State Supreme Court candidate Lisa Neubauer outraised rival Brian Hagedorn in the last half of 2018, giving her a slight fundraising edge in a competitive race that will help determine control of the court in coming years.
The money the candidates raised between July and December topped the levels set during the same period in last year’s race, highlighting the significant role money will play in determining the court’s direction.
Neubauer, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals chief judge who is backed by Democrats, took in $325,000 over the sixth-month reporting period and spent $115,000 to end with $573,000 in the bank, according to the campaign, which also took out a $250,000 loan.
Meanwhile, Hagedorn, an appellate judge who is supported by Republicans, raised about $311,000 and spent $30,000 to end the period with about $281,000 in cash on hand.
The two candidates will vie to replace retiring liberal-backed Justice Shirley Abrahamson for a 10-year term. Candidates for the seven-member court are officially nonpartisan, but political parties and outside groups typically spend money to support their preferred candidate.
The stakes for April’s Supreme Court election are high. Conservative-backed judges currently hold a 4-3 majority on the court, but if Neubauer wins a seat, it could allow a path for liberals to control the court if conservative-backed Justice Dan Kelly, who was appointed by former Gov. Scott Walker, runs and loses his first race in 2020.
Republicans during December’s lame-duck session considered but opted against moving the date of the 2020 presidential preference primary, which currently coincides with the nonpartisan spring election, to benefit Kelly.
Campaign spending in state Supreme Court races has increased in recent years as the races shed their nonpartisan veneer.
For comparison, Justice Rebecca Dallet, a liberal who won a seat on the Supreme Court against conservative candidate Michael Screnock last April , raised $225,000 over the same time period to end with $389,000 in the bank after taking out a $281,000 loan.
Screnock, a Sauk County judge, during that time managed to bring in about $104,000 to end the period with $77,000.
That race saw vast amounts of campaign and outside spending, with over $1.2 million total spent for Dallet and $1 million for Screnock, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.