Spending on the high stakes Wisconsin Supreme Court race has topped $42 million, nearly triple the previous national record for a court race, with the Democratic-backed candidate having a roughly $6 million advantage, according to a report released on Monday just before polls opened.
The winner in Tuesday’s election between Democratic-backed Janet Protasiewicz and Republican-backed Dan Kelly will determine majority control of the court, with issues like abortion access, redistricting and more than a decade of Republican priorities, hanging in the balance.
The court has been under conservative control for 15 years, helping to enshrine priorities of the GOP-controlled Legislature and former Gov. Scott Walker. Liberals have cast the race as a defining moment for their side to exert power and potentially overturn the state’s 1849 abortion ban law and redraw maps created by Republicans that have led to them increasing their control of the Legislature.
The winner will also set majority control of the court ahead of the 2024 presidential election. The current court came one vote short of overturning President Joe Biden’s win in Wisconsin in 2020.
As of Monday, Protasiewicz and her backers have spent about $23.3 million compared with about $17.6 million for Kelly and his supporters, according to a report from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign spending.
The previous record high for spending in a court race was $15 million in Illinois in 2004.
Protasiewicz has spent nearly $12 million compared with Kelly’s more than $2.2 million. Protasiewicz’s campaign has received nearly $9 million from the state Democratic Party, based on the latest campaign finance reports. Kelly, who previously worked for the state and national Republican parties, has also gotten financial backing and in-kind contributions in this race from the state GOP and county parties.
Special interest groups backing Kelly have spent nearly $15.4 million, compared with $11.3 million for Protasiewicz, according to the Democracy Campaign.
The liberal group A Better Wisconsin Together led all special interest spending at $6.2 million, followed by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state chamber of commerce, at $5.2 million in support of Kelly. Fair Courts America, a conservative group backing Kelly that’s funded by GOP mega-donor Richard Uihlein, was next at just over $5.3 million.
After those big three, no other special interest group had spent more than $2 million on the race.
Protasiewicz is a Milwaukee County judge. Kelly previously served on the Supreme Court from 2016 to 2020 before being defeated that year. The winner will serve a 10-year term beginning in August, replacing retiring conservative Justice Pat Roggensack.