GOP Majority Is Special Interest Cash Magnet

GOP legislators amass three times more campaign cash than Democrats

August 7, 2013

Madison – Republicans who control the legislature raised $1 million and stockpiled $2.54 million in their campaign accounts during the first six months of 2013 while they were loading the 2013-15 state budget with dozens of policy and spending items that benefit special interest contributors, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.

The $1 million raised by Republican legislators and two fundraising committees controlled by GOP legislative leaders was two and a half times the $411,528 raised by Democratic legislators and two fundraising committees they control. Legislative Republicans also had more than three times more cash in their campaign accounts than the $816,933 held by Democrats as of June 30. The stark contrast in figures again shows that money flows to power (Table 1).

Republicans hold an 18-15 majority in the Senate and a 60-39 majority in the Assembly which gives them the power to approve, reject or alter any legislative proposal they want.

Table 1
Legislative Caucus Fundraising and Cash Balances

Legislative Caucus Fundraising June 30
Cash Balance
Assembly Republicans $565,479 $1,516,801
Senate Republicans $437,790 $1,025,604
Assembly Democrats $249,114 $458,995
Senate Democrats $162,414 $357,938
Totals $1,414,797 $3,359,338

Arguably legislative Republicans raised and retained more cash because there are more of them but even on a per capita basis, GOP legislators have a stark advantage over legislative Democrats. Republican campaign committees had an average $31,780 in the bank compared to $14,588 for Democratic campaign committees as of June 30, and Republican campaign committees raised an average $12,541 compared to $7,349 by their Democratic rivals during the first six months of the year.

Since the end of 2012, Republican campaign committees have increased their cash reserves about $332,000 compared to Democratic campaign committees which have increased their cash reserves about $113,000.

On top of their comfortable legislative majority, GOP legislators worked on a state budget proposed by Republican Governor Scott Walker who generally signed off on many of the legislature’s additions, deletions and other changes when he gave final approval to the two-year spending plan.

Walker, who raised $3.52 million in individual and political action committee contributions between January and June 2013, and the GOP-dominated legislature fashioned a state budget that contained 87 non-fiscal policy items affecting education, the environment and local government control among other things. Many of those items as well as tax breaks and other fiscal items to benefit big business were highlighted in a June 13 Democracy Campaign report about the legislature’s work on the budget.

Walker’s latest six-month fundraising report showed he continued to raise millions of dollars from individuals outside Wisconsin. During the first six months of 2013, the governor accepted $1.96 million or 58 percent of his individual contributions from outside Wisconsin and $1.41 million or 42 percent of his individual contributions from inside the state. In 2011 and 2012 the governor raised about $22.2 million or 64 percent of his individual contributions from outside the state and $12.5 million or 36 percent came from Wisconsin contributors to pay for his successful recall election.

Fundraising by legislators and the four fundraising committees used by Senate and Assembly Republican and Democratic legislative leaders between January and June 2013 totaled $1.41 million. Compared to comparable, odd-numbered budget years, fundraising during the first six months of 2013 was only a fifth of the amount raised during the same period in 2011 and noticeably higher than fundraising during the first six months of 2009, but on par with $1.28 million to $1.52 million raised during the first six months of 2007, 2005 and 2003 (Bar Chart).

Bar Chart

Legislative Fundraising During the First Six Months of Budget Years

Fundraising by legislators and the four leadership committees in the first six months of 2011 hit a record $6.8 million – an abnormally high mark because of the unbridled fundraising by candidates in nine Senate recall elections held that summer. A quirk in state campaign finance laws allows incumbents targeted for recall to raise unlimited campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees for a period before the recall election.

In contrast to 2011, legislative fundraising during the first half of 2013 was 53 percent higher than the $922,291 hauled in during the first six months of 2009 when the Assembly banned fundraising by its members from mid-February through June 29 while the legislature considered the 2009-11 state budget. It was the first time legislative fundraising for a six-month period fell under $1 million since 1999.

The four legislative fundraising committees controlled by legislative leaders raised $582,231 between January and June 2013 (Table 2). That’s slightly higher than the roughly $485,000 to $554,000 raised by the four committees during the first six months of most comparable odd-numbered years since 2005, but well below the record $1.4 million accepted by the four committees in the first half of 2011 when fundraising was in full swing for the Senate recall elections.

Table 2
Legislative Leadership Committee Fundraising And Cash On Hand

Committee Fundraising June 30
Cash Balance
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee $222,684 $270,272
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate $153,550 $92,925
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee $115,952 $69,857
State Senate Democratic Committee $90,045 $72,959
Totals $582,231 $506,013

The two GOP leadership committees – the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee and the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate – raised $376,234, compared to the two Democratic leadership committees which raised a combined $205,997. The Republican fundraising committees had two and a half times more cash on hand June 30 than their Democratic counterparts – $363,197 versus $142,816.

The four legislative campaign committees are used to milk special interests for campaign cash that legislative leaders spend on elections.

Even though the 2014 general elections are 15 months away, 11 legislators already have large cash reserves – $50,000 or more – that gives them a huge advantage over potential, future opponents and may even scare off an election challenger altogether (Table 3). Nine of them are Republicans, half of them are legislative leaders who decide the bills the legislature approves and rejects, and another is a Republican representative who plans on challenging an incumbent GOP senator in 2014.

Topping the list of legislative campaign reserves was Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau with $295,691. In addition to being a legislative leader, Fitzgerald is coming off a successful recall challenge in the 2012 election cycle when he raised more than $837,000. After Fitzgerald, was Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington who had a campaign balance of $179,271 as of June 30; Senate President Michael Ellis of Neenah who had $142,295; and GOP Representative Howard Marklein of Spring Green who had $116,382.

Marklein, who was also one of the top legislative fundraisers at $94,031 during the first six months of 2013, announced earlier this year he will challenge state Senator Dale Schultz, a fellow Republican from Richland Center, in the 2014 general elections. Schultz has come under fire from his own party in recent years for siding with Democrats on controversial votes involving the collective bargaining issue that spurred the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, mining and the budget.

Not surprisingly, nine of the top 10 legislative fundraisers – those who raised $20,000 or more – during the first half of 2013 were Republicans (Table 4).

Topping the list was Republican Representative Don Pridemore of Hartford who raised $120,513 between April and June. The Democracy Campaign excluded Pridemore’s fundraising during the first three months of the year because the money he raised during that time was for his unsuccessful bid for state school superintendent in the April 2 spring elections and not for his legislative campaign.

Behind Pridemore in fundraising during the first half of 2013 was Marklein at $94,031, Fitzgerald who raised $76,123, Republican Senator Frank Lasee of DePere at $46,839, GOP Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills who raised $33,515 and Republican Representative John Nygren of Marinette at $31,876.

Nygren and Darling are co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee which considered and revised

Walker’s proposed 2013-15 state budget before it went to the full legislature for approval. While Nygren and Darling were collecting more than $65,000 in special interest campaign contributions the committee added 59 mostly non-fiscal items that benefited manufacturers, construction, payday lender, agriculture, mining and other special interests.

Table 3
Top* Legislative Campaign Accounts On June 30, 2013

Legislator Party Office** Cash Balance
Scott Fitzgerald (Senate majority leader) R S13 $295,691
Robin Vos (Assembly speaker) R A63 $179,271
Michael Ellis (Senate president) R S19 $142,295
Howard Marklein R A51 $116,382
Mary Lazich R S28 $93,640
John Nygren (Joint Finance Committee co-chair) R A89 $65,113
Dean Kaufert R A55 $60,386
Warren Petryk R A93 $59,669
Neal Kedzie R S11 $56,550
Robert Wirch D S22 $52,807
Chris Larson (Senate minority leader) D S07 $52,734

*Table shows legislators who had campaign cash balances of $50,000 or more as of June 30.
** ‘A’ means Assembly and ‘S’ means Senate.

Table 4
Top* Legislative Fundraisers
January – June 2013

Legislator Party Office** Fundraising
Don Pridemore R A22 $120,513
Howard Marklein R A51 $94,031
Scott Fitzgerald (Senate majority leader) R S13 $76,123
Frank Lasee R S01 $46,839
Alberta Darling (Joint Finance Committee co-chair) R S08 $33,515
John Nygren (Joint Finance Committee co-chair) R A89 $31,876
Rick Gudex R S18 $24,059
Leah Vukmir R S05 $23,760
Warren Petryk R A93 $23,034
Mandy Wright D A85 $20,775

*Table shows legislators who raised $20,000 or more during the six-month period.
** ‘A’ means Assembly and ‘S’ means Senate.

All Legislators
RaisedCash Alphabetical