Legislative Fundraising Up 55%

Legislative Incumbents Hold 8-1 Cash Advantage Over Challengers; Governor’s Finance Report Shows SBC is Calling

August 2, 2004

Madison - Officeholders hell bent on keeping the Legislature a gated community have amassed more than $2.8 million and an 8-1 cash advantage over their challengers to keep their jobs this November, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Campaign finance reports covering the first six months of 2004 filed by the candidates with the state Elections Board show incumbents had $2.84 million on hand as of June 30 compared to $358,925 held by their challengers.

Candidates for 20 open seats, which are legislative races where incumbents are not seeking reelection, had $457,826 in their campaign accounts.

In addition to legislative candidates, campaign finance reports filed by Governor James Doyle show he raised $907,870 and had a staggering $1,630,607 in his campaign account - more than twice as much as former Governor Tommy Thompson amassed at comparable stages during his tenure as governor.

A preliminary review of Doyle’s report also showed a sharp increase in contributions from employees of one company - SBC. Contributions from the telephone giant’s political action committees and individual employee contributions to Doyle totaled $21,975 in the first six months of 2004 compared to a total of $15,580 over the previous five years combined.

SBC wants to retain a lucrative state contract up for bid this fall to continue providing high-speed Internet access to state public and private schools, libraries and the technical college system. It has held the contract since 1997.

All told, legislative candidates raised $2.27 million and had $3.66 million in their campaign accounts as of June 30. Their fundraising is 55 percent higher than the $1.46 million they raised in the same period in 2002 and 13 percent higher than the $2 million they raised in the first six months of the 2000 presidential election year.

“The overwhelming fundraising advantage enjoyed by incumbents is the single biggest reason we have an epidemic of uncontested state legislative races in Wisconsin and more than 2 million people will have no choice this fall in who represents them in the state Assembly or Senate,” WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. "Anyone thinking of challenging a sitting member of the Legislature is forced to compete on a playing field that is nowhere near level."

The latest figures cover candidates in 99 Assembly races and 16 even-numbered Senate districts. It does not include senators in odd-numbered Senate districts who do not face reelection this year.

In addition to the money raised by their personal campaign committees, four legislative campaign committees controlled by legislative leaders raised an additional $390,404 and had cash balances totaling $225,168 as of June 30 (see table 1 below). The committees are used to raise money from powerful special interests and help candidates at election time.

Table 1
Legislative Campaign Committees

Name Amount Raised
Cash On Hand
June 30, 2004
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee $207,122 $165,592
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee $46,050 $30,361
State Senate Democratic Committee $73,620 $17,963
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate $63,612 $11,251

The top fundraisers (see table 2 below) in both houses were mostly Republican candidates. Republican Reince Priebus, who is running in a race targeted by Republicans against Democratic Senator Robert Wirch of Kenosha in the 22nd Senate District, accepted $93,270 in contributions in the first six months of the year. Democratic Representative Tom Hebl of Sun Prairie, who is running for the open seat in the 16th Senate District, raised $89,201 including $40,450 in contributions from Hebl. Embattled Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer, who faces a primary challenge from Republican Representative Glenn Grothman, accepted $54,501.

Three of the top five Assembly fundraisers face no opponent for their seats. The top Assembly fundraisers were Assembly Speaker John Gard of Peshtigo and Michael Huebsch of Onalaska who face opponents and raised $35,310 and $33,425 respectively. However, Republican Robin Vos is the only candidate for the open seat in the 63rd Assembly District in Racine. Vos raised $33,360. Republicans Steve Wieckert of Appleton and Mark Gundrum of New Berlin, who also have no opponents, raised $32,411 and $32,401 respectively.

Table 2
Top Legislative Fundraisers January - June 2004

Assembly Candidate and Party Amount Senate Candidate and Party Amount
John Gard - R $35,310 Reince Priebus - R $93,270
Michael Huebsch - R $33,425 Tom Hebl - D $89,201
Robin Vos - R $33,360 Mary Panzer - R $54,501
Steve Wieckert - R $32,411 Sheila Harsdorf - R $50,362
Mark Gundrum - R $32,401 Dan Kapanke - R $42,849

Many of the candidates with the most cash on hand are veteran legislators in safe districts who rarely ever face a serious challenger (see table 3 below). Topping the list was Democratic Representative Spencer Black of Madison at $144,245 followed by Democratic Representative Sheldon Wasserman of Milwaukee at $139,219 and Republican Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills at $125,395.

Table 3
Top Campaign Cash Balances As of June 30, 2004

Assembly Candidate and Party Amount Senate Candidate and Party Amount
Spencer Black - D $144,245 Albert Darling - R $125,395
Sheldon Wasserman - D $139,219 Sheila Harsdorf - R $101,645
Robin Kreibich - R $98,501 Tom Hebl - D $87,972
John Gard - R $98,408 Dave Hansen - D $86,748
Scott Jensen - R $98,132 Robert Wirch - D $83,311

All candidates by total raisedAll candidates listed alphabetically July 2002 fundraising