Special Interests Investing Big In Recall Targets

Donors may give unlimited contributions to help save legislators’ jobs

May 5, 2011

Madison – State senators targeted for recall elections have raised more than $1.3 million in less than four months mostly because wealthy special interest donors can make unlimited contributions, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review shows.

Campaign finance reports from six Republican and five Democratic senators covering January 1 through April 18 show GOP senators raised much of their money from large donations mostly because state law governing rarely-used recall elections removes the usual $1,000 limit on individual and political action committee contributions to state Senate candidates as well as political party and legislative leadership committee contribution limits until a recall election is approved.

After a recall election is approved regular campaign contribution limits again apply. Any unused portion of the contributions of more than $1,000 received before a recall is approved would be subject to the $1,000 limit and the candidate would be required to return the excess to the contributor or donate it to charity or the state school fund.

The leading fundraiser among the recall targets (Table) was Republican Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills who raised $421,940 from January through April 18. Darling’s campaign finance reports show she accepted $178,700 – about 42 percent of her contributions – from just 44 donors. Their contributions ranged from $1,100 to $22,500 each. They gave Darling $134,700 more than they could have under normal circumstances when these donors would be limited to maximum contributions of $1,000 apiece, or a total of $44,000.

Second to Darling was GOP Senator Dan Kapanke of La Crosse who raised $180,310. Kapanke’s campaign finance reports show 15 donors gave between $1,300 and $15,000 each for a total of $54,300 or 30 percent of his total contributions and $39,300 more than he normally would have been able to receive from them.

Democratic Senator Jim Holperin of Conover raised $150,904. Leading the list of his contributors was the state Democratic Party which gave him $60,000 or 40 percent of his cash followed by the State Senate Democratic Committee which gave him $20,950. The committee is one of four legislative campaign committees controlled by Assembly and Senate Democratic and Republican legislative leaders and used to raise large amounts of special interest money to spend on elections. Four PACs representing labor interests that normally would have been limited to giving Holperin $1,000 each contributed a total of $11,000.

Normally, Senate candidates can accept a maximum $22,425 from all committees, including $15,525 from candidate and political action committees and $6,900 from political party and legislative campaign committees. A Senate candidate may accept more than $6,900 from political parties and legislative campaign committees, however, the excess reduces the $15,525 maximum they can accept from PACs and candidate committees.

Republican Senator Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac raised $131,447. Hopper’s campaign finance reports show nine individuals gave him $2,000 to $20,000 each for a total of $67,000 or 51 percent of his total contributions and $58,000 more than he normally could have accepted from these donors. In addition, the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, which is another legislative campaign committee used by legislative leaders to raise and spend special interest campaign contributions on elections, gave Hopper $15,000.

The Democracy Campaign review also found Hopper did not properly identify several of his biggest donors – 19 individuals who gave him $41,950 – with occupation and employer information required by state law for individuals who contribute more than $100 in a year to a candidate. The law aside, this disclosure requirement is important because it lets the public see the kind of wealthy special interests who support Hopper and other candidates for public office. Several of the improperly identified donors were executives of J.F. Ahern, a mechanical and fire protection contractor, and Badger Liquor, one of Wisconsin’s largest liquor distributors, the Democracy Campaign found.

Eight of the other 10 senators failed to provide occupation and employer information for between $670 and $6,150 worth of donations from 14 or fewer contributors, and two senators properly identified all of the donors who gave them more than $100.

Rounding out the top five senators targeted for recall was Democratic Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay who raised $127,437. A large chunk of his cash – $50,000 or 39 percent – came from the state Democratic Party. Hansen’s other top donors included five labor PACs that gave him a total of $17,000 to defend against a recall.

Top contributors to the 11 recall targets from January through April 18 were four political committees and four individuals who exceeded the annual $10,000 contribution limit in the past. They were:

  • The state Democratic Party of Wisconsin which gave $111,000, including $60,000 to Holperin, $50,000 to Hansen and $1,000 to Senator Julie Lassa of Stevens Point;
  • Jere Fabick of Oconomowoc and owner of FABCO Equipment who contributed $35,000, including $20,000 to Hopper and $15,000 to Kapanke. Fabick exceeded the annual $10,000 contribution limit in 2002 and 2009;
  • Ted Kellner, a Mequon financial analyst with Fiduciary Management who contributed $27,500, including $22,500 to Darling and $2,500 each to Kapanke and Harsdorf. Kellner exceeded the $10,000 annual contribution limit in 2001;
  • The State Senate Democratic Committee which doled out $22,250, including $20,950 to Holperin and $1,300 to Hansen;
  • The Ellis to Madison Committee controlled by Republican Senator Michael Ellis of Neenah which contributed $21,000, including $16,000 to fellow Republican Senator Luther Olsen of Ripon and $5,000 to GOP Senator Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls. Candidate campaign committees are normally limited to contributing no more than $1,000 to Senate candidate committees;
  • Daniel McKeithan of Milwaukee and owner of Tamarack Petroleum who gave $20,000 to Darling. McKeithan exceeded the annual $10,000 contribution limit in 2002;
  • Ralph Stayer of Fond du Lac and owner of Johnsonville Sausage who contributed $17,000, including $15,000 to Hopper and $2,000 to Darling. Stayer exceeded the annual $10,000 contribution limit in 2002;
  • The Committee to Elect a Republican Senate which contributed $15,000 to Hopper.

The recall efforts against the senators were started because of their actions to support or oppose a plan earlier this year by Republican Governor Scott Walker to end most collective bargaining rights of public employees. The plan was ultimately passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed by Walker amid several weeks of protests at the State Capitol by tens of thousands of public employees and their supporters, but its implementation has been blocked while a Dane County Circuit Court judge considers a challenge to the controversial measure.

Table
Fundraising By State Senators Targeted For Recall Elections
January 1 – April 18, 2011

Name – Location Party Amount
Alberta Darling – River Hills R $421,940
Dan Kapanke – La Crosse R $180,310
Jim Holperin – Conover D $150,904
Randy Hopper – Fond du Lac R $131,447
Dave Hansen – Green Bay D $127,437
Sheila Harsdorf – River Falls R $110,167
Glenn Grothman – West Bend R $75,333
Robert Wirch – Pleasant Prairie D $50,965
Julie Lassa – Stevens Point D $45,683
Luther Olsen – Ripon R $34,736
Lena Taylor – Milwaukee D $14,413
TOTAL $1,343,335