Bradley column (copy)

Rebecca Bradley wrote this column for the Marquette Tribune after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992.

A national gay-rights group plans to mobilize its supporters against Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, who published anti-gay comments 24 years ago in her college newspaper.

Human Rights Campaign spokesman Brandon Lorenz said the group does not typically get involved in state Supreme Court races. But Bradley’s writings are prompting it to make calls and send emails to “thousands” of its members in Wisconsin ahead of the April 5 election between Bradley and Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg.

The goal is to get its members to volunteer on behalf of Kloppenburg and to vote for her.

“Justice Bradley’s comments were appalling and they raised some very troubling questions about her ability to render fair and impartial decisions,” Lorenz said this week. “And it was because of that that we felt it was really important that our members and supporters know what’s going on and what’s at stake.”

In 1992, Bradley published two letters to the editor and one column in the Marquette University student newspaper that included anti-gay rhetoric. She called gay people “queers” and compared them to “degenerate drug addicts.” Bradley also wrote that gay people commit suicide with their behavior, referring to the contraction of the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

Bradley has apologized for those comments repeatedly this week — including in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal — after the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now released them to reporters on Monday. She said she has changed her attitude toward gay people and people living with AIDS and was “mortified” to read her college-era opinions.

Bradley’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for a comment about the HRC action.

So far, the only outside group to spend money on behalf of either candidate in the race is conservative group Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, which has launched a nearly $1 million buy for advertisements blasting a unanimous decision by a three-judge appeals panel that included Kloppenburg to give a new hearing in the case of a convicted sex offender.

The winners of the past six state Supreme Court races have at least one thing in common: Each received the most support of independent groups like Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, including unregulated spending on thinly veiled campaign commercials known as “issue ads.”

In particular, conservative groups have spent heavily — two dollars for every one spent by liberal groups — in recent years to help produce a conservative majority on Wisconsin’s highest court.

The largest and most influential player in court races in recent years is the state’s business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. It has spent nearly $6 million on issue advertising for conservative-leaning candidates in the past six Supreme Court races and will likely spend high again, its lobbyist Scott Manley said in January.

This week, in the wake of revelations about Bradley’s college-era writings, WMC spokesman Jim Pugh declined to discuss the group’s plans for spending on the race.

Overall, outside interest groups have spent an estimated $13.2 million on issue ads alone since 2007 on behalf of Supreme Court candidates, according to data compiled by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Bradley’s comments may draw other groups to spend money or deploy a similar messaging effort to the Human Rights Campaign’s, though time is running out with less than a month to go before the election, said Democracy Campaign executive director Matt Rothschild.

A spokeswoman for gay-rights advocacy group Fair Wisconsin, which operates a state political action committee, did not respond to requests for comment. In 2007, Fair Wisconsin spent about $4,500 on behalf of Madison attorney Linda Clifford, who was defeated by Washington County Circuit Judge Annette Ziegler for a seat on the state’s highest court.

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Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.