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Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly renting office space at state GOP headquarters

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Conservative-backed Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly is getting a hand from the Republican Party of Wisconsin in his run for a full term — marking the latest example of partisan involvement in elections for the state’s highest court.

Nomination papers being circulated by Kelly’s campaign for the spring 2020 ballot include a return address that is the same as the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s headquarters, where Kelly’s campaign has rented office space.

State law does not dictate how candidates distribute and collect nomination papers, including where they should be returned. While Supreme Court candidates run in statewide, nonpartisan elections, candidates have increasingly cozied up to the political party aligned with their supporters.

“Dan Kelly has toed the line for Republicans and the right wing since he’s been on the state Supreme Court,” liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now deputy director Mike Browne said in a statement Wednesday about Kelly’s nomination papers. “Now Dan Kelly is showing his partisanship on the campaign trail, right down to sharing an address with the Republican Party of Wisconsin.”

Republican Party of Wisconsin spokeswoman Alesha Guenther said this isn’t the first time a GOP-backed candidate has received assistance from the party.

“As was true with previous conservative candidates for Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, the Republican Party of Wisconsin is helping Justice Daniel Kelly collect nomination signatures,” Guenther said. “Party involvement in these races is not a new thing.”

Guenther said the party helped collect signatures for Justice Brian Hagedorn, Sauk County Circuit Judge Michael Screnock and Justice Rebecca Bradley during their campaigns.

“It’s not an unusual case,” said Kelly’s campaign manager, Charles Nichols. “Parties get involved in these. The same thing happens with the other side.”

Nichols pointed to the state Democratic Party’s convention this summer in Milwaukee, where Kelly’s challengers, liberal-backed candidates Ed Fallone, a Marquette Law School professor, and Dane County Judge Jill Karofsky both were speakers.

Hagedorn, who was elected in April, spoke at the state Republican convention in Oshkosh earlier this year.

Courtney Beyer, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said the state party has not helped Fallone or Karofsky with their nomination papers.

“Dan Kelly claimed he’d put aside partisan politics on the Supreme Court, yet he’s already shown his true colors by working hand-in-hand with the Republican Party to get himself on the ballot,” Beyer said in an email. “It couldn’t be clearer voters can’t trust Dan Kelly when he’s already breaking his promises.”

Instructions on Karofsky’s campaign website direct individuals to mail nomination papers to an address that coincides with Milwaukee-based Nation Consulting, which includes members with ties to the Democratic National Committee and state Democratic Party. Farrone’s campaign directs nomination papers to a Milwaukee post office box.

The Supreme Court currently has a 5-2 conservative majority.

Before he was appointed by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2016 to finish the remainder of departing Justice David Prosser’s term, Kelly was a conservative attorney and defended some of the governor’s most controversial legislation, including the Republican-drawn legislative maps that opponents say have given Republicans an unfair majority in the Legislature.

Kelly also is a critic of gay marriage and in the past compared affirmative action to slavery.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin last week issued its own criticism of Karofsky for tweets she posted supporting gun control following two incidents at Wisconsin schools.

“While Karofsky claims that she would be an independent justice on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, calling for action on gun control matters clearly shows that she has an agenda she plans on advocating for from the bench,” the party said in a statement.

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