MADISON, Wis. — Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that far-right candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court Dan Kelly is closing out the race by traveling the state on a private jet owned by anti-abortion activists with ties to the conservative group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.
Kelly’s campaign described Paul and Elizabeth Keppeler, the owners of the private jet, only as “supporters.” Elizabeth Keppeler is the sister-in-law of Karl Schmidt, CEO of Belmark, a Green Bay-area packaging company founded by Keppeler’s father Bruce Bell. Schmidt was identified as a board member of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce as recently as 2019. WMC has made more than $5 million in outside expenditures to prop up Kelly’s campaign for Supreme Court.
Through a family foundation, the Keppelers have also made significant contributions to anti-abortion groups, including a so-called “crisis pregnancy center” in southwest Florida.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Dan Kelly travels the state before Supreme Court election while Janet Protasiewicz is grounded by illness
The final full day of campaigning for a crucial seat on the state Supreme Court saw one candidate flying from city to city across Wisconsin while the other was grounded once again because of a respiratory infection.
Former Justice Daniel Kelly, a conservative, spent Monday on a seven-city trip across Wisconsin, stretching from Waukesha to Hudson, in a private jet apparently owned by a family of anti-abortion advocates. It marked the fourth day that Kelly has been barnstorming across the state.
Voters will decide on Tuesday whether to flip the ideological balance of the state’s Supreme Court just as it is considering a raft of legal disputes, including a challenge to the state’s pre-Civil War ban on abortion.
Conservatives have controlled the high court for the past 15 years, but liberals could gain a 4-3 majority with a Protasiewicz victory. She finished first and Kelly second in a four-way February primary.
Given the high stakes, the increasingly testy contest has blown past state and national spending records for a statewide court, due largely to the influx of national money and outside TV ads.
Kelly, who previously served on the court between 2016 and 2020, is finishing the campaign with his 21-city “Save the Court” tour over four days.
The final stop will be at the Tuscan Hall Venue and Catering in Waukesha at 6 p.m. on Monday.
To travel the state, Kelly, an appointee of former GOP Gov. Scott Walker, has been flying on a Cessna Citation V that appears to be owned by Paul and Elizabeth Keppeler of Oconomowoc. The Kelly campaign described the couple as “supporters.” Neither returned calls on Monday.
The Rev. Landon Huie, pastor of Oasis Church in Eau Claire, mentioned Kelly’s plane during a Sunday church service in which the candidate spoke.
“I know you’ve here shortly got to jump on a plane and head to another event, but I’d like to just pray over you if that’s OK,” Huie said.
Paul Keppeler is a retired U.S Air Force officer and airline pilot. Elizabeth Keppeler is the daughter of Bruce Bell, founder of Belmark, a Green Bay-area packaging company. Her sister’s husband, Karl Schmidt, is Belmark’s CEO chief and has been a longtime board member for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s business lobby.
WMC officials would not say whether he is currently on the group’s 52-member board.
WMC Issues Mobilization Council, the political arm of the business group, has spent $5.2 million, the most of any outside group, in support of Kelly, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.
Last week, WMC has removed two pro-Kelly TV ads that featured a rape case Protasiewicz presided over. The rape victim in the case said the ads were traumatizing and misleading.
Paul and Betsy Keppeler, Bruce Bell, Karl Schmidt and other Bell family members are officers of the Easter Foundation Inc. a personal foundation with assets of $41.9 million in 2020.
Between 2018 and 2020, the foundation made grants to the Pregnancy Resource Center of Southwest Florida, a “crisis pregnancy center,” for $140,000.
In 2020, the foundation also gave to Wisconsin Right to Life ($1,000), Focus on the Family ($3,000), the Heritage Foundation ($15,000), and a number of other religious, political and charitable organizations. It also gave the Medical College of Wisconsin $50,000.
On a blog that he contributed to, Kelly wrote that everyone knows abortion “takes the life of an unborn child.” But he said pro-choice groups still favor making abortion legal “to preserve sexual libertinism.”