Legislative Races Top $19 Million in 2010

Special interest groups spent $6.7 million to influence makeup of legislature

March 7, 2011

Auction 2010Madison – Legislative candidates and outside special interest groups that spent most of their money on smearing the candidates in negative broadcast ads and mailings spent more than $19 million in the 2010 legislative races, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

The amount spent by the legislative candidates and smear groups in 2010 was a record for an election year when legislative races had to compete with races for governor and other statewide races for campaign cash. The $19.25 million spent on legislative campaigns was 48 percent higher than the $13.03 million spent in the comparable 2006 legislative races and 87 percent more than the $10.32 million spent in the 2002 legislative races (see Bar Chart 1) when there were also races for statewide offices. The overall record for spending by candidates and outside smear groups in legislative races was $20.25 million in the 2008 elections.

Bar Chart 1

Outside special interest groups that make independent expenditures and sponsor phony issue ads spent a record $6.68 million on legislative races in a gubernatorial election year (see Bar Chart 2). That was 133 percent more than the $2.86 million smear groups spent on the 2006 legislative races and more than three times the $1.94 million the groups spent in the 2002 legislative races. The overall record for smear group spending in legislative races was $7.1 million in 2008 when there were no races for statewide offices.

Bar Chart 2

Spending by outside groups (Table 1) was lead by the state’s largest teacher’s union – the Wisconsin Education Association Council – which doled out nearly $1.6 million to support four incumbent Democratic state senators – three of whom lost – and a Democratic lieutenant governor candidate who lost in the primary. Second to the teacher’s union was Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business organization, which spent $1 million to help Republican candidates win in 12 of the 16 Senate and Assembly races in which the group ran television and radio ads.

Rounding out the top three outside spending groups was the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Virginia-based organization that spent $935,726 in five legislative races, including nearly $394,000 to oust former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker. Four of the GOP candidates they supported, including Decker’s opponent, won. The group supports Republican candidates running for state-level offices nationwide, but it was the first time it engaged in outside electioneering activities in Wisconsin.

Overall, outside groups spent an estimated $3.63 million on behalf of Democratic candidates and $3.05 million to support Republican legislative candidates.

Legislative candidates and four legislative leadership committees spent $12.7 million – a record in a gubernatorial election year. It was 23 percent higher than the $10.18 million spent by all legislative committees in 2006 and 50 percent more than the $8.38 million spent by all legislative committees in 2002. The overall record for spending by all legislative committees was $13.15 million in 2008.

Total candidate spending does not include complete 2010 spending for 19 candidates whose campaign finance reports were not available from the Government Accountability Board. All but one of those reports was for legislative candidates who lost in the primary or general election. A year-end report for one elected candidate – Republican Assembly Representative Jeff Stone – was not available.

The four legislative leadership committees alone raised and spent record amounts in 2010 for any election year (Table 2). The four committees raised $1.19 million – the third year in a row where fundraising surpassed $1 million – beating the previous record $1.17 in 2008. The committees spent a combined $1.65 million in 2010, smashing the previous record $1.3 million set in 2008. These committees are used by Assembly and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders to milk special interests for campaign cash to spend on key races.

The most expensive legislative races were five senate contests where total costs neared or surpassed $1 million, four Democratic incumbents lost and smear groups outspent the candidates. Here is a snapshot of the spending in those races:

  • Senate District 5 – $1.56 million. Republican challenger Leah Vukmir knocked off incumbent Democrat Jim Sullivan. The candidates spent $692,142 and smear groups spent an estimated $864,192. Vukmir and Sullivan were also the top spending legislative candidates in 2010. Vukmir lead with $408,053 followed by Sullivan who spent $284,089.
  • Senate District 23 – $1.22 million. Republican challenger Terry Moulton beat incumbent Democrat Pat Kreitlow. The candidates spent $411,067 and special interest groups spent an estimated $813,421.
  • Senate District 21 – $1.16 million. Republican challenger Van Wanggaard defeated incumbent Democrat John Lehman. The three candidates in the race spent $503,334 and outside special interest groups spent an estimated $655,182. Lehman and Wanggaard ranked third and fourth in spending among legislative candidates. Lehman spent $255,869 and Wanggaard spent $245,002.
  • Senate District 31 – $1.08 million. Incumbent Democrat Kathleen Vinehout held off Republican challenger Ed Thompson. The candidates spent $375,997 and outside electioneering groups spent about $700,000.
  • Senate District 29 – $883,712. Republican challenger Pam Galloway defeated Decker. The three candidates in the race spent $400,182 and outside smear groups doled out $483,530.

For a complete list of legislative candidates and their 2010 spending, go here.

Table 1
Spending By Outside Electioneering Groups In The 2010 Legislative Races

Group Amount
Wisconsin Education Association Council PAC $1,599,094
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce* $1,000,000
Republican State Leadership Committee $935,726
Building a Stronger Wisconsin ** $850,000
American Federation for Children** $820,000
Greater Wisconsin Committee** $570,000
Advancing Wisconsin $353,340
Jobs First Coalition* $150,000
Club for Growth Wisconsin * $100,000
Citizens for a Progressive Wisconsin $68,105
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin $48,657
Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters PAC $47,611
Citizens for Fox Valley Jobs $25,000
Wisconsin Professional Police Association PAC $24,951
Citizen Action of Wisconsin $19,706
Operating Engineers Local 139 PAC $13,086
Wisconsin Family Action* $10,000
Voces de la Frontera Action Committee $8,660
MTI Voters PAC $8,427
Wisconsin Right to Life $7,377
Fair Wisconsin PAC $5,697
Volunteers for Agriculture PAC $3,903
Corn PAC $2,773
Citizens for Southwest Wisconsin $1,942
Koch Industries $1,472
UIPAT PAC (painters and allied trades union) $1,259
Pro-Life Wisconsin Victory Fund PAC $219
Northwoods Patriot Group $71
TOTAL $6,677,076

* Phony issue ad group and estimated spending.
** Phony issue ad estimated spending and reported independent expenditures.

Table 2
2010 Fundraising And Spending
By Legislative Leadership Committees

Committee Fundraising Spending
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee $587,206 $755,327
State Senate Democratic Committee $320,299 $490,649
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate $175,617 $183,196
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee $101,963 $222,226
TOTAL $1,185,085 $1,651,398

All Legislative Candidate Spending
SpendingDistrictAlphabetical