Wisconsin Supreme Court Spending Deep Dive

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Written by Josh Fried

While off-year State Supreme Court elections have historically been sleepy races with less spending, the Wisconsin Supreme Court 2022 general election will determine the balance of the state’s Supreme Court. While the candidates are technically nonpartisan, Janet Protasiewicz has aligned with the Democrats and Dan Kelly has aligned with the Republicans. A Democratic victory in the Supreme Court election would flip the current 4-3 GOP majority to the Democrats for the first time since 2008. 

The general election has seen $27.5M spent in ad spending, the largest for any State Supreme Court election AdImpact has tracked. This election has seen $10M more than the North Carolina Supreme Court 2022 general, which is now the second most expensive State Supreme Court election.

A bar chart showing spending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court general election broken down by advertiser type

Protasiewicz has spent $11.6M while Dan Kelly has only spent $1M. Although Democrats have a lopsided candidate spending advantage, Republican groups have outspent Democratic groups by $8.1M. Of the party spending, 78% of Democrat expenditures were Candidate while 92% of GOP expenditure was from issue groups. Traditionally, candidates get better rates on broadcast and cable than issue groups. Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Ben Wikler echoed this sentiment. He encouraged Protasiewicz supporters to donate to the state party because, under current Wisconsin campaign finance law, the state party can send these donations directly to the candidate and thus get better rates on broadcast and cable.  Overall, Democrats have outspent Republicans in this election by $2.5M

Protasiewicz began airing ads on the day of the primary election (February 21), but Dan Kelly did not start spending until March 12. By the time Kelly got on the air, Protasiewicz had already spent $6.7M. A notable ad that Protsiewicz started airing on March 8 attempted to contrast herself as a commonsense judge on abortion while portraying Kelly as too extreme on the issue. A notable Kelly aired attempted to portray Protasiewicz as soft on crime. While Protasiewicz has aired ads portraying herself as a commonsense judge, Kelly has aired ads portraying Protasiewicz as radical and out of touch on public safety.

A line chart showing Wisconsin Supreme Court election spending over time between Protasiewicz and Kelly

As the Wisconsin Supreme Court has big political implications for both parties in the State, another election on the same day, the WI SD-08 2023 Special has big implications for the legislature. If Democrats win, they will break the current Republican supermajority in the State Senate. However, if Republican candidate Dan Knodl is elected, has said he would consider impeaching Protasiewicz if she wins. 

There has been $1.5M spent. Democrat Jodi Bush Sinykin has outspent Knodl $943K to $439K. Notably, there has not been any Democratic Issue Group spending. GOP Issue Groups have spent $112K.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court and the WI SD-08 Special election have direct implications for both parties. 

The Chicago mayoral runoff is also happening on 4/4. If you’re interested in learning more about that election, check out our deep dive on that election here.

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