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Wisconsin Supreme Court: Election or Auction?

The spring race for a 10-year seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court is being called more of an auction than an election by a government watchdog group. (wicourts.gov)
The spring race for a 10-year seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court is being called more of an auction than an election by a government watchdog group. (wicourts.gov)
January 18, 2016

MADISON, Wis. – This spring, Wisconsin voters will decide whom they want to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court for the next 10 years.

The three announced candidates will meet in a February primary, and the winner will be chosen in the spring election in April.

Matt Rothschild, executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, says once again, cash will be king in determining the winner.

"It's increasingly become an auction, with money buying seats on the state Supreme Court as never before,” he insists. “The last six state Supreme Court races, there's been $13 million spent on so-called issue advertising.”

Issue ads, which are lawful, are ads that attempt to sway voters one way or the other without actually asking the listener or viewer to vote for a particular candidate.

In theory, candidates for the state's highest court don't represent a particular political viewpoint.

"That's a joke,” Rothschild scoffs. “I think everyone understands that it's a joke right now.

“The court is split on conservative-liberal grounds and the candidates who are running are easily identifiable one way or the other."

There are huge political action groups representing both parties that pour money into the elections, but Rothschild says the biggest spender over the last decade, by far, has been the right-leaning Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Because of the new Wisconsin laws that allow more anonymous cash into campaigns, Rothschild predicts the ads will be worse than ever.

"You will have ads that are calling one candidate or another the worst kind of names,” he states. “’Stop being a crook,’ or whatever kind of slander they want to throw at the candidates. And we aren't going to know who is funding those ads."


Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI