Campaign Fundraising, Spending Smash Records

Legislative Campaigns Raise and Spend Nearly $10M in 2004

February 14, 2005

Madison - Legislative campaigns spent nearly $10 million in 2004, smashing the old spending record by $1.5 million even though nearly half the candidates faced little or no opposition for their jobs, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Campaign finance reports filed by 260 candidates and four legislative campaign committees controlled by legislative leaders to raise special interest money for election-year spending show they spent $9.94 million in 2004. That total is up 18 percent from the $8.39 million spent in 2000 and up 34 percent from the $7.42 million spent in 1996.

The candidate committees alone spent $8.8 million, eclipsing the record $7.59 million they spent in the 2002 elections by 16 percent. The 2004 spending figure is also 18 percent higher than the $7.45 million the candidates spent in the last, comparable 2000 presidential election year and 40 percent more than the $6.28 million spent in the 1996 presidential election year.

The 2004 legislative candidates also raised more money last year than candidates in past election years - $8.6 million, up 14 percent from the $7.53 million they raised in 2002 and 10 percent from the $7.78 million raised in 2000. Fundraising totaled $9.6 million in 2004 by candidate and legislative campaign committees. WDC reported last week the four leadership-controlled campaign committees set a fundraising record, hauling in $973,767 in 2004.

Winning candidates sharply outspent losing candidates - $5.1 million to $3.7 million. WDC’s review found those who spent the most money won 101 of 115 legislative races - 89 of 99 in the Assembly and 12 of 16 races in the Senate.

Legislative fundraising and spending continues to break records despite a decline in the number of contested races over the years. In 1970, there were no uncontested legislative races and as recently as the mid-1980s only one in seven races was uncontested.

Unfortunately, 44 percent, or 51 legislative races in 2004 saw Republican and Democratic candidates with little or no opposition. In 34 races the candidate had no opponent in the primary and the general election. In 10 other races a candidate faced only a primary opponent and in another seven races a major party candidate faced only minor party opposition.

One explanation for the large increase in fundraising and spending is that a growing number of legislative races, not just targeted contests, are becoming more expensive. In 2004, 19 candidates spent more than $100,000 on their races compared to 14 candidates in 2000.

Candidates in the seven most costly Senate races collectively spent more than $300,000 per contest. Incumbent Democratic Senator Robert Wirch of Kenosha defeated Republican challenger Reince Priebus to keep his 22nd District seat. The candidates spent $531,081.

In the 20th Senate District, former Republican Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer was defeated in the primary by Republican Glenn Grothman, also from West Bend, who faced no opposition in the general election. Together, they spent $504,773.

In western Wisconsin’s 32nd Senate District, Republican Dan Kapanke defeated Democrat Brad Pfaff to capture the open seat. Kapanke and Pfaff spent a combined $480,038.

Top Spenders - January 1, 2004 - December 31, 2004

Senate Candidates Assembly Candidates
Reince Priebus, R - Kenosha $348,486 John Gard, R - Peshtigo $219,296
Dan Kapanke, R - La Crosse $321,653 Mary Williams, R - Medford $111,186
Mary Panzer, R - West Bend $292,266 Brett Davis, R - Oregon $106,212
Sheila Harsdorf, R - River Falls $234,900 Becky Weber, R - Green Bay $105,105
Thomas Tiffany, R - Hazelhurst $220,623 Lee Nerison, R - Westby $95,417
Glenn Grothman, R - West Bend $212,507 Terry Moulton, R - Chippewa Falls $93,256
Robert Wirch, D - Kenosha $182,595 Barbara Linton, R - Highbridge $92,619
Tom Hebl, D - Sun Prairie $182,164 Thomas Nelson, D - Kaukauna $90,281
Alberta Darling, R - River Hills $176,906 Karl Van Roy, R - Green Bay $87,816
Bradley Pfaff, D - Onalaska $158,385 Gary Sherman, D - Port Wing $86,517

(Click here for a complete list of legislative candidates and the amounts they spent in 2004.)

Republican Assembly Speaker John Gard’s race to keep his northern Wisconsin 89th District seat was the most expensive Assembly race, costing $232,517. Gard shelled out $219,296 against two opponents who spent a combined $13,221. Six candidates vying for southwestern Wisconsin’s 96th District seat spent $220,892, including $95,417 by the winner, Republican Lee Nerison.

Two other Assembly races cost nearly $200,000 each. Three candidates in the 80th District south of Madison where Republican Brett Davis emerged the winner spent $196,825, and two candidates in the 5th District near Green Bay where Democratic challenger Thomas Nelson upset incumbent Republican Becky Weber spent $195,386.

None of the state’s five constitutional officers were up for reelection last year. However, that did not stop Democratic Governor Jim Doyle from continuing to rake in special interest contributions, to the tune of nearly $1.8 million, to amass a cash balance of $2.25 million two years before his likely reelection bid.

Constitutional Officers 2004 Fundraising and
December 31, 2004 Cash Balances

Name Amount Raised Cash Balance
Governor Jim Doyle $1,785,911 $2,254,623
Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton $56,268 $27,338
Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager $36,341 $36,183
Secretary of State Douglas La Follette $24 $10,897
Treasurer Jack Voight $150 $2,373

Complete List of Legislative Candidates