Hijacking Campaign 2006: Issue Ads

Groups that made issue ads during the 2006 fall elections.
Hijacking Campaign 2006

Issue Ads

Posted: April 3, 2006
Updated: February 22, 2008

Groups that made issue ads during the 2006 fall elections.


This is the American Federation of Teachers Wisconsin chapter, formerly called the Wisconsin Federation of Teachers. It is a labor organization that represents 17,000 public employee in more than 500 job classifications.

The group had never engaged in independent expenditures or phony issue advertising until 2006 when it spent $20,000 on two radio ads in October against incumbent Republican Senator Dave Zien of Eau Claire (23rd) and Republican candidate William McReynolds in the hotly contested race for the 21st Senate District open seat.

One ad called McReynolds an extreme conservative because of spending policies and program cuts during his tenure as Racine County executive. The other ad said Zien supported health care tax breaks for the rich, but has done nothing in 18 years in the Legislature to help make health care more affordable for the poor and middle class.

All Children Matter

This is a Michigan-based group formed in 2003 to promote private school voucher programs, commonly known as school choice, like the one in Milwaukee. The group was formed by Michigan billionaire Dick DeVos, who ran for governor there as a Republican 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 headed by George and Susan Mitchell of Milwaukee.

The organization reportedly spent more than $1 million on issue ads in the governors race and Assembly and Senate contests to support Republican candidates, particularly in targeted and open seat races.

All Children Matter sent fliers in October in the hotly contested 21st Senate District race that prompted a complaint to the State Elections Board from two unions and two Racine residents. The flier said “There are over $12 Billion reasons to vote against John Lehman,” the Democratic candidate in the open seat race. The groups claim that the statement expressly tells people how to vote, making it an independent expenditure that would require the group to file reports that details its fundraising and spending.

All Children Matter claimed the complaint was without merit but registered three days later with the Elections Board saying it planned on making independent expenditures in two Senate races - against Lehman in the 21st District race and Democrat Pat Kreitlow in the 23rd District race - and in the Assembly 62nd Districtrace against Democrat Cory Mason.

In November 2006, the Elections Board ruled the flier against Lehman did expressly tell people how to vote. However, in March 2007 it decided against penalizing All Children Matter for violating the law. Instead, the board ruled to defer the matter until October 2007 when the Elections Board likely will have been replaced by a new Government Accountability Board to enforce campaign finance, ethics and election laws.

The group also opposed Democratic candidates Gordon Hintz in the 54th Assembly District race and Kerry Kittel in the 29th Assembly District race.

In September and October 2006, All Children Matter ran three television advertisements against Democratic Governor Jim Doyle that had nothing to do with the school choice issue. The first ad talked about the conviction of a state employee for rigging a state travel contract in favor of a big Doyle contributor, as well as allegations that high-level Doyle appointees used their positions to influence state decisions on contract and regulatory matters that benefited Doyle donors.

The second ad showed several people telling an interviewer that they could not trust Doyle because he received campaign contributions around the time those donors’ companies or employers were awarded state contracts or received state approval for the sale of a nuclear power plant.

The third advertisement claimed Wisconsin property taxpayers got soaked by Doyle’s so-called property tax freeze because those taxes increased by $1 billion since Doyle took office in 2002.

In August 2006, the group filed a complaint with the State Elections Board accusing Democratic state senate candidate Donovan Riley of voting twice in the 2000 elections. Riley, who was challenging pro-school choice incumbent Democratic Senator Jeff Plale, dropped out of the race a short time later, saying he may have “made a mistake.”

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2004

Alliance for Choices in Education

The Alliance for Choices in Education is a non-profit group that supports unlimited expansion of Milwaukee’s 16-year-old private school voucher program - also known as school choice - that spends $90 million a year in public tax dollars so about 15,000 poor Milwaukee public school children can attend religious and other private schools. The group’s board of directors includes several members of Milwaukee’s business and religious community. The school choice program in Milwaukee is part of a national movement in several other states.

Susan Mitchell and her husband, George, have been long time supporters of the program along with a small group of wealthy mostly out-of-state contributors from California to Arkansas who want to influence education policy in Wisconsin. Many of their contributions have flowed through a conduit called the Fund for Choices in Education controlled by the Mitchells. From 2002 (the year it became active) through December 31, 2006, the conduit distributed more than $505,310 to candidates for partisan statewide office and the legislature. Only 27 percent, or $137,005, of those contributions came from Wisconsin donors while $368,305, or 73 percent, came from out-of-state donors including four members of the Walton family, owners of Wal-Mart; Amway Company scions Richard and Betsy DeVos of Michigan; and Circuit City founders Richard and Sherry Sharp of Virginia.

The Alliance reportedly spent $161,000 on television ads and an undisclosed amount on radio ads in early 2006 when it aired genuine issue ads in Madison and Milwaukee using parents and children to implore Democratic Governor Jim Doyle to lift the 15,000-pupil enrollment cap on the program. In one ad a woman says, “Governor Doyle, don’t turn your back on us again,” and in another a girl says Doyle is “throwing away my dream.” Like most issue ad sponsors, the group refuses to say how much it is spending on the advertisements.

At the same time two other groups, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and the Coalition for America’s Families, aired radio ads telling Doyle to lift the cap. One of the ads likened Doyle to two southern white governors who tried to block school desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s by standing in schoolhouse entrances. “Now in 2006, don’t let a governor named Jim Doyle stand in the schoolhouse door, again, this time blocking hundreds of African-American students right here in Milwaukee,” the ad says. These groups also refuse to publicly disclose how much they are spending on the advertisements.

The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business organization and a frequent critic of education spending, also supports the program and efforts to expand it. Business and manufacturing, two of the most powerful special interests that influence state policy making, contributed $7.7 million from 2001 through June 2006 to candidates for the legislature and statewide office.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2004 2002

Americans for Prosperity

Americans for Prosperity is a conservative group that pushes proposals to lower taxes and cut the size of government. It is backed by wealthy special interests outside of the state who want to influence public policy in Wisconsin. It was created with money from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. The Koch family’s fortune was made in the oil and gas business. One family member is among the founders of the John Birch Society.

Americans for Prosperity’s state director is Mark Block, a top fundraiser for President George W. Bush, who masterminded a plan to illegally funnel money into the 1997 reelection campaign of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox from wealthy, out-of-state backers of school voucher programs. Block was fined $15,000 and banned from consulting and volunteering on state campaigns until 2004.

In February 2006, Americans for Prosperity first engaged in secret spending on issue ads in Wisconsin by teaming up with Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business lobby, to air issue ads urging listeners to limit how much state and local governments and school districts can raise taxes without asking people to vote via a referendum. Like WMC, Americans for Prosperity did not disclose how much they were spending on the ads.

Building Wisconsin’s Future

Little is known about this organization which has not engaged in issue advertising or independent spending under this name in previous election cycles. But it reportedly spent about $410,000 in 2006, mostly in state Senate races to back Democratic candidates. Road builders and unions who represent employees in that industry, including Operating Engineers Local 139, reportedly backed the group.

In early November, the group aired a 60-second radio ad accusing Republican Senator Dave Zien of Eau Claire of opposing an increase in the minimum wage while his own state salary increased more than $13,000 since he was elected in the early 1990s. It also said he voted to cut state prescription drug benefits for seniors while enjoying good coverage under a state-sponsored health plan.

In late September and October 2006, the group aired several radio and television advertisements targeting four Republican senators up for reelection - Allan Lasee of Rockland, Joe Leibham of Sheboygan, Tom Reynolds of West Allis and Zien.

The ads against Lasee, Leibham and Zien criticized the trio for backing flawed state tax policies, referred to in the ad as the "Las Vegas loophole," that let banks and other powerful business interests avoid paying Wisconsin income taxes.

The ad against Reynolds accused him of using his office and campaign fund to benefit himself. It said Reynolds introduced a bill that took millions of dollars away from public school aids to create a tax break for home schoolers like himself. It also accused him of using a portion of his campaign fund to pay his home heating bills. Reynolds said using campaign funds to pay a portion of the bills was permissible because his campaign office is in his home.

Coalition for America’s Families

The group surfaced in the 2002 elections and spent undisclosed amounts on negative issue advertising to support Republican legislative candidates. The 2002 elections gave Republicans control of the Senate.

The Virginia-based group describes itself as a coalition of businesses, non-profit organizations and others. The group is led by Steve King, a conservative Republican who ran Waukesha County Attorney General Paul Bucher’s 2006 failed campaign for the GOP nomination for attorney general. He is also former head of the state GOP. An FBI agent in the 1970s, he was assigned to keep tabs on the famously talkative Martha Mitchell, wife of then Attorney General John Mitchell, who was later a convicted co-conspirator in the Watergate scandal.

The group reportedly spent more than $1 million on issue ad activity in the governor and attorney general races and in support of the so-called marriage protection amendment. A key figure and contributor to the group was Sheboygan millionaire and one-time gubernatorial candidate Terry Kohler. Kohler, who reportedly made a six-figure donation to the group, is a perennial backer of conservative causes and candidates nationwide. Since 1995 Kohler and his wife, Mary, have contributed more than $129,000 to Republican candidates and legislative campaign committees.

The coalition had a busy October leading up to the November 7 election. It launched radio and television advertisements opposing Democratic candidates in the races for attorney general and governor, and contributed $385,000 to Vote Yes for Marriage, a political fundraising tool used by the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin to support the proposed marriage amendment.

The contribution to Vote Yes for Marriage helped pay for a $266,000-plus television and radio ad blitz in the Milwaukee and Green Bay radio and TV markets from late October to Election Day.

The coalition also aired a 30-second television ad accusing Democratic Attorney General candidate Kathleen Falk of being more concerned about the rights and safety of illegal aliens than crime victims.

The group also launched a 60-second radio and 60-second television ads in October saying the administration of Democratic Governor Jim Doyle awarded individual and Indian tribes lucrative state contracts in exchange for large campaign contributions. The radio ad recounted expanded gambling agreements Doyle signed with the tribes in early 2003, only months after three tribes sent $725,000 to the Democratic National Committee. The committee then gave $1.2 million to the state Democratic Party to pay for pro-Doyle ads that some say were critical to his election victory.

The television advertisement referred to the tribal contributions as well as two other state contracts in which Doyle received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from individuals linked to companies that later received a $750,000 travel contract and a $68 million construction contract.

In July and August 2006, the group bought air time in the Milwaukee, Wausau and La Crosse television markets to run 30-second ads against Doyle using the corruption/ethics theme. One ad compared Doyle to disgraced Republican President Richard Nixon and another portrayed an animated image of Doyle evasively answering a mock reporter’s questions about the now contorversial conviction of a state bureacrat for rigging a state travel contract in favor of a Doyle campaign contributor. Doyle later canceled the contract but has refused to return campaign contributions he received around the time it was awarded.

In April 2006, the group launched a statewide radio ad campaign telling people to urge their state senator to support a proposed constitutional amendment, dubbed the Taxpayer Protection Amendment, to control tax increases. The advertisement also told people Doyle was opposed to the amendment and Green supported it even though a governor plays no role in approving or rejecting a proposed constitutional amendment.

In January 2006, the coalition joined the Alliance for Choices in Education and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce to air radio ads that told Doyle to lift the 15,000-pupil cap on Milwaukee private school voucher program, commonly known as school choice. The program uses state taxpayer money to pay for low-income Milwaukee school children to attend private schools. One of the ads likened Doyle to two southern white governors who tried to block school desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s by standing in schoolhouse entrances.

Doyle later expanded the program 50 percent to serve 22,500 pupils.

The group also ran ads in 2005 condemning provisions in Doyle’s proposed state budget to let illegal aliens receive in-state college tuition and to use state tax money to pay for domestic partner health care coverage.

In 2002, the group aired radio ads against Democratic Senator Jim Baumgart of Sheboygan and Kim Plache of Racine, who ended up losing their reelections.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2002

Forest County Potawatomi Community

The tribe, which owns a flourishing Milwaukee-based casino and opposes the Menominee Indians’ plans to build a mega-casino in Kenosha reportedly funnelled at least $1 million to the Greater Wisconsin Committee which spent more than $4 million on issue ad activity - most it on behalf of Democratic Governor Jim Doyle during the 2006 election year.

In May 2006, the tribe launched a two-week radio ad campaign in Milwaukee and other media markets urging Doyle to sign a proposal, Assembly Bill 461, which would give the legislature a role in approving off-reservation casinos. The tribe refused to disclose how much it spent on the 60-second ad, which reminds Doyle that he supported legislative approval of casino projects before he was elected governor. The ad campaign was part of the Potawatomi’s ongoing effort to stop the Menominee’s Kenosha mega-casino.

During the 2002 elections, the tribe spent an estimated $20,000 on genuine issue ads in the Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay media markets in September and October against a proposed mine near Crandon. In late October, it doled out an estimated $250,000 for sham issue ads supporting Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, and contributed another $200,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Within days of the contributions by the Potawatomi and others, the DNC sent back $1.23 million to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin to spend on a media blitz to support Doyle.

A few months after capturing the governor’s office, Doyle announced he had reached an agreement with the Potawatomi that allowed the tribe to substantially expand its gaming operations. The agreement was later declared unconstitutional and another agreement, which is also being challenged, was penned in late 2005 to let the tribe expand gaming in exchange for about $750 million in payments to the state over 25 years.

Before becoming governor, Doyle, as attorney general, routinely criticized Republican Governor Tommy Thompson’s gambling expansion policies starting in the early 1990s.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2004 2002

Greater Wisconsin Committee

The Greater Wisconsin Committee is a Milwaukee-based issue ad group formed in mid-2004 that uses negative radio, television and newspaper advertising and mailings to support Democratic candidates and oppose Republican candidates. Like other issue ad groups, the committee has refused to disclose its contributors, undraising and spending. The group draws its cash from labor, lawyer, tribal and business interests.

Some of the committee’s key personnel include Michelle McGrorty, the committee’s director who was granted immunity from prosecution to testify about illegal political fundraising activities in the State Capitol caucus scandal investigation. She was a fundraiser for former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, who was convicted of a felony in the scandal and sentenced to nine months in jail. Bill Christofferson, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle’s 2002 campaign manager, produces radio ads for the group.

The committee spent about $4.6 million on issue ads during the 2006 election cycle - most of it to help elect Doyle. The committee and separate political action committee and 527 group run by Greater Wisconsin received most of their money for their issue ad activity from from the Democratic Governors Association, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, the Potawatomi tribe and labor unions. Its 527 group alone reported nearly $1.7 million in contributions in 2006 from some of these same organizations.

In late October 2006, the group aired a controversial television advertisement against Republican attorney general candidate JB Van Hollen, blaming him for the death of a 16-year-old girl because as Bayfield County district attorney, Van Hollen allowed the assailant, an accused sexual predator, to remain free on bond in another sexual assault case.

The group also released a television ad telling viewers about the "wrong kind of friends" GOP candidate for governor Mark Green has made since becoming a congressman in 1998. Among those listed are convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley who resigned in disgrace over the congressional page scandal and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay who resigned his leadership post and seat in 2006 amid campaign finance law charges in the 2002 Texas legislative elections.

The group was also very active in October opposing incumbent GOP state senators, who then controlled that house by a 19-14 margin. It now has an 18-15 Democratic majority.

Greater Wisconsin went after 5th District Republican Senator Tom Reynolds for his opposition to stem cell research. It also launched television ads accusing GOP Senators Dave Zien and Ron Brown, both of Eau Claire, of backing state health care proposals that benefit only wealthy people and insurance companies that have made generous campaign contributions to both while supporting an increase in prescription drug costs for seniors.

Another ad also accused Zien and Brown of backing lower landfills fees that encourage the dumping of out-of-state trash in Wisconsin and supporting weak mercury emissions rules that increase water pollution and contaminate fish.

It also launched a 30-second television ad in October against Republican William McReynolds, a candidate for the hotly contested 21st Senate District open seat, accusing him bowing to drug companies and wealthy campaign contributors by opposing cheaper prescription drug imports from Canada and supporting tax deductible health savings accounts.

In July 2006, the group launched a radio ad that coincided with a visit by President Bush to raise money for Green. It accused Green of voting in favor of special interests that gave him big campaign contributions and with the Bush administration on a variety of issues, including college tuition aid cuts, veterans benefits and health care, at the expense of Wisconsin residents. "Bush is coming so the fat cats and special interests can reward Mark Green by writing him big checks," the ad said.

In June 2006, the group ran an ad in the Milwaukee radio market accusing Green of voting in favor of $8 billion in tax breaks for large oil companies that contributed to his congressional campaigns and against investigations into high gasoline prices. Green denied the claims and called the committee a secret, pro-Doyle front group.

In May 2006, the committee ran a 30-second advertisement in the Wausau, Milwaukee and La Crosse television markets criticizing Green for not pressuring the Republican-controlled Assembly to pass ethics reform. Assembly Republicans killed a proposal, Senate Bill 1, in early May that would have combined the state Elections and Ethics boards and increased their investigative powers. The ad said “Green did nothing when special interests and his own party killed it.”

The ad also implied he illegally used state workers to campaign in the mid-1990s when he was the GOP Assembly caucus chair. Green’s name was linked to the caucus scandal in testimony by legislative staffers in the trial of former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen who was later convicted on felony and misdemeanor charges.

In April, WDC reported Green supported a string of proposals since 2003 to loosen ethics standards for members of Congress.

In February and March 2006, the Greater Wisconsin Committee plunged into the governor’s race by slapping around Green and putative Republican gubernatorial candidate and Milwaukee county executive Scott Walker in radio and newspaper ads for saying they were not aware of rampant illegal campaign activity by state workers on state time while they served in the state Assembly in the 1990s. The ads featured comments from Republican colleagues and other insiders who implied Green, Walker and others are lying if they claim they did not know illegal campaign activity was going on.

At the same time the committee spent undisclosed amounts on a statewide issue ad criticizing a proposed constitutional amendment by GOP legislators to control spending by local governments known as the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” or the “Taxpayer Protection Amendment.”

In December 2005, the committee sponsored radio ads that slammed Republicans for pushing a legislative proposal – later vetoed by Doyle – it said protected lead paint manufacturers from liability.

In fall 2005, the committee received $300,000 from the Democratic Governors Association, a 527 group that can accept and spend unlimited corporate, tribal and individual contributions. A few days after getting the cash, the committee spent undisclosed amounts on television ads that praised Doyle for signing a budget that limits property tax increases, cuts individual taxes for some and boosts education spending.

In spring 2005, the committee ran radio ads ripping four Republican senators – Tom Reynolds, Cathy Stepp, Ron Brown and Joe Leibham – for opposing an increase in the state’s minimum wage.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2004

Republican Governors Association

This organization represents GOP governors and supports Republican candidate for governor Mark Green in his bid to unseat incumbent Democratic Governor Jim Doyle in 2006. As the campagin got underway, both the Republican group and it counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association, planned to spend large, undisclosed amounts of cash to pay for negative, phony issue advertising to help their candidate.

The group spent more than $2 million on broadcast advertising and mailings attacking Doyle, according to a media report.

In November, the group released a 30-second television ad blaming Doyle for a 70 percent increase in University of Wisconsin tuition since he became governor in 2002, and that tighter admissions policies are turning away Wisconsin applicants to the UW.

In October 2006, the group launched a 60-second television ad accusing Doyle of selling out Wisconsin taxpayers by negotiating lucrative gambling agreements for Wisconsin’s Indian tribes in early 2003, only months after three tribes gave the Democratic National Committee $725,000. The committee later transferred $1.2 million to the state Democratic Party to pay for pro-Doyle ads that have been deemed critical to his 2002 election victory. The ad concludes, "Four more years of Jim Doyle. Bad bet for us."

In September 2006, the Republican group aired an ad about the conviction of a state employee for rigging a state travel contract in favor of a big Doyle contributor. Prosecutors have said they found no evidence linking Doyle or any of his top aides to the employee’s actions.

In August 2006, the group’s first television ad used a cow auction as a backdrop while a narrator cited numerous state contracts that were awarded around the time the contract recipients made campaign contributions to Doyle. But a WISC-TV analysis of the advertisement said some of the claims needed clarification and that one claim that the Ethics Board was investigating the widening Doyle scandals was misleading. The group reportedly had spent $46,000 by the end of August to air the advertisement.

The advertisement followed a pricey golf and barbecue fundraiser sponsored by the group in Kohler that reportedly hoped to raise $750,000.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

The union represents service workers in a wide variety of professions including health care and public services. It uses direct political action committee contributions to candidates and independent spending by numerous locals both inside and outside of Wisconsin to support mostly Democratic candidates.

The union kicked off the 2006 election year in January by joining the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) to sponsor real issue ads targeting Wisconsin Representative Mark Green, a GOP candidate for governor, and 10 other Republican congressmen across the country. The television advertisements urged them to vote against a budget-cutting proposal to slash $40 billion from Medicare, Medicaid, student loan and other programs. The unions said they planned to spend about $500,000.

In 2004, SEIU locals made $23,076 in PAC contributions, but most of it, $17,500, went to Democratic Governor Jim Doyle who was not up for reelection that year. Two of its locals also spent an additional $6,900 on independent expenditures in a handful of Senate and Assembly races.

The union took a big gamble, and lost, in the 2002 governors race by backing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Falk instead of Doyle, who was the frontrunner. Four SEIU locals made $763,123 in independent expenditures, mostly on behalf of Falk. A total of eight SEIU locals inside Wisconsin as well as from Ohio, Louisiana and Los Angeles, CA contributed an additional $193,508 directly to the candidates. Most of those contributions went to Falk.

Independent Spending: 2004 2002

Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC)

The Wisconsin Education Association Council is the state’s largest teachers union, boasting 92,000 member teachers, educational support staff and technical college employees nationwide. WEAC and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business lobby group, traditionally spend more than any other special interests on lobbying, campaign contributions and electioneering activities. They rarely agree on policy and spending issues and generally support opposing candidates – WEAC usually backs Democrats and WMC Republicans.

Like WMC, WEAC has influenced dozens of legislative races and the governor’s contest with their outside electioneering activities.

WEAC spent about $200,000 on issue ads and another $2 million on independent expenditures in the 2006 election cycle.

In early August 2005, WEAC sponsored real issue ads in the Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay television markets applauding changes Doyle made in the 2005-07 budget after it passed the GOP-dominated Legislature. WEAC commended Doyle for increasing education spending by $437 million in 2005-07 and requiring the state to fund two-thirds of local education costs to prevent large property tax increases.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2004 2002

Independent Spending: 2006 2004 2003 2002 2000

Wisconsin Family Action Inc.

This group identifies itself as the lobbying tool of Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, which supported the so-called marriage protection amendment question on the November 2006 ballot.

Family Action contributed a total of $59,755 between August and October to the institute’s campaign committee, Vote Yes for Marriage, to help air more than $266,000 worth of phony issue ads in the Green Bay and Milwaukee television and radio markets from late October to Election Day.

At about the same time, Family Action spent an estimated $40,000 on a negative mailing against Democratic candidate Gordon Hintz in the hotly contested open seat in the 54th Assembly District in Oshkosh. The postcard pictures two men in tuxedos and says Hintz opposes the amendment. "Tell Gordon Hintz that’s just wrong! Marriage is between one man and one woman."

The mailing prompted the campaign treasurer for Hintz’s Republican opponent, Robin Makar, to publicly announce October 30 she had quit GOP candidate Julie Pung Leschke’s campaign the week before because of the large amount of outside money and negative advertising influencing the race. "I saw that postcard and it was just a lie," Makar told the Oshkosh Northwestern.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC)

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is the largest pro-business lobbying organization in the state. It was among four powerful special interest organizations referred to as one of the “four horsemen” – a Biblical reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who signal the end of the world – in a 2002 criminal complaint against former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen.

WMC was one of the grandfathers of outside special interest spending to influence public policy making and elections starting in 1996. Since then, it has spent millions of dollars in many legislative elections, special elections and the 2002 governor’s race on phony issue ads and independent spending. WMC does so in part to counter the same level of spending and influence by the state’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council. These groups are often policy polar opposites who each consider the other its nemesis.

Like other issue ad groups, WMC has consistently refused to disclose how much it spends on issue ads as well as the corporations and individuals who give them the money to pay for them. The Wisconsin Democracy campaign estimates the group spent about $5 million on the issue ads in the 2006 election cycle. It sponsored negative broadcast ads and mailings in the races for governor, attorney general and several legislative contests. (Senate districts 21, 23, 25 and Assembly District 54).

In early November, WMC, which spent $2.5 million on issue ads opposing Democratic attorney general nominee Kathleen Falk, aired another television ad saying Falk favored the early release of convicted burglars, arsonists and drug dealers whose sentences were already reduced by plea bargains in order to balance her budget. Falk has been Dane County executive since the mid-1990s.

In late October 2006, WMC finally took sides in the governor’s race, spending a reported $1.5 million on a 60-second negative television ad against Democratic Governor Jim Doyle that accused him of vetoing proposals that would have cut business taxes, reduced a person’s ability to sue a business for product injury and created health care savings accounts.

The group also launched radio ads in October, reportedly costing between $40,000 and $50,000, against Democrat Gordon Hintz, the Democratic candidate running for the open seat in the 54th Assembly District in Oshkosh. Like WMC’s ads in other races, these ads said Hintz was a pro-tax, anti-economic development candidate.

The organization pelted parts of Wisconsin’s radio and television markets with negative advertisements between July and September that attacked two Democratic state senate candidates in targeted races and Falk. The ads in the Senate races against Pat Kreitlow who is running against incumbent GOP Senator Dave Zien of Eau Claire and John Lehman who is running for the hotly contested open seat in Racine against Republican William McReynolds used a common theme to portray Kreitlow and Lehman as big-spending, pro-tax liberal Democrats.

The ads against Falk said she would be an anti-business attorney general who would scare away businesses and jobs by filing nuisance lawsuits against them, presumably for environmental violations. It was a reference to Falk’s job in the 1980s when she was the state Justice Department’s public intervenor, a position that no longer exists. It was reported the group spent more than $300,000 to air the ads in the Milwaukee, Green Bay, Wausau and Rhinelander markets.

In June 2006, WMC spent $4,200 to erect seven bright pink billboards in veteran Democratic Senator Robert Jauch’s northern Wisconsin district that proclaimed "Sen. Bob Jauch. Higher Taxes! Fewer Jobs! Call Senator Jauch today at 608-266-3510." Jauch issued two statements within days of the campaign, labeling WMC "high-financed cowards." He also challenged the group to send a representative to his district for a public debate about Jauch’s voting record on economic issues.

In February 2006, WMC resumed airing radio ads on another proposal by legislative Republicans to control tax increases by state and local governments and school districts –a so-called “Wisconsin Taxpayer Protection Amendment.” This time WMC partnered with a conservative group called Americans for Prosperity to pay for its ad campaign. The groups’ ad featured conservative Milwaukee talk show host Charlie Sykes.

The radio ad features a narrator, with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” playing in the background, who tells listeners “Our founders – who cherished frugality – never imagined Wisconsin would have the nation’s fifth highest taxes. High taxes that stifle job growth, stress our families and force our seniors to retire in Florida.”

In fall 2005, the group asked its members to cough up tens of thousands of dollars to run ads criticizing the Wisconsin Supreme Court for three decisions that WMC claimed would hurt the state’s economy, job creation efforts and scare off doctors. One ad asked listeners to pressure legislators and Doyle to approve bills that would control frivolous lawsuits “because lawsuits kill jobs and our families need jobs, not lawsuits.”

In June 2005, WMC sponsored radio ads to support a so-called property tax freeze by GOP legislators and pressure Doyle to support the freeze. Doyle later vetoed the proposal from the budget.

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2004 2003 2002 2000

Independent Spending: 2004 2000

Wisconsin Right to Life

This statewide, anti-abortion advocacy group has engaged in electioneering activities since 2000. It started out making independent expenditures of $69,417 in the 2000 elections and $16,738 in 2002. In 2004 it followed numerous other special interest groups that switched from making independent expenditures to phony issue ads so they did not have to disclose how much they were spending on election activities.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimates the group spent about $30,000 in October 2006 on a 60-second radio ad that said Republican candidate for governor Mark Green, who the group had endorsed, opposed abortion and embryonic stem cell research that allows human embryos to be destroyed, while Democratic Governor Jim Doyle supports a woman’s right to choose abortion as well as unfettered stem cell research.

Independent Expenditures: 2006 2003 2002 2000

Past Issue Ad Activity: 2004 2000