Attorney General Race Cost $8.3 Million

Spending quintuples ’02 contest; approaches cost of Tommy’s last race

February 8, 2007

Madison - Candidates and outside special interests spent $8.32 million in the 2006 attorney general race – five times more than the $1.65 million spent during the last race in 2002, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

The four candidates for attorney general spent $4.72 million led by unsuccessful Democratic candidate Kathleen Falk who doled out $1.72 million followed by Republican JB Van Hollen who spent $1.68 million to win the race.

Special interest groups that engaged in secret spending on electioneering activities known as phony issue ads spent $3.4 million led by the state’s largest business group, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce which spent $2.5 million on mostly negative advertising against Falk. Special interest group spending on disclosed electioneering activities called independent expenditures totaled $202,690.

In the 2002 attorney general contest, Democratic candidates Peg Lautenschlager and Brian Burke and Republican Vince Biskupic spent a combined $1.64 million. Independent expenditure groups spent $2,263 and there was no known issue ad spending in the race.

Spending in the 2006 attorney general race nearly matched the $8.6 million spent in the 1998 governor’s race which featured the last reelection campaign for former Governor Tommy Thompson, who raised more money in his 34-year political life than any other Wisconsin officeholder.

The spike in outside special interest spending in Wisconsin’s 2006 attorney general race was part of a national trend in which powerful business groups, like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, sponsored millions of dollars worth of negative advertising and other electioneering activities to influence state attorney general and state Supreme Court races.

Business groups believe electing Republican attorney general and judicial candidates will reduce the chances that businesses will be sued by the state and make anti-business court rulings less likely. On the other side, the Democratic Attorneys General Association and so-called progressive groups also are getting involved in those races to support Democratic candidates.

Supporting the attorney general candidate who wins is also good long-term planning for well-heeled special interests because the job is generally the second most powerful in state government and often a stepping stone to the governorship or other higher offices.

One of the nastiest television ads in any race in 2006 was launched against Van Hollen. An issue ad group called Greater Wisconsin Committee, and later Falk, sponsored ads blaming him for the death of a 16-year-old girl because her assailant was free on bond in another sexual assault when the slaying occurred. “JB Van Hollen took over the assault case when he became district attorney. Before the murder Van Hollen never questioned the predator’s release or tried to revoke his bail. Tell JB Van Hollen tough talk isn’t enough. Prosecutors must be tough with violent criminals,” the committee’s ad said.

Van Hollen became the district attorney where the incidents occurred after the man was released on bond. Van Hollen said he had no legal basis to revoke the assailant’s bail. He sued Falk and the group for defamation. He later dropped the suit against Falk, but his lawsuit against the group is pending.

Meanwhile, WMC launched a statewide campaign of negative television ads questioning Falk’s credentials. It claimed she never prosecuted a violent crime and that she used state lawsuits to harass businesses as a former assistant state attorney general. “Kathleen Falk made a career out of harassing Wisconsin employers with lawsuits. She hurt our economy so much the state eliminated her job…. Now, Falk wants to file more nuisance suits against law abiding businesses or farmers…. Call Kathleen Falk, tell her Wisconsin needs more jobs, not more nuisance lawsuits,” the ad said.

WMC also ran an ad saying Falk favored early release of burglars, arsonists and drug dealers in order to balance her budget as Dane County executive. The ad concluded by saying, “Kathleen Falk, less jail time for criminals, less justice for victims.”

In addition to WMC and the Greater Wisconsin Committee, the Coalition for America’s Families ran a 30-second television advertisement that said Falk was more concerned about the rights of illegal aliens and allowing drug offenders to go free without jail time than the welfare of crime victims. “Call Kathleen Falk. She protects criminals’ rights. Ask her: What about victims?” the ad concludes.

The top independent expenditure groups in the race were the Democratic Attorneys General Association which spent $103,695 on television ads to support Lautenschlager who was defeated by Falk in the September primary, followed by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s political action committee, Volunteers for Agriculture, which spent $51,380 to support Van Hollen and the National Rifle Association which spent $39,681 to support Van Hollen.