Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Campaign Cash

State Supreme Court Race Cost $10 Million

Shatters spending record; 51% by Karofsky and outside groups supporting her in April election.

By - Jul 20th, 2020 11:15 am
Daniel Kelly and Jill Karofsky.

Daniel Kelly and Jill Karofsky.

Candidates and outside special interest groups spent a record-shattering $10 million in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race last April, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.

Outside group spending topped $5 million for the first time ever in a high court race (see Table). The three candidates combined also spent a record of just over $5 million. And the winner, Dane County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky, spent $2.7 million, a single-candidate record in a state Supreme Court race.

Of the $10 million spent by the groups and candidates, 51 percent was spent by Karofsky and groups who supported her, 47 percent was spent by Kelly and groups who supported him, and 2 percent was spent by candidate Ed Fallone, who was eliminated in the February primary, and groups who supported him.

The previous record cost of a state Supreme Court race was more than $8.2 million set in 2019. The previous record for group spending alone was nearly $4.8 million in 2008 and the previous record for combined candidate spending was $3.7 million in 2019.

Special interest groups that backed Karofsky spent nearly $2.5 million. Groups that supported incumbent Justice Dan Kelly spent more than $2.5 million. Karofsky drew support from Democratic contributors and groups, and Kelly was backed by Republican and conservative contributors and groups. Outside groups also spent about $10,300 on Fallone.

Topping the list of outside spenders was A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund, which doled out nearly $1.9 million on disclosed independent expenditures, mostly on television, online advertising, and mailings to support Karofsky.

Behind A Better Wisconsin was Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization, which doled out an estimated $1.1 million in secret phony issue ad spending for television ads that attacked Karofsky. WMC is a traditional backer of Republican and conservative legislative and statewide candidates.

Rounding out the top three group spenders was the  Republican State Leadership Committee, which spent about $900,000, mostly on television ads and text messages to support Kelly and attack Karofsky. This  group  generally supports conservative and GOP candidates in partisan legislative elections nationwide, but has backed conservative candidates in state judicial races in recent years.

For more details about the groups and their spending, check out the Democracy Campaign’s Hijacking Campaign 2020 or click on the links in the table below.

Special Interest Group Spending in the 2020 Wisconsin Supreme Court Race

Name Partisan Lean Amount
A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund D $1,877,467
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) R $1,100,000
Republican State Leadership Committee R $897,488
Americans for Prosperity R $479,463
Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education
and  SEIU State Council
D $431,805
Planned Parenthood D $65,387
Wisconsin Family Action R $55,755
Wisconsin Conservation Voters D $50,000
Citizen Action of Wisconsin D $28,744
American Majority Action R $21,876
Alliance for Justice Action Campaign D $16,607
Tides Advocacy D $6,427
Voces de la Frontera D $4,617
Indivisible Action D $3,465
Blue Sky Waukesha D $3,300
NRA Political Victory Fund R $957
Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) Region 3 PAC D $770
TOTAL $5,044,128

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