Report: Protasiewicz leads Kelly by $5M in combined campaign, outside spending for high court race

By: - April 3, 2023 2:55 pm
Bail bonds and fine concept. Money and gavel as symbol of law.

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Spending on this year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race has topped $42 million so far — a figure that includes spending by the two candidates’ campaigns as well as by outside groups on behalf of the candidates, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Through March 20, the campaign of Milwaukee County circuit court Judge Janet Protasiewicz has spent close to $12 million, the political spending watchdog group reported Monday, while the campaign for Dan Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice, has spent more than $2.2 million.

Outside spending to boost Kelly’s campaign totals $15.37 million so far, the Democracy Campaign reported, while outside spending to help Protasiewicz totals $11.32 million. Combining their campaign and outside spending totals, about $5 million more has been spent to elect Protasiewicz to the high court seat than has been spent to elect Kelly.

The race has drawn national attention for its potential to change the ideological balance of the state Supreme Court, currently with four conservatives and three liberals. Kelly is viewed as the conservative candidate and Protasiewicz as the liberal.

According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the groups spending the most to support Kelly are:

  • Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the largest Wisconsin business lobby, about $5.2 million;
  • Fair Courts America, an independent expenditure group funded by right-wing billionaire Richard Uihlein of Lake Forest, Illinois, $5.32 million mostly on broadcast advertising;
  • Women Speak Out PAC, an anti-abortion political action committee, $1.66 million on phone calls, texts, mailings, and television and online ads;
  • Americans for Prosperity, among the network of groups created by the billionaire Koch brothers, $811,489 mostly on mailings, canvassing, and online ads;
  • American Principles Project PAC, connected with a Virginia think tank that advances socially conservative issues, $795,894 on digital advertising.

Groups at the top of the list to support Protasiewicz were:

  • A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund, funded by labor unions, corporations and Democratic-leaning organizations, $6.2 million, most of it for TV and online advertisements;
  • Wisconsin Conservation Voters through its independent expenditure group, $1.03 million on campaign literature and payroll management expenses;
  • Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, a nonprofit that lobbies for stronger gun safety legislation, $900,161 on television ads and phone calls;
  • Power to the Polls Action Fund, a new organization with connections to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) according to the Democracy Campaign, $541,529 on mailings, canvassing, and radio and online ads;
  • Organizing Empowerment PAC, a Super PAC that backed Democrats in Georgia and Nevada in 2022 along with Gov. Tony Evers in his reelection campaign, $532,500 on phone calls, canvassing, and voter mobilization efforts.


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.