Hijacking Campaign 2008 - Issue Ads

Groups involved in issue ads in the 2008 campaign for the Wisconsin State Legislature.
Hijacking Campaign 2008

Issue Ads

Below are descriptions of “issue ad” activity by various groups during the 2008 fall election.


This is the Wisconsin chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. It was started as a teachers’ union in 1931 but now represents 17,000 public employees in more than 500 job classifications.

The group engaged in phony issue advertising in the 2006 general elections when it ran radio ads in two state Senate races.

In October 2008, the group launched a 30-second television ad supporting 12th Senate District Democratic candidate Jim Holperin in a hotly contested open seat. The ad featured about a half-dozen everyday-looking people saying they like Holperin because of his conservation views and that he is an outdoorsman.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2006

All Children Matter

This Michigan-based group formed in 2003 promotes private school voucher programs, commonly known as school choice, like the one in Milwaukee. The group was organized by Michigan billionaire Dick DeVos, who was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor there in 2006 and whose family founded the Amway Corporation. All Children Matter works with a state school choice group known as the Alliance for Choices in Education in Milwaukee.

All Children Matter’s phony issue ad campaign in the 2008 legislative races used negative mailings and broadcast advertising in several Assembly races. As with most outside special interest electioneering, their negative campaigning had nothing to do with their key issue. This political hit group’s main theme accused Democratic candidates of supporting universal health care, including coverage for illegal aliens, at a massive expense to taxpayers. Most of their mailings also accused the candidates of supporting an array of tax increases.

The group’s targets included 47th Assembly District candidate Trish O’Neil (D), 80th District candidate John Waelti (D), 96th District candidate Dale Klemme (D), 29th District candidate Chris Buckel (D), 68th District candidate Kristen Dexter (D), 57th District candidate Penny Bernard Schaber (D), 90th District candidate Lou Ann Weix (D) and incumbent Reps. Jeff Smith (D) in the 93rd District, Jim Soletski (D) in the 88th District and Kim Hixson (D) in the 43rd District.

The group sponsored 30-second radio and television advertisements against Hixson claiming the universal health care plan he supported would cost every Wisconsin worker $510 per month. "So hey, if you’re an illegal alien looking for free health care, call Kim Hixson and tell him thanks for his plan to stick it to Wisconsin taxpayers," the radio ad said.

Hixson had never authored a universal health care plan and says he had never supported the one referred to in the ad.

The organization reportedly spent more than $1 million on phony issue ads and independent expenditures to support Republican candidates in races for governor and the legislature in Wisconsin in 2006.

A complaint was filed against the group with the former State Elections Board in 2006 claiming it violated state campaign finance laws for one of its mailings in a hotly contested Senate race. The former board found the group did violate the law but deferred levying a penalty to its successor, the Government Accountability Board which has not acted in the matter.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 20062004

Building a Stronger Wisconsin

This is a phony issue ad group formed in 2007 with interests in job, education, health care, tax and transportation issues. An informational radio ad on the group’s website says it is made up of small business owners, skilled workers and civic leaders who "are concerned about overcoming obstacles that stand in the way of a strong economy and healthier families." Its treasurer is listed as Randy Nash, a Milwaukee area attorney and unsuccessful Democratic Senate candidate in 1996.

Building a Stronger Wisconsin began running ads in September 2008 against Republican legislative candidates.

The group reportedly purchased about $56,000 worth of air time from two La Crosse stations. One 30-second television ad criticized incumbent 32nd District Republican Senator Dan Kapanke for voting three times against legislation to make emergency contraception available to rape and incest victims. "When Kapanke goes to Madison he’s not helping rape victims and their families," a narrator says in the ad, which mingles black and white photographs of Kapanke with color pictures of distraught women.

The group also sponsored a 30-second television commercial against 12th Senate District Republican candidate Tom Tiffany saying he supports Milwaukee’s private school voucher program and that the program takes away state aid from public schools in the district.

The ad showed a picture of a girl then a picture of Tiffany and claimed right wing politicians have persuaded him to support the program at the expense of local schools.

In the 18th Senate District where Republican Randy Hopper and Democrat Jessica King are vying for an open seat, the group began running television ads in late October 2008 saying Hopper "has a habit of not paying his taxes." Mailings also sponsored by the group claim Hopper did not pay personal and business taxes in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2007.

"Randy wants us to trust him, but while we play by the rules, he has made a habit of not paying his taxes," one mailing says. "Six times Hopper has failed to pay his taxes on time. Six times isn’t a mistake – it’s a lifestyle."

Club for Growth Wisconsin

This phony issue ad group is the state arm of the national Club for Growth which sponsors negative outside electioneering activities to help elect Republicans to federal office. The state group surfaced in February 2007 and sponsored a television advertisement in support of 2007 Supreme Court candidate Annette Ziegler. The group spent an estimate $907,000 in the 2007 and 2008 Supreme Court races combined.

The group’s first involvement in partisan electioneering activity began in 2008 with sponsorship of a radio ad that accused 80th District Democratic Assembly candidate John Waelti of supporting what it dubbed expensive, ineffective universal health care. It also ran a radio ad against 57th District Democratic candidate Penny Bernard Schaber that criticized her work with an environmental group.

The group also released a series of emails obtained from an open records request that showed 29th Assembly District candidate Chris Buckel, a Hammond high school teacher, used his school district email account in spring 2008 to plan his legislative campaign and to solicit help for the campaign of 10th Senate District Democratic candidate Alison Page.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2008 Supreme Court2007 Supreme Court

Coalition for America’s Families

This is a Virginia-based conservative alliance of businesses and non-profit groups that supports Republican candidates. It opposes abortion and supports cutting taxes as well as pro-gun laws and school voucher programs. The group is led by Steve King, a Janesville Republican, former head of the state Republican Party and an ex-FBI agent during the 1970s Watergate scandal.

The group refuses to reveal the individuals, businesses and other organizations that give it money, or how much it raises and spends on negative electioneering activities. And like other phony issue ad groups its negative ads, automated telephone calls and other activities have nothing to do with the issues its advocates. For instance, it spent nearly $500,000 in the 2008 Supreme Court race to support candidate Mike Gableman with lurid crime ads that also had nothing to do with the type of decisions the court makes.

The coalition also injected its smear campaign into the 2008 legislative races.

A 30-second radio ad – similar to the group’s television ads (see below) – against 92nd District Assembly Democratic candidate Mark Radcliffe was ordered pulled from the airwaves by a Jackson County Circuit judge days before the November 4th election. Judge Thomas Lister ruled his temporary restraining order banning the ad was necessary because Radcliffe would probably win a court trial on claims the ad was false and misleading, a violation of state campaign laws.

After the ruling Democratic Party officials requested broadcast media outlets around the state pull similar ads sponsored by the coalition against other Democratic candidates.

In October 2008, the group sponsored 30-second television commercials that accused two Democratic Assembly candidates – Trish O’Neil in the 47th District and John Waelti in the 80th District – of supporting higher taxes on Wisconsin workers and businesses in order to provide free health care to illegal aliens and people who do not live in Wisconsin

In the 2006 general elections, the group spent more than $1 million on negative electioneering in statewide races and in support of a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2008 Supreme Court 20062002

Greater Wisconsin Committee

This is a Madison-based group that was organized in 2004 to support Democratic candidates for statewide office and the legislature. Like other phony issue ad groups, it has consistently refused to disclose how much it raises and spends to sponsor mostly negative mailings and broadcast advertising during an election. Much of its cash has come from labor unions and Democratic-leaning ideological groups that get most of their money from large corporations.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimates the committee spent about $6.5 million on issue ads in the 2006 general election and the 2007 and 2008 races for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

In October 2008, the group began sponsoring two 30-second television ads (here and here) against incumbent 42nd Assembly District Republican Rep. J.A. Hines, often referred to as "Doc" because he is a veterinarian. The ads were cast in a comical tone using the cartoon character Bugs Bunny’s signature question, "What’s up doc?" to criticize Hines’ votes against proposals closing a tax loophole used by big business, increasing taxes on oil companies and reducing property taxes. The ads also criticized Hines for supporting proposals that would increase the cost of drugs for seniors and families, among other things.

In addition, the committee’s 527 group – the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund – also aired television and radio ads supporting Democratic legislative candidates in the La Crosse area and the 57th Assembly District.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2008 Supreme Court200720062004

Independent Spending: 2008l2008 Supreme Court 20072006

Wisconsin Family Action Inc.

This group is the issue ad arm of the Wisconsin Family Council formerly known as the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin which supported the so-called marriage protection amendment approved by Wisconsin voters in November 2006.

Family Action contributed nearly $60,000 to the council’s political action committee in 2006 to help pay for phony issue ads that supported the amendment.  The group also spent an estimated $40,000 on a negative mailing against a Democratic Assembly candidate saying he supported gay marriage.  The mailing and other negative advertising in the race prompted the campaign treasurer for the Republican candidate to quit.

In September 2008, Family Action sponsored virtually identical 60-second radio ads against three Democratic Assembly candidates in the 57th District in Appleton, the 68th District Eau Claire and the 96th District representing Crawford and Vernon counties. The ads claimed the candidates accepted a large number of campaign contributions from gay rights advocates outside Wisconsin.

The ads asked whether the candidates were interested in representing "Wisconsin values" or those of gay rights activists on the East and West coasts.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2006

Wisconsin Institute for Leadership

This conservative advocacy group formed in 2008 opposes taxes and government regulation and intervention in response to social and economic problems, such as the rising cost of health care. The group’s executive director, Brian Fraley, is a GOP strategist who was the Senate Republican’s caucus director during the Capitol caucus scandal.

The group ran a television ad in October 2008 against Democratic Rep. Jim Soletski of Green Bay accusing him of voting for a $400 million increase in the state’s hospital tax that would have made health care more expensive. It also accused Soletski of supporting a pricey universal health care plan that would provide free health care to illegal aliens. The ad is similar to those run by another conservative group, the Coalition for America’s Families.

The Institute for Leadership also sponsored mailings against 93rd Assembly District Democratic Rep. Jeff Smith of Eau Claire accusing him of supporting legislative proposals to help convicted drug dealers and illegal aliens go to college.

The group also sponsored mailings that dealt with health care programs and costs. The mailings supported incumbent 90th Assembly District Republican Rep. Karl Van Roy and opposed incumbent 43rd Assembly District Democrat Kim Hixson. The pro-Van Roy mailing said he worked to make health care more affordable for more poor children and supported the expansion of a low-cost prescription drug program for seniors. The anti-Hixson mailing said he supported a $400 million increase in a state hospital tax in order to draw more federal aid to Wisconsin and supported an expensive universal health care program.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC)

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is the largest business lobbying organization in the state and one of the first groups to engage in outside electioneering activities, which started in Wisconsin in 1996. The group refuses to disclose how much it raises from individuals and corporations and spends on its phony issue ads.

Since 1996, WMC has spent millions of dollars and influenced dozens of legislative elections, the 2006 and 2002 governor’s races, the 2006 attorney general’s race and the past two Supreme Court races. The Democracy campaign estimates it spent nearly $4 million in the 2007 and 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court races and $5 million in the 2006 election cycle.

The business group, which backs Republican candidates, came under fire in the summer of 2008 from Epic Systems Corp, large Madison-based high-tech business, outgoing University of Wisconsin chancellor John Wiley and others for its highly partisan, big-spending negative electioneering and downbeat comments about Wisconsin’s business climate.

Undeterred, WMC and other groups supporting Republican and Democratic candidates were expected to dump big money into advertising, mailings, automated telephone calls and other activities in Assembly races where Republicans, who have held the majority since 1994, had a thin 51-47 edge.

In October 2008, WMC launched three 30-second television ads, five 30-second radio ads and five 60-second radio ads that supported five Assembly Republican candidates – Dave Hegenbarth in the 91st District, Keith Ripp in the 47th District, Travis Tranel in the 49th District, Jo Egelhoff in the 57th District and Tony Theisen in the 88th District.

WMC has also paid for mailings that support two incumbent Republican senators – Alberta Darling in the 8th District and Dan Kapanke in the 32nd District – and two incumbent Democratic senators – Robert Wirch in the 22nd District and Dave Hansen in the 30th District.

The pro Kapanke and Darling mailers were nearly identical and praised the pair for supporting efforts that help Wisconsin businesses expand, reduce lawsuits against business and oppose a proposed universal health care plan.

The mailings in support of Wirch and Hansen were also nearly identical and praised the pair for supporting efforts to speed up the process for issuing environmental permits to businesses and making changes in unemployment insurance to help jobless workers

Past Issue Ad Activity:
2008 Supreme Court2007 Supreme Court20062004200320022000

Independent Spending: 20042000