WI Progressive Group Defends Mother Of All Negative Ads

On Friday we brought you the story of the remarkably hard-edged turn the state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin has taken as it ticks toward its April 5 conclusion. Now we’ve got the defense of the race’s toughest ad from the progressive group that sponsored it.

A quick refresher: though officially non-partisan, the Supreme Court race has become something of a proxy fight for the battle between supporters of organized labor and Gov. Scott Walker (R). Incumbent Justice David Prosser is backed by the Walker supporters on the right, while his opponent, Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, is backed by the left. The race is extremely tight.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee, a progressive group, is taking on Prosser with an ad that highlights his time as a prosecutor. This is how the ad characterizes that period in his career: “Tell David Prosser judges should protect our children, not sex offenders.”Here’s the spot:

Unsurprisingly, the ad created a lot of attention. Prosser called the spot “absolutely outrageous” and threatened to sue. Kloppenburg has defended the constitutional right of the GWC to run the spot.

And one of the victims of the priest mentioned in the ad, who publicly criticized Prosser for his handling of the case back in 2008, called for the spot to be pulled down.

“I don’t care about a supreme court race, I’m just sick and tired of dirty politics,” Troy Merryfield, who accused Father John Feeney of abusing him — leading to Feeny’s eventual conviction on charges he abused him and other boys — told reporters. “My name and story had been hijacked by this political action committee and I don’t appreciate it.”

Merryfield released a long statement condemning the ad and defending Prosser.

GWC stood by the ad in its own statement released Friday amid the controversy surrounding Merryfield’s comments about the spot.

“We stand by the statements made in our ad, which are supported by newspaper accounts and material gathered during the prosecution of Feeney,” the group said. “Our TV ad does not mention any victims by name or show any pictures of victims. We have tremendous compassion for the many victims of abuse at the hands of Feeney.”

Though not mentioning him by name, the group pointed to Merryfield’s 2008 comments to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about Prosser. At the time, Merryfield told the paper that back in 1978, Prosser had “dropped the ball” when stories about Feeny’s abuse first came to him, and he called on Prosser to recuse himself from any case involving child abuse. Merryfield appeared to reverse himself in the subsequent statement defending Prosser.

“We understand this is a deeply emotional issue. However, statements made today do
not correspond to statements made on the record in recent years about Prosser’s actions as they relate to Feeney,” the GWC said. “The failure of Prosser to take seriously the accusations of child sexual abuse go far beyond the politics of the day; it is critical that we demand our elected prosecutors and judges protect our children from sexual predators.”