The April 5 election, the first and likely last in which Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates will accept public financing and abide by spending limits (Gov. Scott Walker's budget calls for axing this expenditure), will nonetheless see a huge outpouring of spending by special interest groups.
David Prosser and JoAnne Kloppenburg will each receive $300,000 for their campaigns and potentially up to three times as much in matching funds for expenditures made by outside groups. But the groups can and probably will evade this by running phony "issue ads" that tear down or talk up candidates without actually telling people how to vote.
Major players will include, on Prosser's side, the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth (perhaps serving as a conduit for groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce) and, for Kloppenburg, the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee. Other groups, including unions and national conservative groups, could also get in on the act.
Prior to the Feb. 15 primary, Wisconsin Club for Growth spent $321,000 in support of Prosser, 70% of all ad spending in the race, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The group's ad took the familiar approach of pegging the candidate as an "ally" of law enforcement, with the usual images of flashing squad-car lights and clanging prison cell doors. Prosser won the four-way race with 55% of the vote; Kloppenburg got 25%.
But now that the Wisconsin Professional Police Association has come out strongly against what it calls Walker's "union-busting measures," and with huge numbers of police, sheriff's deputies, correctional officers and firefighters joining the protests at the Capitol, it's worth wondering whether some of their unions might get involved in the race on Kloppenburg's behalf.