By Kevin Lee Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — A recent report by New York University estimates that third-party television ad purchases for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race between Justice David Prosser and assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg has topped $1 million.
Adam Skaggs with the Brennan Center said the television buys are framed as “issue ads,” which means they do not explicitly advocate voting for or against a candidate to viewers.
Groups, organizations and committees that purchase air time for advocacy ads must report to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board the date and amount of expenses.
Issue ads fall outside the purview of Wisconsin’s campaign finance regulations, so groups that purchase air time for the advertisements are not required to disclose the spending.
“Anyone with common sense knows (these issue ads) have an electoral purpose,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Charles Franklin. “But within the confines of the law, they are not campaign ads.”
That point was highlighted during a Madison debate last week between the candidates.
Prosser called on Kloppenburg to have the Greater Wisconsin Committee retract an ad it commissioned that he claims attacks his reputation. Kloppenburg said that advertisement was independent of her campaign.
Ed’s Note: The disputed ad by the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which includes strong language and themes, is included below.
The Greater Wisconsin Committee has spent the greatest amount on the general election as of Sunday, according to the Brennan Center.
The committee spent $575,000 in airtime reserved for ads attacking the incumbent, Prosser.
An advertisement from the Greater Wisconsin Committee
The Brennan Center report also indicates the Wisconsin Club for Growth and a political arm of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce organization have respectively purchased $415,000 and $150,000 worth of air time for ads against Kloppenburg.
An advertisement from the Wisconsin Club for Growth
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An advertisement from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce
Another advertisement from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce
Both Franklin and Skaggs anticipated spending to accelerate in the final week of the campaign. Prior Brennan Center research shows that 42 percent of all judicial election TV spending in 2010 occurred in the final week of the election season.
Because the Brennan Center only analyzes television buys, Skaggs estimated outside parties were spending money on other forms of outreach, such as on mailers and printed advertisements.
Messages left with the Greater Wisconsin Committee, Club for Growth and the WMC were not returned.
Outside spending that advocates explicitly for or against either state Supreme Court candidate stood at $30,654.91 as of Tuesday, according to a Government Accountability Board report.
That spending could be used for media buys, phone banks, mailers and printed advertisements, according to Reid Magney, GAB spokesman.
Last year, the GAB proposed administrative rules that would have disclosed outside spending on issue ads.
But several political campaign organizations from both sides of the political spectrum sued GAB on the grounds that the rules would impinge free speech. The Supreme Court has put a hold on the proposed rules and scheduled a hearing on the matter in September.
“Unfortunately, the groups that want to spend millions of dollars want to do it anonymously,” Skaggs said.
This is the first election period when judicial candidates could choose to receive taxpayer funds allotted by the state to run their campaigns in lieu of soliciting contributions. Both Kloppenburg and Prosser opted for public campaign funds in the primary and general elections.
Voters will head to the polls April 5 to decide the next justice.