group draws its cash from labor, lawyer and tribal interests and ideological groups.
The committee reportedly spent more than $4 million on issue ads during the 2006 election cycle. It spent most of its money on electioneering activities to help reelect Democratic Governor Jim Doyle and beat up his opponent, Republican Mark Green. The group also sponsored radio and television ads and direct mail in four key state Senate races and the attorney general’s contest.
In late March 2007, Greater Wisconsin spent at least $320,000 on three 30-second television advertisements within two weeks of the April 3 election criticizing state Supreme Court candidate Annette Ziegler. Ziegler, a Washington County circuit judge, faces Madison lawyer Linda Clifford. A week before the election the committee also made independent expenditures opposing Ziegler.
One ad said Ziegler may have violated the judicial ethics code by ruling on nearly 200 cases in which one of the parties was either a company in which she held thousands of dollars worth of stock, or a bank where her husband was a member of the board of directors. “And she sided with the bank and her stocks 90 percent of the time,” the ad says of her decisions in the cases.
The ad follows a request for an ethics investigation filed with the Judicial Commission by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign citing 16 cases Ziegler handled involving parties in which she had at least $50,000 worth of investments or the bank where her husband was a board member. The cases were also the subject of numerous media reports and editorials in March.
The other two Greater Wisconsin ads highlighted two child sex assault cases handled by Ziegler. One ad reviewed a case in which Ziegler sentenced the convicted sex offender of a 10-year-old girl to one year in jail despite a prosecutor’s request for 20 to 30 years in prison. The other ad said Ziegler sentenced a man to probation after he admitted sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy more than 100 times. “Contact Annette Ziegler. Tell her judges must get tough on child sex offenders,” the ads conclude.
This is the state’s largest business organization and one of the most influential power brokers at the State Capitol. WMC was one of the first groups to use outside electioneering activities, like negative advertising and mailings, to influence public policy decisions and elections starting in 1996.
In the last 10 years, WMC has spent millions of dollars mostly on secret electioneering activities known as phony issue ads in legislative races, the 2002 and 2006 races for governor and the 2006 attorney general race.
Like other pro-business groups nationwide, WMC appears to be using more resources on secret electioneering to support attorney general and judicial candidates it believes would treat the business community leniently when they are involved in lawsuits, complaints and other legal matters. WMC spent an estimated $2.5 million in the 2006 attorney general’s race. It supported Republican JB Van Hollen, who won, and opposed Democrat Kathleen Falk by painting her as soft on crime and bad for the state’s business climate.
The Democracy Campaign estimated WMC spent about $2.2 million in the 2007 spring Supreme Court race on electioneering activities to support candidate Annette Ziegler in her successful bid. Ziegler faced Madison attorney Linda Clifford. But the state's largest business group later said in a 2013 message to its members that it spent $2.5 million in the Ziegler-Clifford race.
WMC disguised its real priorities in the race with television commercials, automated telephone calls and postcard mailings that promoted Ziegler as the best candidate for public safety reasons. But the group really cares about having judges, as well as elected officials in other branches of state and local government who will make decisions favorable to the business community.
WMC launched three television ads in March – two of them used a positive tone to tout Ziegler’s experience as a former prosecutor and characterize her as a tough circuit judge in Washington County because she sentenced one sexual predator to 60 years in prison. Like many phony issue ads which effectively endorse candidates, one of the ads tried to push all the emotional buttons by intermixing photos of Ziegler with a jumble of scenes ranging from a picnicking family to police cars with flashing lights to three grungy guys standing in a police line-up. The other ad describes her judicial resume and proclaims “her experience and judgment are keeping Wisconsin families safe.”
The third ad was a negative one, implying Clifford is a zero and does not have the experience to sit on the Supreme Court because she has never been a judge or a prosecutor.
The pro-business group also pelted various parts of the state in March and February with automated telephone calls and flashy postcards mailings (see below) hyping Ziegler’s judicial resume.
Ziegler and Clifford were picked by voters in the February 20 primary to face off in the April 3 general election.
WMC’s postcard mailings promoted Ziegler’s experience and her endorsements from Milwaukee law enforcement unions and county prosecutors and sheriffs. “Take it from the men and women who wear the badge. . . Annette Ziegler is tough on criminals,” said one of the postcards, which urged readers to contact Ziegler and tell her to keep Wisconsin families safe, but listed a telephone number that was not in service.
One of the group’s automated calls urged listeners to call Ziegler and “thank her for keeping Wisconsin safe,” as well as visit WMC’s website where they were treated to a four-page report that effectively endorsed Ziegler as the means of making the court more business friendly.
Towards the end of the business day on Friday, March 30 -- less than a week before the election -- WMC’s PAC, Concerned Business and Industry, reported making independent expenditures favoring Ziegler.