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From 2000-2009, fundraising by state Supreme Court candidates soared to $206.9 million, more than doubling the $83.3 million raised in the 1990s.

Special Interest TV Spending Sets Record in Wisconsin

April 5, 2011



Special Interest TV Spending Sets Record in Wisconsin
Non-Candidate Ads Outpace Those in 2008 Butler-Gableman Race


APRIL 5, 2011—Special interest groups have spent more than $3.5 million on TV ads in this year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election, breaking the state’s previous record for television spending by non-candidate groups, according to

data released Tuesday by the Brennan Center for Justice

The total exceeded the $3.38 million spent by special interest groups in the notorious 2008 election between now-Justice Michael Gableman and then-Justice Louis Butler. The 2011 data include all ads through Monday, April 4, and are likely to rise when any election-day ads are included in the final numbers, the Brennan Center said.

“The feverish special interest spending on television ads in this year's Supreme Court race — which eclipsed the record-setting spending of 2008 — has cemented Wisconsin's reputation as a state in which, unfortunately, costly multi-million dollar judicial campaigns and vicious mudslinging attack ads are commonplace,” said Adam Skaggs, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Fair Courts Project.

Through Monday night, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which is seeking to defeat Justice David Prosser and elect challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, has spent an estimated $1,363,040 to air independent television ads. They were followed by four groups seeking to re-elect Justice Prosser: Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which has spent an estimated $893,990 on air time; Citizens for a Strong America, $813,660; Wisconsin Club for Growth, $415,860; and Tea Party of Wisconsin, $53,710. 

Since 2007, Wisconsin has spent more on Supreme Court elections than every state but Pennsylvania. Including spending by candidates and Brennan Center estimates of TV spending by special-interest groups, a total of $14.8 million has been spent on Wisconsin high court elections from 2007 through 2011. That compares with $15.5 million in Pennsylvania during the same period, according to the Justice at Stake Campaign. 

“Once again, costly spending and negative attack ads have raged out of control in Wisconsin,” said Charles Hall, a Justice at Stake spokesman. “Regardless of who wins this election, public confidence in a fair, impartial court system will inevitably be damaged.” 

The special interest group TV ad spending data were calculated and prepared by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG for the Brennan Center. CMAG captures TV satellite data in the nation’s media markets; its calculations do not reflect ad agency commissions, the costs of producing advertisements, or airtime purchased on local cable networks that are not aired by satellite. Accordingly, these estimates are conservative, and underestimate the precise actual amounts of expenditures.


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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a nonpartisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. The Center works on issues including judicial independence, voting rights, campaign finance reform, racial justice in criminal law and presidential power in the fight against terrorism. Part think tank, part public interest law firm, part advocacy group, the Brennan Center combines scholarship, legislative and legal advocacy, and communications to win meaningful, measurable change in the public sector. For more information, visit

The Justice at Stake Campaign is a nonpartisan, nonprofit campaign working to keep America’s courts fair and impartial. Justice at Stake and its 50-plus state and national partners educate the public, and work for reforms to keep politics and special interests out of the courtroom—so judges can protect our Constitution, our rights and the Rule of law. For more about Justice at Stake, go to www.justiceatstake.org, or www.gavelgrab.org.

For More Information:

Note: Spokespeople from the Brennan Center for Justice and the Justice at Stake Campaign are available Tuesday night to answer questions on Wisconsin campaign spending data. For interviews, contact:


Erik Opsal, Brennan Center for Justice,  763-234-5907 (cell), 646-292-8356 (office); erik.opsal@nyu.edu.

Charles Hall, Justice at Stake Campaign, 703-615-7642 (cell), 202-588-9454 (office); chall@justiceatstake.org.

The positions and policies of Justice at Stake publications and campaign partners are their own, and do not necessarily reflect those of other campaign partners or board members.
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