Part 6 of a New Guide to the Right-Wing Groups Targeting the Wisconsin Supreme Court
By Lisa Graves and Evan Vorpahl
At least five differently named groups backing Dan Kelly for the Wisconsin Supreme Court are fronting for Illinois billionaire Dick Uihlein, including the “American Principles Project PAC” (APP PAC), which has a starkly anti-choice/anti-gay electoral agenda, such as backing Herschel Walker’s failed bid in Georgia. On March 1, APP PAC spent nearly a quarter million dollars on ads to aid Kelly, a graduate of televangelist Pat Robertson’s Regent School of Law who has been a legal advisor to “Wisconsin Right to Life.” APP PAC also spent money on an app to collect data on Wisconsin voters door to door. Only .0001 of the millions APP PAC received last year came from Wisconsin, but the group is poised to spend heavily to try to capture Wisconsin’s highest court for Kelly and his true backers.
Zoom In: Kelly has boasted that his campaign will spend little, because such groups are going to spend big in the election: “Where you gonna get the other $20 million from? There are these organizations around the country, and they have specific concerns.” As we noted before, that includes billionaires counting on him to use the Wisconsin Supreme Court to enforce an 1849 ban on abortion, a regressive law that was passed right after Wisconsin became a state and before women could even vote.
- APP PAC fronts for extremist Dick Uihlein. Uihlein’s money constituted more than $5.5 million, or 80%, of APP PAC’s funds for attack ads last year, via the Restoration PAC and the so-called “Election Integrity PAC” (an SBA List-tied front group that is 100% funded by Restoration PAC).
- The other main funder of APP PAC is the American Principles Project (APP), a dark money group led by anti-choice/anti-gay hedge funder Sean Fieler of Connecticut. He leads APP and APP Foundation (APPF), where he is the primary bankroller. Uihlein has funded APPF, too.
- APP PAC has tried to weaponize anti-trans rhetoric to attack Democrats in Senate, Governor, and state Attorney General races. Most of its attack ads have failed, like its 2020 lie claiming that Joe Biden backed sex change operations for second graders, which Politifact rated “False.” Its focus is on using “culture war” claims to inflame GOP voters.
- Fieler has also compared gay rights to totalitarian regimes, asserting “It’s the most dangerous movement in the U.S. today…” Fieler uses a mild voice to promote extreme positions, and made a similar claim that investing in clean energy through ESG initiatives threatens our economy, but he also wants U.S. currency tied to the gold standard, which would wreck our economy and ability to mitigate recessions. He profits from gold mines.
- Fieler’s APP has also touted Steve Bannon, who stoked the near-coup on Jan. 6, and Tom Klingenstein of the Claremont Institute, who defended John Eastman.
- Fieler has also supported right-wing money man Leonard Leo’s agenda to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with justices hostile to corporate regulation, gay rights, and abortion, which resulted in the ruling overturning Roe v. Wade last summer, a ruling that Fieler has highly praised.
- As of March 10, there are now at least five front groups spending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race to aid Kelly that have been mostly or entirely fueled by Dick Uihlein:
- APP PAC, whose biggest funder has been Uihlein, with more than $8 million since 2020.
- There’s also “Fair Courts America,” a super PAC project of Uihlein’s Restoration of America. FCA is largely funded by Restoration PAC which has been funded largely by Uihlein along with some money from Fieler and other billionaires.
- There’s “Women Speak Out,” which is part of Susan B. Anthony List Pro-Life America, and which throws Uihlein’s voice as its largest funder by far, via Restoration PAC.
- There’s also an Illinois-based PAC that calls itself “People who Play by the Rules PAC,” which has placed nearly half a million dollars in ad orders in the Wisconsin race. It is nearly entirely funded via Uihlein, and it also gave $450K to Fair Courts America in 2022.
- And, there’s also a super PAC generically named “Americas PAC,” which has placed nearly $50K in political ad orders. Its main funder last year was Uihlein’s Restoration PAC.
The Bottom Line: An out-of-state billionaire with a long track record of trying to use his enormous wealth to influence elections to impose his personal views against abortion and other rights is backing Dan Kelly. APP PAC is one of several front groups known to be bankrolled by extremist billionaire Dick Uihlein, who is spending big to win the Court. So, with the millions WMC is also suddenly spending from secret sources in the race, a real question is: is that Uihlein too? Or is it Leonard Leo flexing here, given his long focus on Wisconsin and new riches?
- Brennan Center for Justice “Buying Time 2023: Wisconsin,” (accessed March 10, 2023). Link
- Matt Cohen, “Conservative billionaire donor Uihlein funneling millions of dollars into state judicial races,” The American Independent (Oct. 21, 2022). Link
- Carl Mullens and Carla Sanchez Mora, “Meet The Billionaire Couple Pumping Their Fortune Into Right-Wing Politics,” Fortune (Aug. 8, 2022). Link
- Jim Rendon, “Powerful Donor Quietly Supports Groups Opposing Abortion and LGBTQ Rights,” the Chronicle of Philanthropy (Mar. 7, 2023). Link
- Heidi Przybyla, “Dark money and special deals: How Leonard Leo and his friends benefited from his judicial activism,” Politico (Mar. 1, 2023). Link
- Ken Vogel and Shane Goldmacher, “An Unusual $1.6 Billion Donation Bolsters Conservatives,” New York Times (Aug. 22, 2022). Link
- Robert O’Harrow and Shawn Boberg, “A Conservative Activists Behind-the-Scenes Campaign to Remake the Nation’s Courts,” Washington Post (May 21, 2019). Link
- Roger Sollenberger, “Inside the Billionaire-Backed Hub for Election Denial,” Daily Beast (Nov. 28, 2022). Link
- Keya Vakel, “Man Who Helped Overturn Roe Comes to Wisconsin Supreme Court Race, Which Will Decide Abortion Rights,” Up North NewsI (Mar. 9, 2023). Link
- Matt Ford, “The Laughable Defenses of Trump’s Person Coup Lawyer: the Claremont Institute Tried to Respond to Critics of Faculty Member John Eastman and Fell Flat on Its Face,” The New Republic (Oct. 13, 2021). Link
- Evan Vorpahl and Lisa Graves, “Rightwing Dark Money Bomb Coming for State Courts,” Common Dreams (Nov. 1, 2022). Link
- Andrew Atterbury, “National conservative groups pour money into local school board races,” Politico (September 19, 2022). Link
- Julio Severo, “Tax-Funded CPAC Brazil, Brazil’s Largest ‘Conservative’ Event, Criticizes… Tax-Funded Socialists,” Last Days Watchman (Oct. 15, 2019) (citing Eduardo Bolsonaro’s live stream of CPAC Brasil). Link
- Corrine Hess, “Big special interest money is flowing into the Wisconsin Supreme Court race. Dan Kelly says that’s good for him.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (February 16, 2023). Link
- 2022 Americas PAC FEC page. Link
- 2022 APP PAC October quarterly FEC filing. Link
- 2022 APP PAC post-general FEC filing. Link
- 2022 Election Integrity PAC October monthly. Link
- 2022 Election Integrity PAC post-general filing. Link
- 2022 Election Integrity PAC pre-general filing. Link
- 2022 Restoration PAC October quarterly filing. Link
- 2022 Restoration PAC post-general FEC filing. Link
- 2022 Restoration PAC pre-general FEC filing. Link
- American Principles Project PAC Wisconsin independent expenditures filing. Link
- People who Play by the Rules PAC page by the Center for Illinois Politics. Link
About this series. Lisa Graves and Evan Vorpahl have been covering outside spending in state supreme court races since 2019, including in Wisconsin. Graves has lived in Wisconsin for more than a decade and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse before attending Cornell Law School. Vorpahl graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. True North Research is a national watchdog group, and Graves is the President of the Board of the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy, which she previously led for eight years, writing and editing numerous Wisconsin and national stories.
Graves received the Milwaukee Press Club’s “Excellence in Journalism” Award for her coverage of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race in 2011. Her investigations of the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALECexposed”) have won an “Izzy”/I.F. Stone Award and the Association for Education in Journalism’s “Professional Freedom and Responsibility” Award, whose other recipients include Bill Moyers and Molly Ivins–in addition to other honors.
Graves previously served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy in the U.S. Department of Justice where she worked on judicial nominations, federal and state court relations, and other policies; as the Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee where she handled judicial nominations; as the Deputy Chief of the Article III Judges Division of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, where she advised judges and judicial programs on anti-corruption measures; and other posts. She has testified before Congress about the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Postal Service, FOIA reform, and national security matters.
She is one of the nation’s foremost experts on the infrastructure of right-wing groups, both nationally and in the states, and how their billionaire funders and influence are regressing American public policies and institutions.
For additional information about this article, please contact Evan Vorpahl via firstname.lastname@example.org.