Governor’s Race Cost $23 Million
Spending nearly triples previous record set in last election
February 6, 2003
Madison - The candidates for governor and special interests spent nearly $23 million in a race marred by repeated volleys of negative and misleading television advertising and devoid of issue discussion vital to voters, according to figures released today by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
The candidates spent $18.8 million during the four-year campaign cycle from 1999-2002, including $16.2 million in 2002 alone - an average of $44,420 a day (Tables 1 & 2), according to campaign finance reports they filed with the State Elections Board. The candidates raised about $18.5 million during the four-year period, including $10.9 million in 2002.
In addition to the candidate spending, WDC estimated special interest groups spent $3.9 million to influence the outcome of the race - just under $1 million in disclosed independent expenditures and roughly three times as much, $2.9 million, on unreported issue ads - bringing the total price tag for the race to $22.7 million.
The previous record for campaign spending in a governor’s race was $8.1 million, set in the last gubernatorial election in 1998.
In both periods, the top fundraisers and spenders were the major party nominees - Democrat James Doyle and former Republican Governor Scott McCallum. McCallum lost despite raising $7.5 million and spending a record $7.7 million in 1999-2002. He reeled in just shy of $4 million in contributions and spent nearly $6.4 million in 2002 alone. Doyle raised and spent about $5.9 million in the four years. In 2002, he raised $3.9 million and spent about $5.2 million.
Two other Democrats - Tom Barrett and Kathleen Falk - raised and spent well over $1 million in 2001-02 until they were eliminated by Doyle in the Democratic primary.
Special interest groups that made independent expenditures to support or oppose the candidates reported spending $977,786. Independent expenditures are campaign activities supposedly done without the help or knowledge of the candidate. Independent expenditures are commonly radio and TV ads, but also may include newspaper ads and direct mail. There is no limit on what a group can spend independently to support or oppose a candidate, though they are required to report their spending and sources of income. No corporate money can be used for this activity.
By far, the largest independent expenditures made were by the Service Employees International Union, which spent $713,303 on a television ad blitz and other activities last summer on behalf of Falk.
During the general election, independent expenditure groups, including the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund spent $145,073 to support or oppose Doyle and McCallum.
A far bigger factor in the election was the special interest money spent on phony issue ads. The state’s archaic campaign finance laws shield a growing number of groups from making public the money spent on their campaign ads as well as the source of their funds. The state Democratic and Republican parties made most frequent use of the issue ad loophole in the governor’s race, but other special interests such as the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Forest County Potawatomi and a front group known as Working Families of Wisconsin also ran significant numbers of undisclosed issue ads.
Because issue ads are not currently subject to disclosure laws, groups are free to use corporate money to pay for their campaigns. Corporate contributions to influence elections were banned in Wisconsin in the early 1900s. Groups such as the business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce openly solicit corporate donations for their issue ad campaigns.
Issue ads and independent expenditures were not the only way special interests flexed their muscle in the 2002 governor’s race. The major party candidates relied almost exclusively on a narrow group of special interest donors to fund their own campaigns. A previous WDC analysis showed McCallum and Doyle received three-quarters of their contributions from 1,193 donors, or 3/100ths of 1% of the state’s taxpayers.
"If you’re in a race like this and you’re not independently wealthy, you have no choice but to turn to the big special interests and take out a second mortgage on your soul," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said.