Groups, Candidates Spend Record $44 Million In Recalls

Democratic candidates, groups outspend Republicans by $3 million

Posted: September 20, 2011
Updated: March 12, 2012

Note: Some figures revised since initial posting in response to final reports filed by committees since the beginning of this year.

Madison – Special interest groups, candidates and political committees spent a record $44 million in the nine legislative recall elections held this summer, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

The state Senate recall races which targeted six Republicans and three Democrats set numerous records including the most spent by a single outside interest group in an election, the most spent by all outside smear groups, the most spent by candidates and groups in a legislative race and the most spent by a legislative candidate in an election.

A review of total spending by the outside groups, candidates, state parties, recall committees and two legislative leadership committees found Democrats outspent Republicans $23.5 million to $20.5 million. Here’s how that breaks out:

  • Outside special interest groups doled out a record $34.6 million in the races, mostly to buy negative broadcast advertising and mailings to trash the candidates (see Table). Groups backing Democrats spent an estimated $18.7 million and groups backing Republicans spent $15.9 million.
  • Twenty-six candidates, including nine incumbents and 17 challengers, spent $7.99 million. Republican candidates spent $4.04 million and Democratic candidates spent $3.95 million.
  • Recall committees, the state Democratic and Republican parties and two Senate fundraising committees used by legislative leaders to raise and spend money on elections spent $1.45 million. Democrats spent $948,868 and Republicans spent $500,260 on the recalls.

Put in perspective, the $44 million spent on the recalls more than doubled the previous record for spending by candidates and groups in legislative races, which was $20.25 million for 99 Assembly seats and 16 Senate seats in the 2008 general elections. The recall races also collectively cost more than the most expensive race in Wisconsin political history – the $37.4 million spent by the candidates and outside groups in the 2010 governor’s race.

The $34.6 million spent by all outside groups in the recall elections was more than four times the nearly $8 million spent by the candidates – three of whom broke previous spending records for a legislative candidate. The groups’ spending in the recalls also was nearly five times more than the previous record $7.1 million spent by outside groups in all of the 115 legislative races in 2008. It also eclipses all outside group spending in the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 races for governor combined, which totaled about $28.9 million.

Six of the nine recall races beat the previous record $3 million spent by the candidates and outside groups in a legislative race – the 10th Senate District contest in 2000 won by Republican Sheila Harsdorf who was among the nine recall targets. In addition, the estimated $2 million spent by groups in the 2000 race – the previous record spending by outside groups in a legislative race – was exceeded in seven of the recall races where outside special interests spent between $2.2 million and $7.9 million.

Three recall candidates beat the previous record spent by a candidate in a legislative race – $722,333 by Democratic Representative Sheldon Wasserman of Milwaukee who unsuccessfully challenged Republican Senator Alberta Darling in 2008. Darling spent a record $1.23 million to win her 8th Senate recall race, followed by Republican Senator Dan Kapanke of La Crosse who spent $1.05 million but lost his 32nd District recall election and Democratic Representative Sandra Pasch, who challenged Darling in the recall, spent $800,744.

Special interest group spending was led by We Are Wisconsin, a political action committee that spent a record $10.75 million for an electioneering group to support Democrats in the nine races. The PAC was funded by a coalition of unions mostly based in Washington, including the AFL- CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, among others. The group sponsored more than 20 television ads in the recall races and spent the most – $2.6 million – to support Pasch in her effort to unseat Darling.

We Are Wisconsin is one of several independent expenditure groups required to disclose fundraising and spending but their reports to the state often fail to identify most of their donors. Independent expenditure groups expressly tell listeners and viewers who to vote for in their electioneering activities.

We Are Wisconsin was followed by the Club for Growth Wisconsin, a state arm of the national Club for Growth that traditionally backs conservative Republicans candidates for federal office, which spent an estimated $9 million to support GOP candidates in the recall races. Unlike We Are Wisconsin, the Club for Growth Wisconsin is an issue ad group that is not required to disclose any fundraising and spending activities because its electioneering activities do not expressly tell people who to vote for even though it’s clear which candidate the organization supports or opposes.

A Democracy Campaign review of U.S. Internal Revenue Service reports found a fraction of the millions of dollars the Club raised from wealthy individuals and corporations – a total of $400,000 from Texas oilman Trevor Rees-Jones and an asset management and securities firm called the Citadel with offices in Chicago, New York, London and Hong Kong.

Club for Growth hammered Democratic candidates for supporting higher taxes, pork-barrel projects and being soft on crime, among other things. It spent more than $1 million on television ads in the Milwaukee TV market to support Darling and counter We Are Wisconsin’s efforts.

The Democracy Campaign estimated spending by Club for Growth and other issue ad groups on television ad buys and the cost of comparable electioneering activities like mailings, radio ads, automated telephone calls and consulting that is disclosed by other groups, candidates and political committees.

The $10.75 million spent by We Are Wisconsin and the $9 million spent by the Club for Growth Wisconsin in the recall elections pummeled previous spending records by a special interest group set in the 2010 general elections when the Democratic-leaning Greater Wisconsin Committee spent an estimated $5.4 million and the Republican Governors Association spent an estimated $5 million.

For more information about the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which ranked third in spending in the recall elections at an estimated $4 million, and the other outside smear groups, please check out their profiles and spending information in the “Hijacking Special Elections and Recall 2011” feature on the Democracy Campaign’s website at www.wisdc.org.

Here is a snapshot of spending by the outside groups and the candidates in each of the recall races:

  • The most expensive recall race was the Senate 8th District which cost nearly $10 million. Independent expenditure groups led by We Are Wisconsin, the Greater Wisconsin Committee and the Wisconsin Education Association Council – the state’s largest teacher’s union – spent $3.6 million. Issue ad groups led by Club for Growth Wisconsin, American Federation for Children, a Washington group that advocates for taxpayer-funded school voucher programs, and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business organization, spent an estimated $4.3 million. The amount spent by the groups was four times more than the candidates who spent just over $2 million.
  • The 14th Senate District recall contest cost about $7.2 million. Groups including We Are Wisconsin, Club for Growth, the Greater Wisconsin Committee and Wisconsin Family Action, which is a so-called pro-family values group that backs Republicans candidates for state office, spent an estimated $6.6 million. That is 10 times more than the candidates – incumbent Republican Senator Luther Olsen of Ripon, Democratic Representative Fred Clark of Baraboo and Rol Church, a Republican who ran as a Democrat in the primary – who spent $627,321.
  • The 10th Senate District recall contest cost about $6.2 million. Independent expenditure groups led by We Are Wisconsin and the Greater Wisconsin Committee spent $2.4 million and issue ad groups, including Club for Growth, American Federation for Children and a little-known conservative Republican group called Citizens for a Strong America, spent an estimated $2.8 million. The candidates – Harsdorf, Democratic challenger Shelly Moore and Isaac Weix, a Republican who ran as a Democrat in the primary – spent $967,107.
  • The 12th Senate District recall race cost nearly $6 million. Independent expenditure groups spent $2.3 million led by We Are Wisconsin, the Greater Wisconsin Committee and the Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington group that supports Republican candidates for state legislative offices around the country. Issue ad groups, including a conservative group called Americans for Prosperity started by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch, and a Brookfield-based group called Jobs First Coalition that backs Republican candidates spent an estimated $2.8 million. The candidates, Democratic incumbent Jim Holperin of Conover and Republican challenger Kimberly Jo Simac spent $851,576.
  • The 18th Senate District recall contest cost nearly $4.2 million. Outside special interest groups spent an estimated $3.4 million led by We Are Wisconsin, the Greater Wisconsin Committee and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, a Washington-based group that recruits and supports Democratic candidates for legislative offices around the country. Incumbent Republican Senator Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac, who was defeated, was slammed for not paying state income taxes and for having an extra-marital affair. Hopper, Democrat Jessica King and John Buckstaff, a Republican who ran as a Democrat, spent $730,798.
  • The 32nd Senate District recall race cost about $3.7 million. Independent expenditure groups spent $1 million led by We Are Wisconsin, WEAC and Wisconsin WOMEN VOTE!, the state arm of a Washington-based group called Emily’s List that traditionally supports women for state and federal offices. Issue ad groups, including Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and the Presidential Coalition, a Washington-based group that supports conservative policies and leaders for state and federal offices, spent an estimated $1.2 million. The candidates – incumbent Republican Senator Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, who lost to Democratic Representative Jennifer Shilling, also of La Crosse, and James D. Smith, a Republican who ran as a Democrat – spent nearly $1.48 million.
  • The 22nd Senate District recall race cost nearly $2.9 million. Independent expenditure and issue ad groups, including We Are Wisconsin, WEAC, Club for Growth and the Greater Wisconsin Committee, spent an estimated $2.4 million on electioneering activities that included attacking Jonathan Steitz, the Republican challenger, for being a corporate attorney who defended wealthy interests that damaged the nation’s economy and for not making a tax payment until after a warrant was issued. The candidates – Steitz, incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Wirch of Kenosha and Fred Ekornaas, a Republican who ran as a Democrat in the primary – spent $508,704.
  • The 30th Senate District recall contest cost more than $1.3 million. Outside special interest groups spent about $1 million led by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, We Are Wisconsin, WEAC and the Republican State Leadership Committee. Democratic incumbent Dave Hansen of Green Bay was criticized for supporting union collective bargaining rights because they discouraged good teachers from working in Wisconsin. His opponent Republican Dave VanderLeest was attacked for a court record that included a bankruptcy and a disorderly conduct conviction. Hansen and VanderLeest spent $369,476 on the race.
  • The 2nd Senate District recall race cost more than $1.1 million. Outside special interest groups, including We Are Wisconsin, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, Americans for Prosperity and WMC, spent an estimated $725,000. Nancy Nusbaum, the Democratic challenger, was criticized by some of the groups for increases in taxes, spending and deficits while she was a Brown County executive. Incumbent Republican Bob Cowles of Green Bay was assailed for supporting deep cuts to education and elderly health care programs in the most recent state budget. The candidates spent $426,093 in the race.

TABLE
Spending By Outside Special Interest Groups In The 2011 Recall Elections

Group Amount
We Are Wisconsin PAC $10,789,046
Club for Growth Wisconsin* $9,000,000
Greater Wisconsin Committee** $4,000,000
Citizens for a Strong America* $1,700,000
American Federation for Children** $1,300,000
Progressive Change Campaign Committee & Democracy for America** $1,300,000
Wisconsin Family Action* $850,000
Republican State Leadership Committee** $800,000
Americans for Prosperity* $800,000
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce* $700,000
Wisconsin Senate Democrats $500,000
Wisconsin Education Association Council PAC $499,391
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee** $400,000
Presidential Coalition* $400,000
Wisconsin WOMEN VOTE! $264,845
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin $173,601
People for the American Way $167,119
MoveOn.org Political Action Wisconsin Independent Expenditure Committee $134,993
Jobs First Coalition* $100,000
Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters $98,318
Citizen Action of Wisconsin $90,896
Wisconsin State AFL - CIO* $85,000
Volunteers for Agriculture PAC $79,545
Wisconsin Sierra Club Education Committee $70,935
State Government Leadership Foundation* $50,000
Working America $44,795
National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund PAC $42,608
GOPAC Wisconsin $38,608
Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama PAC $25,000
Our Country Deserves Better $25,000
Winnebagoland Uniserv PAC $15,010
NAACP National Voter Fund $14,990
Faith Family Freedom Fund $12,365
Wisconsin Right to Life $10,564
Voces de la Frontera Action Committee $10,018
Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin Defense Fund $3,654
National Federation of Independent Business SAFE Trust PAC $2,277
Irreverent Contingent $1,150
Friends of Ann Schmidt $253
Wisconsin Recall Initiative $150
TOTAL $34,600,131

*Phony issue ad group and estimated spending.
**Estimated phony issue ad and independent expenditure spending.