By Steve Schuster and Ethan Duran
Televisions stations throughout Wisconsin have pulled two of Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Dan Kelly’s “false” and “harassing” campaign ads targeting Kelly’s opponent, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Janet Protasiewicz after Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce requested the TV stations stop airing them, according to a Protasiewicz campaign spokesperson.
As previously reported by the Wisconsin Law Journal, Protasiewicz’s campaign sent letters to TV stations across the state demanding they stop airing false campaign ads produced by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Fair Courts America, a super PAC supporting Daniel Kelly. The letter said if TV stations continued to air the “false” and “harassing” ads they risked losing their license to broadcast.
“Your publishing of defamatory content is particularly inappropriate given that, unlike candidates, independent political organizations like WMC and Fair Courts America do not have a right to command the use of broadcast facilities. Because you need not air this ad, you bear particular responsibility for its content when you choose to do so. As you well know, you have a duty to protect the public from false, misleading or deceptive advertising. Failing to prevent the airing of false and misleading advertising may be probative of an underlying abdication of licensee responsibility that could jeopardize your station’s license,” the letter states.
“Demand is made upon you to immediately stop running the above ads and to retract the false statements in them at the first appropriate opportunity. Otherwise, we stand ready to obtain all available judicial remedies,” the letter added.
Protasiewicz’s attorney sent a follow up letter on March 31.
“As you are aware, our office represents Janet for Justice, a Wisconsin campaign committee. We sent a letter to all stations yesterday, demanding that you stop airing two false advertisements, one from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Issues Mobilization Council (“WMC”), and one from Fair Courts America (“FCA”). We received some responses asking for additional information, which we have provided, including the entire transcript of the sentencing hearing wherein the victim was advocating for restorative justice rather than jail time, and also the graphic from the FCA ad that falsely stated that Judge Protasiewicz “reduced a sex offender’s sentence.”
A copy of that communication is attached hereto.
In response to our letter identifying the falsity of these advertisements, it is our understanding that WMC has pulled all of its ads containing the false statements. This was the proper response, and what we requested. However, it appears that FCA is continuing to air its
false advertisements. We repeat our demands that you immediately stop airing the false ads by FCA.”
A manager with FOX 6 in Milwaukee told the Wisconsin Law Journal that it’s common to have candidates request ad removal, but “very rare” to actually have these types of ads removed.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce did not return our calls requesting an interview.
The ad removal demand came in the wake of a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story published early Thursday morning. The article details evidence that ads related to Kelly’s campaign contain false information and revictimized a crime victim by harassing her and twisting her words.
“The victim at the center of a rape case featured in state Supreme Court attack ads says she is being retraumatized and revictimized by the media blitz,” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Groups associated with Dan Kelly’s campaign repeatedly harassed the victim in a 2019 case asking her to participate in their false and misleading TV ads, said a spokesperson for Protasiewicz’s campaign in a written statement.
“The group said these ads were ‘going to run whether she approved or not,’ and continued to send her messages, including the first ad, after she refused to participate,” the statement said.
An advocate for sexual assault victims said, “There are human beings that are affected by these stories, by these cases being brought up again, and that’s very tiring for survivors, in particular for survivors of sexual assault,” the statement added.
The letter, which was sent by the campaign’s attorneys, states: “Judge Protasiewicz did not ignore or fail the victim. In fact, the victim requested that the court remove its no-contact order for the purpose of restorative justice, with which Judge Protasiewicz complied. Moreover, Judge Protasiewicz did not let the defendant off easy. The victim stated in her impact statement that she would support any sentence that the court decided to hand down. While Judge Protasiewicz indicated that she made her own sentencing decision, she also stated that she took into account the victim being quite understanding and caring about the defendant and his family,” the statement said.
“Dan Kelly and his right-wing allies have made up disgusting lies about Judge Janet Protasiewicz to scare voters and hide her record of protecting public safety and holding people accountable. While Dan Kelly has been silent about the disturbing actions of his supporters and the false information they’re spreading, broadcasters have a duty to pull these false and harassing ads from the air immediately,” said Janet for Justice spokesperson Sam Roecker. “Judge Janet Protasiewicz has spent three decades protecting victim rights, upholding our laws, and improving public safety.”
Wisconsin Democrats said campaign ads have great influence on how people vote.
In an interview with The New York Times, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party Ben Wikler said, “For the typical voter, 90 percent of what they learn about this election is probably going to wind up being from campaign ads.”
The chair was speaking based on the party’s experience with past election cycles, a party spokesperson told the Wisconsin Law Journal.
The Wisconsin Law Journal reached out to Justice Kelly’s campaign as well as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Neither could be reached prior to publication.