Right-wing Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Daniel Kelly received compensation from the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation and Bradley-funded organizations in 2022, the Center for Media and Democracy has learned.
A 2023 Statement of Economic Interests filed by Kelly for 2022 obtained by CMD shows that Bradley, a tax-exempt foundation that has weaponized philanthropy to systematically build up and maintain Wisconsin’s conservative infrastructure, and the Bradley-funded Liberty Justice Center (LJC), an Illinois-based, right-wing litigation center, paid Kelly more than $1,000 last year.
The disclosure form does not require Kelly to disclose the actual amount or purpose of the payments. Kelly spokesperson Jim Dick declined CMD’s request to explain what Kelly does for the Bradley Foundation and how much he is paid, saying, “The Statement of Economic Interests provides all information required under Wisconsin law and speaks for itself.”
Bradley and its donor conduit the Bradley Impact Fund funneled $343,000 (2018-2021) in funding to LJC between 2018 and 2021. LJC gained notoriety representing Mark Janus in the Supreme Court case Janus v. AFSCME, which the Court decided in June 2018 by overturning more than 40 years of precedent to rule 5-4 that public employees who don’t join a union no longer have to pay “fair share” fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining on their behalf for better wages and working conditions.
Bradley played an integral role in funding and coordinating the case, CMD revealed.
Kelly’s financial disclosure also shows that Kelly is a contractor for the Institute for Reforming Government (IRG), an offshoot of the rightwing Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). Bradley and its donor conduit the Bradley Impact Fund gave IRG $454,000 between 2018 and 2021.
WILL’s general counsel, Rick Esenberg, claims to have “argued more cases in the Wisconsin Supreme Court than any other private lawyer in the state,” and was the former boss of IRG president CJ Szafir.
Bradley calls WILL the “MVP” of its Wisconsin network. An 2015 internal document from the Bradley Foundation obtained by CMD details WILL’s importance:
Nearly all of the organizations of the conservative infrastructure come to WILL for advice…. In the (four) years since its inception (WILL) has made itself the indispensable partner to nearly every member of the Wisconsin Network, and has been a voice in nearly every public controversy over property rights, free speech and limited government in Wisconsin.
Until at least September 2022, Kelly was listed as a senior fellow in constitutional governance at IRG alongside Governor Scott Walker, who appointed Kelly to the Badger State’s highest court in 2016.
Kelly lost his first election in 2020 to Jill Karofsky, despite receiving backing from Trump, GOP megadonors Diane Hendricks and Richard Uihlein, 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels, and anti-abortion groups.
Kelly Receives Money from RNC and Republican Law Firm
Kelly’s Statement of Economic Interests also discloses that he received money from the Chicago-based law firm Troutman Pepper and as a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.
Troutman Pepper is a favorite choice of the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature and has represented Republican interests at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, an arrangement that itself was unsuccessfully challenged in front of the Supreme Court in 2021.
Misha Tseytlin, who served as Wisconsin solicitor general under former Attorney General Brad Schimel (R), now works for Troutman Pepper and is often contracted to be lead counsel for Republican state lawmakers.