A trend in U.S. Senate campaigns has worked its way down to Wisconsin's Supreme Court race — a way for independent groups to help candidates without really coordinating with them.
Do you remember "McConnelling?" It gave us gems like this, this and, well, all of these. The idea: a politician uploads a bunch of b-roll footage to a website like YouTube, where it's free for the taking. A super PAC or other independent group can stumble upon said footage and use it however it sees fit — perhaps in an ad supporting the candidate who uploaded it. Perhaps.
Late last month, Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley uploaded her own set of b-roll, three minutes and 34 seconds documenting "A Day in the Life."
On Tuesday, a few of those scenes reappeared in an ad set to air on TV statewide in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 16 primary election.
The ad is part of a more than $400,000 buy from the conservative Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, according to numbers from the liberal group One Wisconsin Now. According to FCC records, the purchase was made by an agent from Nonbox, the Hales Corners advertising firm that has handled ad buys for Gov. Scott Walker's campaign and the Wisconsin Club for Growth.
"A fair and impartial judiciary protects all of our rights," the narrator says. "Justice Rebecca Bradley gets it. Colleagues call her measured, fair, willing to work with anyone. Judges applaud her insight, hard work compassion."
The ad touts Bradley's work helping sexually exploited children and promoting youth mentorship and says her record has earned support from a bipartisan group of judges, prosecutors and sheriffs.
"Tell Rebecca Bradley you believe in a fair and independent judiciary," the narrator concludes.
Bradley's campaign launched an ad of its own on Tuesday which will air on radio stations throughout the state.
Bradley's ad features a young girl coming home from school, telling her mom she talked about the state Supreme Court in class. Her mom notes that one seat is up for election this spring.
"Boy, that's an important vote, mom," the daughter says. "Because justices have to uphold the Constitution."
"I know," her mom replies. "And that's why I already know I'm voting for Justice Rebecca Bradley ... Justice Bradley understands that it's not her job to make laws, but to interpret them."
The ad closes with Bradley asking voters for their support.
Bradley faces Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald and Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg in the Feb. 16 primary. The two highest vote-getters will move on to the April general election.
Donald's campaign issued a statement on Monday decrying Bradley's "hyper-partisan campaign tactics," urging both of his opponents to join him in turning down help from independent groups and political parties.
"Rebecca Bradley is running a campaign fit for partisan office to the Legislature, not one that is up to the higher, nonpartisan standards of the Wisconsin Supreme Court," Donald said in a statement.
Kloppenburg campaign manager Melissa Mulliken said the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform ad appeared to conflict with Bradley's previous pledge not to coordinate with independent groups.
"When it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it often is a duck," Mulliken said in an email. "Rebecca Bradley said she wouldn't coordinate. This looks like coordination. Voters want and deserve justices and judges they can trust. This calls into question her trustworthiness."
But a spokesman for the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform pushed back on Donald's and Kloppenburg's suggestions.
"The footage featured in our ad is publicly available and enabled us to highlight Justice Rebecca Bradley's successful record of bringing people together to take on our state's most pressing challenges," spokesman Chris Martin said in an email.