Officeholders Have Biggest Money Edge Since ‘02

Legislative candidates raise $3.5 million in first six months despite recalls

August 14, 2012

Madison – Legislative officeholders running for reelection this fall had a $10 to $1 advantage over their challengers – the largest midyear cash edge in 10 years, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.

Overall legislative candidates had $4.07 million in their campaign accounts as of June 30 – substantially less than the $4.9 million to $5.5 million all legislative candidates had in the bank at the same point in the past three general election years. But this time officeholders have a larger chunk of the pot – $3.12 million compared to $326,879 for challengers – to help them keep their jobs. Candidates for open seats with no incumbents facing reelection had $617,855 in their campaign accounts.

Campaign finance reports filed by Senate and Assembly candidates and four campaign fundraising committees controlled by legislative leaders showed they raised $3.52 million in the first half of 2012 – the same as the first half of 2010 when legislative committees raised $3.52 million and only a little more than in the first half of 2008 when they raised $3.39 million.

Though nearly unchanged from the past few elections, the level of legislative fundraising was remarkable given the fall election candidates had to compete with candidates in six high-profile recall races for governor, lieutenant governor and four Senate seats who raised about $39.4 million in the first half of 2012. Recall targets benefited from a quirky state law that allowed them to raise unlimited contributions for several months.

Fundraising by four legislative campaign committees used by Senate and Assembly Republican and Democratic leaders to raise special interest cash to spend on elections was up markedly for the first half of 2012 at $653,283 (Table 1). Since 2004, the four committees raised between $357,280 and $390,045 during the first six months of election years. The increase was due to this year’s four Senate recall elections where two of the four committees – the State Senate Democratic Committee and the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate – raised more than normal for the period to support recall candidates.

Table 1
Legislative Campaign Committees – January through June 2012

Committee Fundraising Cash Balance
State Senate Democratic Committee $247,291 $93,692
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate $184,575 $43,695
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee $131,554 $185,505
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee $89,863 $287,072
Total $653,283 $609,964

The Democracy Campaign analysis covers fundraising by the four legislative campaign committees and candidates for 99 Assembly and 16 Senate seats up for election this fall. The review does not include fundraising by senators in the 17 odd-numbered districts who do not face reelection this year and the four Senate recall races in June.

GOP legislative candidates had a substantial fundraising and cash balance advantage over Democratic legislative candidates after the first six months of 2012 even though there were nearly a third fewer Republican than Democratic candidates. One hundred sixteen Republican legislative candidates reported raising $1.69 million and had $2.54 million in the bank June 30 while 165 Democrats reported raising $1.17 million and had $1.52 million in their campaign accounts.

That large GOP cash margin is not surprising because incumbents typically raise and stockpile more cash than challengers and there are 58 GOP officeholders compared to 36 Democratic officeholders running for reelection in the legislature.

Eight of the top 10 legislative fundraisers are Republicans and six of them are current officeholders (Table 2). Leading the list was GOP Representative Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst who raised $80,860. Tiffany is running for the 12th Senate District seat held by retiring Democratic Senator Jim Holperin of Conover. Tiffany was followed by Republican Bill Feehan, a La Crosse County Board supervisor who is challenging Democratic Senator Jennifer Shilling in the 32th Senate District and raised $76,341. Rounding out the top three fundraisers was Republican Representative Tom Larson of Colfax who raised $75,794 and faces a Democratic challenger for his 67th Assembly District seat.

Table 2
Top Legislative Fundraisers – January through June 2012

Candidate Party Office Amount
Tom Tiffany R S12 $80,860
Bill Feehan R S32 $76,341
Tom Larson R A67 $75,794
Howard Marklein R A51 $62,114
Jennifer Shilling D S32 $44,124
Alberta Darling R S08 $43,068
Nick Oliver R A22 $42,140
Jessica King D S18 $41,468
Patrick Snyder R A85 $34,935
Dave Murphy R A56 $34,627

The largest campaign cash balances as of June 30 were all held by current officeholders, and seven of the top 10 were Republicans (Table 3). Leading the list at $195,457 was Republican Representative Robin Vos of Burlington, co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and likely to become the Assembly Speaker after the 2012 elections. Vos was followed by two veteran Democratic legislators – Senator Julie Lassa of Stevens Point who had $163,545 in her campaign account and Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay who had $127,753 in his campaign account. Lassa and Hansen both face Republican challengers on the November ballot.

Table 3
Top Legislative Campaign Account Balances – June 30, 2012

Candidate Party Office Amount
Robin Vos R A63 $195,457
Julie Lassa D S24 $163,545
Dave Hansen D S30 $127,753
Mary Lazich R S28 $120,034
Howard Marklein R A51 $108,754
Tom Larson R A67 $102,699
Tom Tiffany R S12 $100,268
Dean Kaufert R A55 $75,286
Jessica King D S18 $73,212
Glenn Grothman R S20 $71,738

All Candidates
Total RaisedCash BalanceAlphabetical

July 2010 Fundraising