MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Outside groups spent $4.5 million in the two months leading up to this spring’s state Supreme Court election, according to a new study a government watchdog group released Tuesday.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s report notes about $2.7 million went to support incumbent Justice David Prosser, with about $1.1 million coming from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group.
The remaining $1.8 million went to support Prosser’s challenger, state attorney JoAnne Kloppenburg. Almost all of that money came from the liberal group Greater Wisconsin Committee.
Much of the spending went for television ads.
Outside groups spent a record $3.58 million on them, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s report said spending by outside groups and the four candidates initially in the race — a Feb. 15 primary whittled the field to Prosser and Kloppenburg — totaled $5.4 million.
The record for total spending in a state Supreme Court race is $5.96 million, set during the 2008 contest between then-Justice Louis Butler and challenger Mike Gableman.
The four candidates themselves spent a combined $913,238 through March 31. Prosser spent $406,283, and Kloppenburg spent $351,259. Both of them agreed to take public campaign dollars, which limited their spending.
Prosser went into the race as the heavy favorite, but Kloppenburg’s campaign surged heading into the April 5 election after her supporters worked to redefine the race as a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his divisive collective bargaining legislation.
Initial returns showed Kloppenburg had beaten Prosser by about 200 votes. Then Waukesha County’s clerk announced she had failed to report 14,000 votes, which flipped the race for Prosser. County tallies completed last week showed Prosser with a 7,316-vote margin of victory.
Kloppenburg has until the end of business Wednesday to request a recount. Her campaign didn’t immediately return messages Tuesday.
Nickolaus was a one of Prosser’s assistants when he served as Republican Assembly speaker in the mid-1990s. Nickolaus has said she made an honest mistake, but county officials have criticized her work in past elections. An audit of how she handled the 2010 election found she needed to improve security and backup procedures.
The state Government Accountability Board, which oversees Wisconsin’s elections, is reviewing her procedures.
The board released a brief report on Tuesday saying its investigators had compared the county’s final tally against vote totals from each municipality and found no major discrepancies.
They did find one vote for Prosser in Delafield that was counted in the county total but not the municipality’s count. They also discovered two write-in votes for Kloppenburg that weren’t included in the county’s final total. But the board said it could find no explanation for anomalies and the county’s total doesn’t need correction.
Prosser’s campaign issued a statement calling the report a well-researched affirmation of his victory.
Nickolaus said in a statement she was pleased with the findings and promised to continue to cooperate with the board. Its investigators are expected to issue a more comprehensive report on Nickolaus within the next two months.