Campaign finance reports filed by the two candidates for state Supreme Court show that the incumbent justice has spent more than four times as much as his challenger during the second half of 2007.
According to figures filed on Jan. 31 with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, Justice Louis B. Butler Jr.’s campaign spent approximately $131,000 into his campaign from July 1, 2007 through Dec. 31, 2007, compared to about $30,000 for Burnett County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Gableman’s campaign.
Despite the significant difference in spending, John McAdams, a political science professor at Marquette University, said the real race has yet to be run.
“I still think it’s too early to say Gableman is in any way doing poorly,” said McAdams. “In other words, I think we are going to see at least the same amount of spending as last year.”
The 2007 campaigns by Justice Annette K. Ziegler and attorney Linda M. Clifford broke state records for judicial election spending as the two combined to spend more than $2.6 million.
Picking up the Pace
Spokesmen for both of this year’s candidates intend to increase their respective advertising campaigns in the coming weeks, though Gableman spokesman Darrin Schmitz wondered if the Butler campaign could continue its spending pace.
“I’d point out the burn rate of Butler’s camp which has spent $130,000-plus and not a single ad has been run,” said Schmitz. “Are they going to sustain that or run out of money?”
Butler spokesman Sachin Chheda said the majority of money injected into the campaign so far has gone towards personnel, printing and travel.
“We have three times as much money [$216,000] in the bank as they do, so I hope they can sustain their pace of raising $76,000 every four months,” said Chheda, referring to the amount of cash on hand reported to the board by Gableman’s campaign.
Money in the Bank
While Butler’s campaign outspent Gableman’s, it also placed more money in the coffers during the six-month reporting period. Butler’s group reported total donations of more than $192,000 compared to $105,000 for Gableman’s campaign.
Schmitz attributes the gap to the three-month head start Butler had on campaigning during the reporting period.
“Obviously, Judge Gableman was not in the race until October and Butler had been raising money for the entirety of 2007,” said Schmitz. “Considering when he entered the race, we feel good about the fundraising effort thus far.”
Schmitz also said campaigning out of a rural county in northern Wisconsin has not hindered fundraising. He noted that the reports indicate from Oct. 4, when Gableman declared his candidacy, to the end of 2007, Butler only raised $27,000 more in campaign funds.
While the pace of fundraising will likely increase leading up to the April 1 election, the amount of capital the candidates personally invest may not.
“I don’t think either of the candidates have the means to pour huge sums of personal wealth into the race,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
According to the report Butler has personally invested around $7,000, while Gableman has spent approximately $2,000.
“We’ve been saying all along that Justice Butler doesn’t have tremendous personal resources, so he will be relying on supporters to help get his message out,” said Chheda.
McCabe said smaller personal contributions by the candidates will make the campaign vulnerable to special interest groups.
“Because the candidates are going to rely on other people’s money more than their own, more campaigning is going to be done by surrogates,” said McCabe. “That doesn’t bode well for their ability to remain independent from those interests.”
Numbers alone are not the only difference between the two camps. To this point, financial supporters for Gableman and Butler have been distinctly diverse.
“The thing that jumps off page is how clearly partisan lines have been drawn,” said McCabe.
He cited the list of donors for each candidate trend toward conservative support for Gableman and liberal backing for Butler.
Club for Growth Wisconsin, which donated to Republican campaigns in the past, gave Gableman $8,500, one of the largest donations he has received. McCabe also pointed to a pair of $2,000 donations from Christy and Lynne Walton, who are part of the Wal-Mart conglomerate and known Republican supporters.
Butler’s largest contributions have come from the American Federation of Teachers and Madison Teachers Inc. with contributions of $8,650 and $8,625 respectively. He also has received financial support from Friends of Peg Lautenschlager and several donors connected to Gov. Jim Doyle.
McCabe also noted the support of approximately 250 attorneys for Butler, which he called a “throwback” to earlier Supreme Court races.
“Lawyers are coming out for Butler who is seen as creating a liberal majority on the court and that’s certainly been good for trial lawyers,” said McAdams. “Expect a lot of liberal money there.”
Butler advisor Sachin Chheda downplayed the idea of liberal donors lining up behind the current justice, while Schmitz conceded the conservative tendencies of Gableman.
“I think the folks who are donating to Judge Gableman want a justice who won’t legislate from the bench and that resonates with all sorts of people,” said Schmitz. “However, there are people who want to support a judicial conservative and that’s what judge Gableman is.”
McAdams indicated that interest will grow in the coming months, especially since the seat is crucial in swinging the alleged ideological make-up of the court.
“This seat is critical because had Clifford won last year, the court would have shifted even further to the left,” said McAdams. “Conservatives have an opportunity to flip the court to a conservative majority, which is a huge attraction to conservative money and a huge bogey for liberal groups.”