July 3, 2018
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority accepted more than $37,000 in campaign contributions from health care, insurance and business groups they sided with in a recent medical malpractice case.
Last week, the high court ruled 5-2 that the state’s limit on noneconomic medical malpractice awards was constitutional. In doing so, the five-member conservative majority reduced a damage award from $15 million to $750,000 for a woman who had to have all four of her limbs amputated because doctors mishandled an infection.
In addition to the plaintiffs and defendants in the case, several trade and nonprofit groups submitted friend-of-the-court, or amicus, briefs that supported the state law’s $750,000 cap on noneconomic damages awarded by the state’s medical malpractice fund.
Those organizations included Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group; Wisconsin Hospital Association; Wisconsin Insurance Alliance; National Federation of Independent Business; Wisconsin Medical Society and numerous medical specialty groups representing psychiatrists, radiologists, anesthesiologists and others; and the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, which is a coalition of business, construction, agricultural, and transportation groups.
A Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review of those trade and nonprofit organizations and their member groups found four of the five conservative justices accepted $37,225 during their elections to the court from political action committees (PACs) run by the groups. Those justices and the contributions from the group PACs were:
Justice Annette Ziegler, $12,125 from Wisconsin Builders Association, Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, Wisconsin Hospital Association, and Wisconsin Restaurant Association;
Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, $4,500 from Wisconsin Builders Association, Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, Associated Builders & Contractors, and Wisconsin Hospital Association;
Justice Rebecca Bradley, $3,500 from Wisconsin Builders Association, Wisconsin Hospital Association, Associated Builders & Contractors, and National Federation of Independent Business.
The construction and restaurant groups did not directly submit amicus briefs in the case but they are members of the Wisconsin Civil Justice Council, which did.
The fifth conservative justice who sided with the damage award limit, Daniel Kelly, was appointed to the court in 2016 to fill a vacancy. Kelly does not have to run for election until 2020, so he has received no campaign contributions.
The high court’s two liberal justices, who voted against the majority, Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley, did not receive any PAC contributions in their last elections from the groups involved in the case.
In addition to the PAC contributions from these special interest groups, WMC has spent an estimated $4.5 million on outside electioneering activities to elect three of the conservative justices, including $2.2 million on Ziegler in 2007, $1.8 million on Gableman in 2008, and $500,000 on Roggensack in 2013.