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Janet Protasiewicz far outpaces Dan Kelly in fundraising for hotly contested Wisconsin Supreme Court seat

The latest financial disclosures show the Democratic Party has poured cash into the Protasiewicz campaign. Kelly is bolstered by outside groups.

The two candidates stand at podiums on stage. A sign for the State Bar of Wisconsin hangs behind them.
Judge Janet Protasiewicz, left, and Justice Dan Kelly, right, participate in a debate Tuesday, March 21, 2023, at the State Bar Center in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

In six weeks, the two candidates for Wisconsin’s high-profile Supreme Court race raised and spent millions of dollars in what has become the most expensive judiciary race in the nation’s history, according to the latest campaign finance reports, filed Monday night.

The liberal favorite Janet Protasiewicz’s campaign outraised conservative opponent Dan Kelly’s campaign by more than five to one, according to the campaign disclosures. Those reports only account for donations to and spending by the campaigns, and do not include contributions from outside groups and state parties – both of which have been heavily involved in a campaign being touted as the most consequential in the country this year.

The Protasiewicz campaign reported raising $12.4 million for the period between February 7 and March 20. About a third of that was from individuals, and the rest came from committee transfers, primarily from the Democratic Party.

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The Kelly campaign reported raising $2.2 million in that same period, of which about three-quarters came from individual contributions.

This amount of fundraising reflects a pattern of increased spending in Wisconsin elections, said Matt Rothschild, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, an advocacy group.

“Almost every race we see, whether it is for U.S. Senate, whether it is for the governor, whether it is for the Attorney General every race we see, almost, there are records being shattered,” he said.

According to the reports, a bulk of Protasiewicz’s committee fundraising – about $8.8 million – came from the state Democratic Party. She also received large contributions from several Wisconsin-based trade unions, the Washington, D.C.-based National Education Association Fund, and the campaign funds of several Democratic state lawmakers.

The state Republican Party was likewise Kelly’s largest group contributor. He also received large donations from Republican state lawmakers’ campaign funds, the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, and several state industry groups.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has tallied more than $22 million spent by outside groups, which are not reflected in the mandatory campaign disclosures. Outside groups have spent more for Kelly than for Protasiewicz. He’s been especially supported by Fair Courts America, a political action committee from GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein, and by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s business lobby. Protasiewicz has received support from A Better Wisconsin Together, a left-leaning PAC.

“There’s just been a staggering amount of outside money here, the likes of which we’ve never seen before in Wisconsin,” said Rothschild.

High-profile donors including George Soros and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker have also backed Protasiewicz via Democratic Party donations.

That’s a reflection of the high stakes in this race. Whoever wins will determine the ideological outlook of the court for years to come. That means they’re likely to affect determinations on cases regarding abortion and voting rights.

In a statement, Kelly campaign advisor Ben Voelkel said the fundraising gap between the two candidates reflects the national interests invested in the race’s outcome.

“While [Protasiewicz] relies on out of state megadonors and state party bosses to fund her campaign, Justice Kelly is proud to have the support of grassroots activists across the state of Wisconsin,” he said.

Protasiewicz’s campaign said that her fundraising reflected support from across the state.

“Supporters across Wisconsin realize how much is on the line on April 4, and that’s why Judge Janet has earned record-breaking support,” campaign spokesperson Sam Roecker said in a statement.

Early voting runs from March 21 to April 2. Election Day is Tuesday, April 4.