Legislative Fundraising = Bid-ness As Usual

Figures show legislative candidates in fundraising frenzy despite corruption scandals

Posted: August 7, 2006

Madison - Legislative candidates raised twice as much in the first half of 2006 as they did during a comparable period in the first six months of 1998 and had more than double the money in their campaign accounts, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

WDC also found that legislative candidates raised 74 percent more – $2.54 million – between January and June 2006 than they did during the last, comparable six-month reporting period in the first half of 2002 when they accepted $1.46 million. Their total cash on hand – $4.86 million – as of June 30, 2006 was 35 percent higher than the $3.6 million they had in their war chests June 30, 2002.

The figures show legislative candidates, particularly incumbents, are milking wealthy special interests harder than ever despite the convictions of five former legislative leaders and an aide on dozens of misdemeanor and felony corruption, misconduct and pay-to-play charges in the last nine months.

It is no wonder that 81 of 104 legislative incumbents, who have a daunting $6 to $1 cash advantage over challengers, refused to answer a recent ethics and campaign finance reform questionnaire by WDC, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters. Many of those same incumbents refused to even vote on reform bills this past legislative session to limit the influence of special interest money and create a tough enforcement agency.

Here are some of the key findings in the WDC analysis of legislative fundraising between January and June 2006:

  • Legislative candidates raised $2.54 million and had $4.86 million in their campaign accounts. Their total fundraising is 97 percent higher than the $1.29 million they raised in the first half of 1998 and their cash on hand is 119 percent higher than the $2.22 million they had in June 1998. The figures cover candidates for 99 Assembly seats and 17 Senate seats;
  • Incumbent legislators’ held a $6 to $1 cash-on-hand advantage over challengers – $3.68 million versus $566,311. Candidates for open seats in which no incumbent is seeking reelection made up the difference with a total of $622,821 in their accounts;
  • In the Assembly, incumbents held a $9 to $1 cash advantage over challengers. Incumbents had $2.39 million in their campaign accounts versus $253,477 for challengers as of June 30. In the Senate, incumbents held a $4 to $1 advantage over challengers with $1.29 million versus $312,834 in their campaign accounts;
  • In addition to legislative candidate fundraising, four legislative campaign committees used by Republican and Democratic legislative leaders in both houses to raise large amounts of money to spend on elections raised $357,280 during the first six months, and had $328,832 on hand as of June 30.

Most of the top 10 fundraisers in the first six months of 2006 were candidates for targeted Senate seats held by incumbents who are viewed are vulnerable by the other party, or the lone open seat in the Senate.

Topping the list was Republican Senate candidate William McReynolds who is running for the open 21st District seat held by retiring GOP Senator Cathy Stepp of Racine. McReynolds raised $128,626 and had $195,028 in his campaign account in what may be this year’s most expensive legislative race. Unlike most other Senate seats, this one has flip-flopped between Democrats and Republicans in almost every election for the past 16 years. McReynolds’ opponent, Democratic Representative John Lehman, ranked fifth in fundraising at $74,682 with $113,821 in the bank.

Democratic Senate candidate Jim Sullivan ranked second in fundraising at $86,752 with $63,129 in the bank. He is challenging incumbent Republican Senator Tom Reynolds of West Allis, who is viewed as vulnerable, to represent the 5th Senate District.

Democratic Senate candidate Patrick Kreitlow ranked third in fundraising at $77,916 with $76,142 in the bank in a race for the targeted 23rd District seat held by incumbent Republican Dave Zien of Eau Claire who ranked sixth in fundraising with $72,261 and $89,997 in the bank.

In addition to the legislative races, eight Republican and Democratic candidates in races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general raised $4.69 million in the first six months of 2006 and had $9.85 million in their campaign accounts. Another Republican and two Green Party candidates for those offices did not raise any money during the six-month period.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green led in fundraising with $1.68 million and had $3.17 million in cash on hand, followed by Democratic Governor Jim Doyle who raised $1.62 million and had $5.18 million in the bank.

Republican attorney general candidate JB Van Hollen raised $468,892, including a $350,000 contribution from him and his wife, and had $417,254 in his campaign account followed by Democratic attorney general candidate Kathleen Falk who raised $372,906 and had $607,917 in the bank. Their primary opponents in September, incumbent Democratic attorney general Peg Lautenschlager raised $245,411 and had $238,639 in her campaign account and Republican challenger Paul Bucher raised $136,111 and had $85,397 in the bank.

Incumbent Democratic Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton raised $129,070 and had $104,244 in her campaign account, and Republican challenger Jean Hundertmark raised $29,734 and had $48,502 in her campaign account.

Candidates by Total RaisedCash on HandAlphabetical
July 2004 FundraisingJuly 2002 Fundraising