Wisconsin Justice Prosser still paying down debt

FILE - This June 6, 2011 photo shows Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser posing a question to Dane County Circuit Court Representative Marie A. Stanton during a hearing at the Wisconsin State Capitol. (AP Photo/John Hart, Pool)
FILE - This June 6, 2011 photo shows Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser posing a question to Dane County Circuit Court Representative Marie A. Stanton during a hearing at the Wisconsin State Capitol. (AP Photo/John Hart, Pool)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser is still paying off debts associated with the 2011 election that nearly cost him his seat on the bench and cost his supporters around $700,000.

Prosser defeated challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg in a race that included public financing and millions in spending from outside groups. An anomaly in Prosser’s narrow victory led to the first statewide recount in more than two decades. The results confirmed Prosser won the election by just 7,004 votes. But it came with a price.

Three years after the victory, the team behind Prosser’s campaign and political action committee is still trying to raise money to pay off about $200,000 in remaining debt associated with the election and recount.

“Since 2011, the debt-retirement environment has been challenged by a near-constant election cycle,” wrote Brian Nemoir, Prosser’s 2011 campaign director and adviser to the Prosser Victory Recount Fund, a political action committee.

Campaign finance reports show Prosser’s campaign account amassed nearly $233,000 in debt between January and July 2011. Most of that went to legal fees for Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren, a Milwaukee law firm, which didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The most recent filing, covering July 1 through Dec. 31, 2013, showed the campaign had paid just $33,000, most of it coming from in-kind donations from the Prosser PAC. The next report is due in July.

Meanwhile, the Prosser PAC recently received help from former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, who appointed Prosser to the bench in 1998. Thompson sent out an email in January this year asking for donors to repay a “debt of gratitude” to Prosser.

“Every day for the past fifteen years he has shown Wisconsinites how passionate and fair minded he is about justice,” Thompson wrote.

Nemoir said it’s normal for the PAC to use figures like Thompson as what he called a surrogate for money, citing justices’ inability to raise money themselves.

Prosser is widely viewed as one of four conservative judges on the seven-member bench. Before his appointment, Prosser served as Republican speaker of the Assembly. Opponents turned the nonpartisan election into a referendum on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal, introduced just two months before the election, that took away most collective bargaining rights for nearly all public workers.

Joe Heim, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said having Thompson raise money for Prosser highlights the partisanship that surrounded the justice’s election.

“Having Republicans asking for money for Prosser acknowledges that he’s one of them,” Heim said.

Both Prosser and Kloppenburg maintained they were nonpartisan during the race, but Kloppenburg had support from unions and Democrats while Prosser was backed by Republicans and other Walker supporters.

Nemoir said the subsequent recall elections of the governor, lieutenant governor and 13 senators, as well as the 2012 presidential election, soaked up campaign cash that may have otherwise been given to Prosser and slowed the debt repayment.

Melissa Mulliken, who managed Kloppenburg’s campaign, said it used volunteers and hired managers to help volunteers during the recount. Doing so kept down costs associated with the recount, on which the campaign spent about $157,000, Mulliken said.

Kloppenburg raised and spent about $550,000 during the entire year that included the election and recount, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, compared to around $700,000 for Prosser.

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