MADISON (AP) — The Wisconsin Realtors Association has revoked its endorsement of Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn and asked for its $18,000 donation to be returned following reports that he helped found a private elementary school that allows gay students to be expelled.
The president and chief executive officer of the association, Michael Theo, issued a statement Monday saying that issues that served as the basis for the endorsement have been overshadowed by other "non-real estate related issues."
Theo said the group does not want to be associated with those issues "that directly conflict with the principles of our organization and the values of our members."
The group representing real estate agents often is involved behind the scenes in Wisconsin Supreme Court races, which are officially nonpartisan. It donated $18,000 to the Hagedorn campaign, money that Theo said Thursday it has asked to be returned.
Hagedorn, who is backed by conservatives, faces fellow state appeals court judge Lisa Neubauer in the April 2 election. Neubauer is supported by liberals.
Hagedorn campaign adviser Stephan Thompson downplayed the rare endorsement revocation from the group representing real estate agents, saying in a statement that "Madison isn't going to decide who sits on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the voters are."
Thompson said Hagedorn would return the $18,000 as requested.
Hagedorn, an evangelical Christian, has consistently argued that he has been unfairly attacked over his personal religious beliefs and that he would be a fair and impartial justice on the state Supreme Court.
Hagedorn defended himself on Twitter.
"The Constitution provides no religious test for public office," Hagedorn tweeted Thursday. "Attacks on people of faith have no place in public life. I'll protect the religious freedom of all people. Stand with me against these shameful attacks."
Neubauer campaign manager Tyler Hendricks, in a statement, highlighted her endorsements from more than 400 current and former judges, sheriffs and district attorneys.
"This is yet another sign that people are rejecting the partisan and radical views of Judge Hagedorn," Hendricks said of the endorsement revocation.
The winner will replace retiring liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson on the court that is currently controlled 4-3 by conservatives. A win by Hagedorn would increase conservative control to 5-2, while a Neubauer victory would put majority of the court in play in next year's race for a seat held by conservative Justice Dan Kelly.
Hagedorn has been dogged in recent weeks by revelations about blog posts he made while a law school student in the mid-2000s arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court's striking down of an anti-sodomy law could lead to the legalization of bestiality.
Last week it was revealed that Hagedorn helped found a private school in 2016 that allows for the firing of teachers for being gay and the expulsion of gay students . He also received $3,000 to give speeches in 2015, 2016 and 2017 to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy group that has supported criminalizing sodomy and sterilizing transgender people.
"The Constitution provides no religious test for public office. Attacks on people of faith have no place in public life. I'll protect the religious freedom of all people. Stand with me against these shameful attacks." — Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn
Hagedorn is the former chief legal counsel for former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and has been a state appeals court judge since 2015, when he was appointed by Walker.
Neubauer on Thursday announced that she had raised more than $1 million since getting into the race. She has loaned her campaign $250,000. Hagedorn reported raising $547,000 through January and launched the first television ad of the race Wednesday, a spot that highlighted he and his wife's adoption of a newborn who was addicted to opioids.
Neubauer released on online video Thursday revealing that she was an unnamed plaintiff in a successful lawsuit brought in the 1970s against Chicago police after she was strip-searched but not under arrest.
Neubauer said in the video that she was a 21-year-old college student in 1978 with her friends in Chicago for a Talking Heads concert when one of them was arrested for taking a parking ticket off a car.
Neubauer went to the police station to find her friend and police strip-searched her.
She became lead plaintiff in a successful lawsuit, named as Jane Doe No. 1, that led to changes in police strip-search policies and laws across the country.