But it is a different story for special-interest groups. The Greater Wisconsin Committee, a leftist organizing group with deep union ties, has funneled $3 million into anti-Prosser advertising, taking relentlessly to the airwaves. “They are the Left’s biggest political player in the state,” says Brett Healy, the president of the MacIver Institute, a Wisconsin-based think tank. “They run the ads that no one else wants to run.”
Indeed. The GWC is airing ads that tie Prosser to the budget bill. “Prosser equals Walker” is the usual theme. But those political attacks are fluff compared with the group’s latest smear, a dimly-lit, creepy spot that casts Prosser as soft on pedophilia. That ad alleges that Prosser, as a local district attorney three decades ago, failed to properly prosecute a Catholic priest accused of molesting several boys. Prosser, according to those who know him, is said to be furious about the ad, angry with its inaccuracies and how it sullies his name.
At a debate late last week, Prosser, his displeasure barely concealed, urged Kloppenburg to ask the GWC to pull the ad. “It is the worst ad that has ever been run in a judicial campaign,” he asserted. Kloppenburg would not budge. “Like it or not, third parties have a right to run ads of their choosing,” she replied.
Prosser fired back: “If some third party ran an ad supporting me and attacking you, and it was despicable, and it was a lie, I would stand up and ask that the ad be pulled,” he argued. “You are not willing to do that, even at the request of the victim in the ad?”
Prosser noted that Troy Merryfield, one of the abuse victims, has spoken out against the clip, and in support of Prosser’s decision to not prosecute at the time.
“I do not appreciate myself or my case being used for political advantage, especially in today’s climate of dirty politics,” Merryfield wrote in a recent statement. “In 1979, as a prosecutor, Prosser made a decision to not file charges against [Rev. John] Feeney due to his concern about the emotional toll that a jury trial would have on my brother and me due to our young age at the time.” Prosser, he added, had his full support.
Regardless, the hit left a mark. Two sources with knowledge of internal GOP polling tell us that Prosser and Kloppenburg are near even, a bad sign for the incumbent. “She has driven his negatives up,” one source says. “It will be hard to drive hers up. Her lack of judicial experience should hurt her, but it also makes her harder to pin down. The question now is: Does the Right have enough resources to counter the Greater Wisconsin Committee’s millions? And even if they do, is it too late? It is going to be touch-and-go for these last few days.”
Brian Nemoir, Prosser’s top aide, reiterates that the campaign will highlight Kloppenburg’s judicial inexperience. Keeping the focus on that, and off Walker, is a must. Her environmental-law record and her associations with leading liberal lights such as Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, Prosser’s main ideological foe on the court, who once hired Kloppenburg as an intern, will be detailed in campaign material.
Prosser will also make Kloppenburg’s not-so-subtle ties to the anti-Walker movement a constant refrain. This tack, Nemoir says, is crucial in pointing out how Kloppenburg’s campaign is being used by liberal interests to manipulate Wisconsin law.
Nemoir points to a recent meeting with the Capital Times, where Kloppenburg ruminated on the state of Wisconsin politics, as a trouble spot for state attorney. “The events of the last few weeks have put into sharp relief how important the Supreme Court is as a check on overreach in the other branches of government,” Kloppenburg said in conversation with editors.
“Overreaching?” Nemoir exclaims. That statement, he argues, is a “wink and nod” to the assembling anti-Walker forces aligning behind her campaign. “You would have to be a complete idiot to think that she is referencing anything else. It is a nod to those who are supporting her.”
Perhaps, but for both candidates, avoiding a dip into the budget-bill swamp is getting tricky. Neither wants to risk recusal. Prosser is also being forced to address the roiling political scene, albeit indirectly. At the Friday debate, he was asked to comment on how courts should address cases dealing with legislative procedure (hint, hint). “You have to look with clear eyes whether some procedure was violated, whether there is a real emergency, what was done,” he said. “I pledge, as I have for the last twelve and a half years, that as a justice, that I will look at these things impartially.”