Legislative Candidates Raising Money at Feverish Clip

Incumbent Warchests Up 68 Percent, Fundraising Up 60 Percent From ’98

September 14, 2000

Madison - As races enter the homestretch in the 2000 general election, legislative candidates are vacuuming up cash as quickly as special interests can drop it. The incumbents’ campaign war chests totaled $3.4 million at the end of the latest "pre-primary" reporting period in late August, a 68 percent increase over total campaign cash balances for the same period in the 1998 election season, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Aside from the increase from the last election, the incumbents’ $3.4 million money arsenal puts them at a $9 to $1 cash advantage over their challengers’ total cash balance, which was $389,324, according to the latest reports filed by the campaigns with the state.

The candidates’ total cash on hand is important because it foretells a bleak story for Wisconsin voters - another round of high-spending campaigns featuring a blitz of 30-second ads fueled by special interest contributions.

Overall, legislative candidates - incumbents, challengers and those for open seats - had war chests totaling $4.1 million at the close of the pre-primary election reporting period Aug. 28. That amounts to a 57 percent increase over the $2.6 million amassed by legislative candidates at a comparable point in the 1998 elections.

The incumbents’ high cash balances are due to an aggressive fundraising push during the legislative session that’s likely to intensify as the election approaches. Incumbents took in $690,440 in individual and political action committee contributions between July 1 and Aug. 28, a 60 percent increase from the $431,174 collected during the comparable period in 1998.

"Sadly, the political arms race in Wisconsin is reaching ridiculous new proportions," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. "And with incumbents holding a 9-1 fundraising advantage over challengers, voters are going to be deprived of competitive races in way too many cases. It won’t be a fair fight."

A review of top candidate fundraising and campaign cash balances (Tables 1 & 2) shows where legislative leaders and strategists are targeting most of their resources. Assembly legislative leaders continue to raise large amounts of money, but they do not have significant races.

TABLE 1
TOP PRE-PRIMARY FUNDRAISERS

CANDIDATE AND (PARTY) DISTRICT TOTAL
Assembly Speaker Scott (R)  A32 $48,509
Sheila Harsdorf (R) S10 $46,385
Dave Hansen (D) S30 $38,856
Lisa Nelson (R) S16 $30,932
Alice Clausing (D) S10 $30,486
Mark Meyer (D) S32 $31,189
Jeff Fitzgerald (R) A39 $28,982
Assembly Minority Leader Shirley Krug (D) A12 $25,760
Dave Duecker (R) S22 $23,038
Assembly Majority Leader Steven Foti (R) A38 $23,007
Timothy Hoven (R) A60 $22,851
Gary Drzewiecki (R) S30 $22,092

TABLE 2
TOP PRE-PRIMARY CASH BALANCES

CANDIDATE AND (PARTY) DISTRICT CASH
BALANCE
Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R) A32 $268,759
Alice Clausing (D) S10 $178,720
Alberta Darling (R) S08 $146,302
Spencer Black (D) A77 $118,014
Gary Drzewiecki (R) S30 $101,374
Senate Majority Leader Charles Chvala (D) S16 $99,839
Assembly Minority Leader Shirley Krug (D) A12 $95,321
Kevin Shibilski (D) S24 $89,931
Robert Wirch (D) S22 $81,729
Sheldon Wasserman (D) A22 $81,407
Mark Meyer (D) S32 $77,795
Robert Welch (R) S14 $69,245
Sheila Harsdorf (R) S10 $64,414
Dave Hansen (D) S30 $61,173
Mary Lazich (R) S28 $61,120

However, the figures point to four potentially expensive and contentious Senate races over the next two months. Those include the battle for northwestern Wisconsin’s 10th Senate District between Democratic incumbent Alice Clausing and Republican challenger Sheila Harsdorf. Collectively they raised more money in July and August - $76,871 - and they have the second highest total campaign fund balance among all races - $243,134. Another high-spending shootout is likely to occur in northeastern Wisconsin’s 30th Senate District where Republican incumbent Gary Drzewiecki faces Democrat Dave Hansen. Collectively, they raised more than $56,000 in two months and have combined campaign accounts of more than $162,000.

In both cases, the challengers raised more money in the pre-primary period than the incumbents. However, their campaign fund balances were well behind the incumbents’ as of Aug. 28.

Two other "money" races are shaping up in western Wisconsin’s 32nd Senate District and the southeastern 22nd Senate District.

In the 32nd District, veteran Democratic Rep. Mark Meyer and Republican challenger Dan Kapanke will square off for an open seat. Figures prior to the Sept. 12 primary showed that Meyer raised $31,189 from July to late August, and holds $77,795 in total campaign funds. The Republicans undoubtedly will at least match these resources in their effort to retain this seat in the closely divided State Senate.

In the 22nd District, incumbent Democrat Robert Wirch faces a challenge from Republican Dave Duecker. Collectively, their campaign accounts totaled nearly $100,000, with Wirch holding $81,729 as of late August. But Duecker raised slightly more than $23,000 of the $35,689 in campaign funds collected by the two.