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Wisconsin Supreme Court Race Will Likely Get Costly

Most of the cash in high court campaign will spent by conservative and liberal outside groups — not the candidates themselves.

On Tuesday, Wisconsin will hold a primary election for state Supreme Court, narrowing the field from three candidates to two. Then the race will begin in earnest. 

Justice Patience Roggensack, who has already served one 10-year term on the state’s highest court, is expected to survive the cut. Her challengers are Ed Fallone, a Marquette University Law School professor, and Vince Megna, a Milwaukee lawyer specializing in suing auto companies. The general election is April 2.

Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 4, according to the most recent reporting, Roggensack had raised about $200,000, compared to Fallone’s $75,000 and Megna’s $0. Roggensack reported having $219,154 cash on hand, compared to Fallone’s $63,713 and Megna’s $5,340. Most of Megna’s money came from a $10,000 contribution to himself. 

Roggensack has held four fundraisers since late January and plans at least two more this month, explicitly seeking donations as high as $2,500. Meanwhile, former Democratic U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold recently sent out a fundraising letter on Fallone’s behalf, asking for $5 contributions.

But the biggest players may be outside groups like the conservative Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which spent more than $5 million on the past four state Supreme Court elections combined, and the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee, whose total topped $4 million.

In three of these elections — 2007, 2008 and 2011 — the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimated total spending at or near $6 million, with the majority coming from outside groups.

The remaining election, in 2009, was a relatively low-spending affair: only about $2.2 million. But it was nonetheless a blowout.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson spent nearly $1.5 million and drew $465,000 in support from the Greater Wisconsin Committee. Her unsuccessful challenger, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Randy Koschnick, spent less than $200,000 and was largely ignored by outside conservative groups, which apparently calculated that the well-known Abrahamson, on the bench since 1976, could not be beat.

But Roggensack, a former appeals court judge who narrowly won election to an open seat in 2003, may face a tougher fight, as did Justice David Prosser in 2011. While incumbency remains a powerful advantage, anger toward Republican Gov. Scott Walker has translated, fairly or not, into opposition to court conservatives.

Roggensack’s foes, as well as her supporters, will likely respond to her perceived vulnerability by digging deep into their coffers. Already, the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth has been airing pro-Roggensack ads, buttressing her own early ad campaign. All signs point to another jaw-dropping spend-fest.

“It’s going to be huge,” says Megna of the role of money in the race. “This is probably the most important election (in years). The winner controls the court. If Roggensack wins, the four-conservative majority stays in place. If she loses, the four-conservative majority is gone.”

Fallone, meanwhile, is linking Roggensack to the discord and dysfunction that have sullied the court’s reputation. He’s blamed Roggensack for feuding with Abrahamson, blocking discipline against Prosser and closing court conferences to the public.

Megna identifies himself as liberal, and a Democrat, an unusual stance for someone seeking nonpartisan office. He deserves points for candor, even if he may lose some for not always knowing what he’s talking about, as this column has reported.

Fallone eschews labels, saying he will decide cases “solely on the law, and without regard to politics or personalities.” Roggensack, who is making experience the key issue of her campaign, says the same thing: “I have fairly and impartially applied the law, as the facts of each case have required.”

The irony is that much of the monetary support for Roggensack and her general election challenger will come from people who don’t believe these statements at all. They’ll be giving to back the court candidate they feel will best represent either a liberal or conservative ideology.

Brian Dey February 18, 2013 at 09:05 PM
And once again, the unions will lose even though they pour money into Fallone's campaign. That is the single most reason not to vote for a Democrat because there is no way in hell that eithr will be objective. As for Megna, the only reason he is running is he has a personal grudge against Walker for signing Act 92 which cost him money because it limits the amount a consumer attorney can rip-off of their client, and guess what. He's a consumer attorney...go figure. Oh the Dems so want to beat Walker and reverse Act 10...not gonna happen!
skinnyDUDE February 19, 2013 at 12:39 AM
Justice Patience Roggensack is the only one qualified. She is fair minded and driven by the law and is a competent Judge. I think the state of Wi likes ACT 10 and conceal carry. They will come out to save there RIGHTS. Its a lot harder to herd the mindless liberal sheep in this type of election. .
John cuff February 19, 2013 at 03:25 AM
There is a need for balance vote Fallon
Steve ® February 19, 2013 at 03:38 AM
Liberal obstruction does not define balance.
AWD February 19, 2013 at 03:56 AM
When you have no soul and can't find your way, you vote for Falone. When you vote for Falone, you become a loser. When you become a loser, you feel depressed. When you feel depressed, you continue to vote for liberals. When you vote for liberals, you lose your freedom. And when you lose your freedom, you lose everything. Don't vote for Falone.
Brian Dey February 19, 2013 at 04:04 AM
Walker becoming Governor... Big! Walker winning the recall...Bigger!!! Roggensack keeping her seat...PRICELESS!!!!!!!!!
Robert Merlin February 19, 2013 at 01:01 PM
@ Steve----but conservitive does??
Keith Schmitz February 19, 2013 at 01:05 PM
Make that costly. Hit the OFF switch on GOP insanity and irresponsibility. Vote Ed Fallone.
Mr Lundt February 19, 2013 at 01:24 PM
Ed Fallone! That sound you here is the ambulances he chases and the union thugs that back him. What you don't hear?-- a lick of experience. The last thing we need is another do-gooder community organizer in high office. How can you tell Roggensack has been a GREAT justice--no one on the left talks about her record. All they have is silly, baseless innuendo. While we need to stop the dysfunction of some of the current Supreme court Justices---Roggensack was never part of that issue.
claire February 19, 2013 at 01:24 PM
I agree!
Mr Lundt February 19, 2013 at 01:39 PM
The lefties sure pick "odd" times to call for governmental balance. When ever they are losing a race based on merit they play the victim/fairness card.
Bob McBride February 19, 2013 at 02:24 PM
With endorsements like that, who needs attack ads? Down goes Fallone...
Steve ® February 19, 2013 at 05:47 PM
Who would that be Robert?
Money Bagger February 19, 2013 at 06:20 PM
The New McCarthyism! Same as the old one! Have a nice Dey! http://player.vimeo.com/video/41124454?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0%22+width%3D%22400%22+height%3D%22300%22+frameborder%3D%220%22+webkitAllowFullScreen+mozallowfullscreen+allowFullScreen%3E
TOM February 19, 2013 at 11:28 PM
The dems have truly wortless candidates as normal
justwant2comment February 20, 2013 at 03:42 AM
It's hard for anyone to beat an incumbant who has the majority of their campaign funding coming from out of state, thus inflating their coffers threefold over the next closest campaign fund.
Greg February 20, 2013 at 03:53 AM
And that gets compounded when you run two clowns, that have never been judges, for the friggin' Supreme Court. It's only the primary, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Colonel Mustard February 20, 2013 at 04:56 AM
Well, we see how well it worked out for the crazed Allen West (former 1 term Congressman). He got his butt kicked up to his loud mouth. The next up-coming "McCarthy" Clone is loud-mouthed Sen. (of 6 weeks) Ted Cruz (TEA BAGGER - TX).

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