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Meet the groups backing right-wing Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates

The groups have ties to a national anti-abortion group, election deniers, and a major conservative donor.

By Matt Cohen - February 17, 2023
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Then-Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly speaks during oral arguments in 2019AP559, League of Women Voters v. Tony Evers at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin Wednesday, May 15, 2019.
Then-Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly speaks during oral arguments in 2019AP559, League of Women Voters v. Tony Evers at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin Wednesday, May 15, 2019. (Steve Apps/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

As the race to fill the impending vacancy on the Wisconsin Supreme Court heads to a primary election next week, special interest groups are spending tens of thousands of dollars in support of the two conservative candidates for the seat.

The groups that have helped Daniel Kelly and Jennifer Dorow have ties to far-right organizations and figures that have spent millions of dollars advocating against abortion, transgender health care, and what conservatives refer to as “critical race theory,” and supporting other anti-democracy efforts, including attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

But these groups aren’t contributing to the campaigns directly. Instead, their support comes in the form of independent expenditures, a form of advocacy for or against a candidate, usually in the form of TV or radio ads, mailers, phone banking, and digital ads. Independent expenditures are required by law to be made without coordination between the group making them and the candidate it’s supporting.

The two candidates who receive the most votes in the Wisconsin Supreme Court primary will face off in the April 4 general election. These are the groups that have spent the most in independent expenditures to help Kelly and Dorow:

Fair Courts America

Fair Courts America, a political action committee with deep ties to the far-right billionaire megadonors Dick and Liz Uihlein, has spent $1.3 million in support of Kelly’s campaign. According to campaign finance reports, Dick Uihlein has personally contributed $1.5 million to Fair Courts America’s activities in Wisconsin.

Fair Courts America is a newer super PAC, formed in 2022 under the umbrella of Restoration of America, a super PAC that was created in 2015 by the right-wing Christian advocacy group Restoration Action.

In an internal memo obtained by The American Independent Foundation in October 2022, Fair Courts America repeated an attack against the billionaire and donor to left-wing causes George Soros, saying “left-wing billionaire George Soros has teamed up with Big Labor, the radical environmentalists, the billboard trial lawyers, and other liberal interest groups to seize control of state courts.”

The PAC calls itself “the only national conservative organization battling the Left in state court fights.” The internal memo outlined the group’s strategic plan to spend tens of millions of dollars to support conservative candidates in key state supreme court races in 2022.

Over the past few election cycles, the Uihleins have become one of the most influential forces in Republican politics. A 2018 New York Times profile of the couple called them “the most powerful conservative couple you’ve never heard of” and detailed the extent of their influence, including $26 million spent in support of more than 60 congressional candidates in the 2018 midterm elections.

Beyond financial support for candidates, the Daily Beast reported, the Uihleins gave millions of dollars to groups that were actively trying to overturn the 2020 election. Among them was the Conservative Partnership Institute, a far-right policy think tank that counts former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, and a lawyer who worked with the Trump campaign to try to overturn the 2020 election results, among its ranks.

The American Principles Project PAC

The American Principles Project, another super PAC that has spent money in support of Kelly, is a Virginia-based right-wing policy think tank founded in 2009 by legal scholar Robert George and conservative political strategist Frank Cannon.

Thus far, the PAC has spent more than $66,000 to help Kelly’s campaign through digital advertising and messaging, according to campaign finance filings.

Describing itself as “the premier national organization engaging directly in campaigns and advocacy on behalf of the family,” the American Principles Project has focused its energy and resources on attacking transgender advocacy in public health and education, as well as so-called “critical race theory” it claims is being taught in schools.

In the 2022 midterms, the PAC said, it spent nearly $16 million in 13 states to educate voters on the “threats to the family from left-wing cultural extremism, largely as a result of Democrat policies.” The PAC’s midterm campaign centered on transphobic, false messaging related to the nonexistent dangers of gender-affirming health care procedures — which have been supported and endorsed as safe and lifesaving by a number of major medical associations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association — trans inclusion in schools, and trans athletes competing in sports.

Women Speak Out

Virginia-based anti-abortion super PAC Women Speak Out, another organization supporting Kelly, is the political partner of the nonprofit Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.

According to campaign finance filings reviewed by the nonprofit watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the PAC has spent over $50,000 on phone calls, text messages, and mailers in support of Kelly. The PAC recently pledged at least another six figures to help Kelly win.

Established in 1992 under the name Susan B. Anthony List in response to the pro-abortion rights political advocacy group EMILY’s List, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America spends millions of dollars each election cycle solely to help elect anti-abortion candidates.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, the organization renamed and rebranded itself as Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America to counter the pro-abortion rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Following the rebrand, the group has shifted its focus to fighting abortion rights organizations and policies at the state level, which has included using Women Speak Out to spend money in support of anti-abortion candidates in state and judicial elections.

Justice for Wisconsin

The only group that has spent money to support Dorow’s campaign through independent expenditures is a new committee called Justice For Wisconsin.

According to campaign finance filings, the committee has spent $55,000 on radio ads in support of Dorow’s campaign.

The only information provided by the campaign filing lists Cathy Zeuske as its treasurer. Zeuske is a former Republican Wisconsin state representative and state revenue secretary, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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