Outside funders backed winner Lazar in Court of Appeals election
The conservative circuit court judge who won Tuesday’s election for a state Court of Appeals seat received $425,000 in support from outside electioneering groups.
Documents filed with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission showed a group called Fair Courts America located in Downers Grove, Ill., spent $250,000 in March on television ads to support Waukesha County Circuit Judge Maria Lazar in the race. Lazar defeated Appeals Judge Lori Kornblum, who was appointed to the Court of Appeals District II last November by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The second district appellate court covers 12 southeastern counties, excluding Milwaukee County.
A second conservative group called Wisconsin Reform Fund, which has a Madison address, spent $175,000 on ads in the Milwaukee television market to back Lazar, according to a review of television ad buys by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
There was no evidence of outside electioneering to support Kornblum in the race.
Spending by the groups topped candidate spending through mid-March. The latest fundraising and spending reports filed by Kornblum and Lazar showed they spent a combined $316,789 from Jan. 1 through March 21. The candidates’ final spending may be much higher when campaign finance reports covering their fundraising and spending in the two weeks before the April 5 election are due in July.
The treasurer of Fair Courts America, Sherry Gaskill, and the group’s address were the same as the treasurer and address listed for Restoration PAC, a SuperPAC almost solely funded since 2016 by billionaire conservative Richard Uihlein.
Uihlein and his wife, Elizabeth, of Lake Forest, Ill., founded Uline, a shipping and packaging supply company. The couple are among the leading backers of Republican and conservative state and federal candidates and causes in the country.
In 2018, Restoration PAC spent $4.2 million to support Wisconsin GOP U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson, who lost the Republican primary to Leah Vukmir, and oppose incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who went on to win reelection.
The Wisconsin Reform Fund, a phony issue ad group that is not required to disclose its fundraising and spending, shares the same address as another issue ad group called Wisconsin Alliance for Reform (WAR). WAR also contributed tens of thousands of dollars in 2020 to the Wisconsin Reform Fund, according to U.S. Internal Revenue Service documents.
The contact person listed for the Reform Fund was Eric O’Keefe, former director of the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth. O’Keefe and the Club for Growth were part of a secret John Doe investigation by the Milwaukee County district attorney into campaign coordination by third party groups and the campaign of former GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
Lazar, who was elected to a six-year term as circuit judge in 2015, is also a former assistant state attorney general who defended the state in lawsuits against Act 10, a controversial 2011 law signed by former GOP Gov. Scott Walker that severely restricts public employee collective bargaining rights.
A recent report by the Appleton Post-Crescent found that Lazar was endorsed by numerous individuals who have questioned the results of the 2020 presidential election or advocated to decertify the election results in Wisconsin, which legal scholars have called illegal.
Those endorsements, which are listed on Lazar’s campaign website, include former conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, Madison attorney Jim Troupis, and Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Bob Spindell.
Gableman was hired last year by GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to investigate the results of the 2020 election. Gableman was mired in criticism for his handling of the probe and his recommendations to lawmakers to try to decertify the results, among other things. Troupis is a Madison attorney who led former President Trump’s recount efforts in the state. Spindell was one of 10 Republicans who posed as electors in December 2020 and sent Congress documents saying that Trump won the election in Wisconsin.
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