March 27, 2019
By Bill Osmulski
Encouraged by Gov. Tony Evers’ victory in November, out-of-state liberal groups now have their eyes set on Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court race – and they have no intention of stopping there.
Former US Attorney General Eric Holder has been active for the past few election cycles in Wisconsin. He campaigned for Rebecca Dallet for the Supreme Court in the spring last year, and was back to campaign for Tony Evers for governor in the fall. He was back again in March, visiting both Madison and Milwaukee on behalf of Lisa Neubauer, who is running for the Supreme Court.
“I look forward to working with you over the course of this year and next year and then even beyond that, I think what the deal is we have to play the long game,” Holder told the group Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC) in Milwaukee on March 15th.
Holder is the chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), which is targeting twelve states during the 2019-2020 election cycle including Wisconsin. NDRC will hire a state coordinator for Wisconsin in the next couple of weeks and is spending $350,000 trying to get Judge Lisa Neubauer elected to the state Supreme Court. That money is going to BLOC and another group called Wisconsin Acts Together.
BLOC is very active in get-out-the-vote efforts. Holder calls the group a model for activism that should be exported throughout the country. It is also partnering with the Center for Popular Democracy, which has spent $74,000 on court races in Wisconsin this election cycle.
Wisconsin Acts Together is based in Milwaukee. Its main function is to distribute funding to other groups in the state. According to its most recent publicly available IRS filings, it collected over a million dollars in 2016 and gave it to Citizen Action, Emerge Wisconsin, High Ground, One Wisconsin Now, Planned Parenthood, We Are Wisconsin, and the Greater Wisconsin Committee. NRDC’s recent donation to Wisconsin Acts Together is still active.
The Greater Wisconsin Committee received half of those disbursements, and spent $100,000 of it on the “Supreme Court Project.” The group has been behind a series of attack ads against Neubauer’s opponent Brian Hagedorn, including one that portrays his Christian faith as extremist. This is a view that Holder shares.
“The guy is an extremist, and he’s just an extremist, and he will take those views to the Supreme Court,” Holder said.
Among the other groups benefiting from Wisconsin Acts Together’s checkbook, Planned Parenthood has spent $120,000 in the Supreme Court race so far on behalf of Lisa Neubauer. Meanwhile Citizen Action is organizing phone banks for Neubauer, and One Wisconsin Now is conducting opposition research against Hagedorn and distributing it in press releases.
Getting Neubauer elected might not help the NDRC and other groups looking to sue Wisconsin over redistricting. After their support started to raise eyebrows, Neubauer told the media that “if that group were a litigant, I would recuse.”
That’s not much of a roadblock for the NDRC. Redistricting lawsuits typically go to federal – not state – courts. Getting Neubauer elected is more about taking one step closer to undoing the Gov. Scott Walker-era reforms in Wisconsin.
By donating to BLOC, Holder is also supporting its lawsuit against the state over the 2018 extraordinary session laws. That lawsuit succeeded in Dane County Court on March 21, which allowed Gov. Evers to withdraw Wisconsin from the Affordable Care Act lawsuit and remove 82 Walker appointees from the state government – a significant, if only temporary, victory.
Another outside group that’s sticking around is NextGen Wisconsin, a college activist organization funded by California billionaire Tom Steyer. NextGen is not as active as it was during the fall election, but it did help organize a climate protest on March 15 at the state Capitol.
During the 2018 fall election, however, NextGen gave $2.1 million to the For Our Future PAC, which in turn spent $146,576 in Wisconsin through independent expenditures. So far, it has spent $83,829 on the Supreme Court race for Lisa Neubauer.
Neubauer has benefited from around $750,000 in independent expenditures thus far. At last count, her opponent Brian Hagedorn has received about $133,000 in support through independent expenditures.