Hijacking Campaign 2004: Issue Ads

Groups that made issue ads during the 2004 fall elections.
Hijacking Campaign 2004

Issue Ads

Posted: May 27, 2005
Updated: July 28, 2005

Groups that made issue ads during the 2004 fall elections.

All Children Matter

All Children Matter is a right-wing group formed in Spring 2003 based in Michigan advocating school choice in the form of private school voucher programs and charter schools. Milwaukee school choice advocates, George and Susan Mitchell, represent the group in Wisconsin (see Alliance for Choices in Education). This group reportedly sought to influence about 16 state legislative races. WDC confirms the following efforts. The group ran issue ad campaigns by direct mail in the 22nd, 30th and 32nd Senate districts. The mail pieces supported Republican Senate candidate Dan Kapanke (SD 32) and attacked Democratic incumbent Senators Robert Wirch (SD 22) and Dave Hansen (SD 30). They attacked Wirch and Hansen for their lack of support of a property tax freeze and made a veiled and unsubstantiated charge that they would send tax dollars to schools in Milwaukee at the expense of schools in their own districts. In a separate mailing, ACM quoted a Green Bay Press-Gazette article from November 2002 that called for Hansen’s resignation for being a part of "politics as usual in Madison." There were reports of similar activity attacking the opponents of Republican incumbents Senator Sheila Harsdorf (SD 10) and Representatives Mark Pettis (AD 28) and Eugene Hahn (AD 47).

This group is headed by Michigan multimillionaire Dick DeVos, whose family is connected to Amway Corporation. DeVos’ wife Betsy served for several years as the chair of the Michigan Republican Party. Her brother, Erik Prince, is the founder and owner of Blackwater Security Consulting, the private tactical training facility providing security forces in Baghdad. School choice advocate George Mitchell represents the group in Wisconsin, and has said ACM spent more than $500,000 to influence state legislative elections in 2004.

Alliance for Choices in Education (ACE)

The Alliance for Choices in Education (ACE) is a non-profit advocacy organization that promotes parental school choice programs in the Milwaukee area. Headquartered in Milwaukee, ACE’s Board of Directors include a number of representatives of area private schools, and Dr. Howard Fuller, Institute for the Transformation of Learning, Susan Mitchell, Vice Chair, School Choice Wisconsin, Dr. Daniel Grego, Secretary, TransCenter for Youth, Inc., and Tim Sheehy , Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

ACE ran issue ads for their "Lift the Cap" campaign. Based on information from the liftthecap.org web site, beginning in the spring of 2004, thousands of "Lift the Cap" yard signs, banners and bumper stickers were distributed in neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee. This was the beginning of a grassroots effort to mobilize community support for lifting the cap on the number of enrollments in Milwaukee’s school choice program. They were utilizing a real "issue ad" campaign urging citizens to call Governor Doyle and ask him to "Lift the Cap." As noted on their web site, they were utilizing radio commercials on urban contemporary and news talk stations, television commercials during Sunday morning news shows, billboards and bus signs throughout Milwaukee, and print advertisements in community newspapers and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In 2002 Fuller and Mitchell were both leaders in the American Education Reform Council (AERC), now known as the Alliance for School Choice. AERC lobbying arm, the American Education Reform Foundation, was a national organization headquartered in Milwaukee that supports school choice and school vouchers. Susan and her husband, consultant George Mitchell, have long been substantial financial contributors in Wisconsin state politics. Since 1993 the Mitchells have contributed more than $56,000 to candidates for state office. Other financial backers of the group have included the Lynde and Harry Bradley and John M. Olin Foundations which provided the Council with $1.3 million between 1998 and 2001. Wal-Mart heir and prominent school voucher proponent John Walton provided nearly $1 million dollars between 1999 and 2000. In addition, a conduit called Funds for Choice in Education and chaired by George Mitchell funneled more than $109,000 to candidates for state office during the 2001-2002 election cycle and more than $101,000 to legislative candidates in the 2003-2004 election cycle.

Americans for a Brighter Tomorrow Inc.

Americans for a Brighter Tomorrow is a special interest advocacy organization formed to support Democratic candidates in the 2004 elections. A group based in Salem, Oregon with this name is registered with the Internal Revenue Service under section 527 of the IRS code, but their director commented that they have no connection to the group operating in Wisconsin. ABT ran issue ads attacking Republican candidate Dan Kapanke and supporting Democrat candidate Brad Pfaff in the La Crosse-area 32nd Senate District race to replace retired Senator Mark Meyer. The group also sponsored ads attacking Republican candidate Brett Davis and supported Democrat candidate Gof Thomson in the 80th Assembly District race to replace retiring Republican incumbent Mike Powers. The radio ad, in the spirit of Halloween, suggested that because Davis was a "slave to corporate special interests" he had become "Brett Davis, the right wing zombie!"

Both the Kapanke and Davis campaigns publicly denounced these negative ads and claimed that ABT is tied to Chris Miklos, a former staffer to indicted state Senator Chuck Chvala.

Citizens for Wisconsin’s Future

Citizens for Wisconsin’s Future (CWF) ran three television ads targeting the 89th Assembly District race. CWF’s ads suggested Assembly Speaker John Gard ignores the needs of the people in his district because he lives in the Madison suburb of Sun Prairie and is closely tied to corporate special interests in Madison.

In 2002, a group with the same name ran ads supporting Jim Doyle for Governor that lauded his positions on education, affordable health care and economic prosperity. The group remained active after the election, airing statewide radio ads in March 2003 in support of the new gaming agreements that Governor Doyle negotiated with Wisconsin’s Indian tribes. The group was linked to an individual named Sheila Corbine. Someone by that name was at that time the Attorney General of the Ho-Chunk Nation and a judge for the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Court.

Forest County Potawatomi Community

In the Fall 2004 Elections the Community paid for a half page ad in the Oshkosh Northwestern newspaper that was distributed the day before the November Elections. The ad supported the Republican incumbent Gregg Underheim in the 54th Assembly District by touting his positions on pro-business votes in the last session. The Forest County Potawatomi spent an estimated $1,600 on this race.

Forest County Potawatomi Community was responsible for a large television ad campaign in the 2002 gubernatorial campaign around the issue of banning cyanide mining and the Crandon Mine.

Greater Wisconsin Committee

Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC) is described as a Democratic-leaning progressive issue advocacy group, based in Milwaukee, and whose board is largely represented by financially secure members such as Don Layden of Wauwatosa, Brent Smith of La Crosse, David Cross of West Bend, Greg Wesley of Milwaukee, and John Raihala of Madison. Barb Candy, a long time Democratic fund raiser, is reported to be their fund raiser. The group has declined, and is not required by law, to disclose how much cash the group has raised or to name who is funding it, but did announce that donations would be sought from "any individual, business, labor group or trade organization that shares its view on public policy issues."

GWC was formed in the summer of 2004 to promote education and health care reform and other issues they suggest make up "the people’s agenda." Joan Clark, executive director at the time, publicly commented that they formed specifically to refocus debates away from morally divisive and polarizing issues like TABOR, concealed carry, and gay marriage. TABOR was a proposal introduced by Assembly Republican majority members at the latest possible moment in the 2003 session that would have amended the Wisconsin Constitution to limit state and local spending. This group did anti-TABOR ads about 3 weeks after their formation and in the Fall 2004 Elections. Former Republican Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus was recruited by the GWC to record automated phone calls and radio ads urging residents to call their legislators and insist that the proposed amendment be set aside.

In the fall 2004 campaign, GWC did issue ads supporting Democrats in districts with open elections: Brad Pfaff (32nd Senate District), Gail Frie (96th Assembly District), Joe Bee Xiong (68th Assembly District), and Gof Thomson (80th Assembly District). The radio ads were aired in mid-October. One touted Mr. Pfaff’s plan for health care and prescription drug coverage. Some ads highlighted the reason one Republican assembly member (Representative DuWayne Johnsrud, 80th Assembly District) chose not to run for re-election: "[he] couldn’t stand it anymore...his own party, the Republicans, were making his life miserable...he said extremists were in charge..." Ads continued by noting that these "extremists" are more interested in "taking care of their special interest friends than tackling the real issues like health care, jobs and education." The ads touted the Democratic candidates by suggesting they believe these priorities are "out of whack" and that each of these Democrats want new priorities that represent "the people’s business ahead of fringe issues."

GWC was very busy in the final week before the elections. They paid for direct mailings and broadcast ads denouncing Republican candidates Gary Drzewiecki (challenger in the 30th Senate District), Reince Priebus (challenger in the 22nd Senate District) and Dan Kapanke (32nd Senate District) for their "extreme positions" against women’s reproductive health choices. They did a mailing in the La Crosse area attacking Republican candidate Lee Nerison (96th Assembly District) on his attempts to "fool" voters on his tax policy voting record. Additionally, three full-page ads in the Kenosha News were run attacking Reince Priebus (and supporting Senator Wirch) for his tax policies and health care plans which they say would each benefit the wealthy and shift the burdens to working families. MTI Voters, Madison Teachers Inc’s political action committee, reported a $2,500 contribution to GWC for issue ad-related expenditures.

Michelle McGrorty, GWC executive director following the Fall 2004 Elections, used to work for Chuck Chvala in the Senate Democratic Caucus and is identified in an April 2001 memo from Tony Driessen, a lobbyist with Quarles & Brady, about Chvala’s fundraising practices as a "full-time staff person for political fundraising." McGrorty also was one of the caucus staffers granted immunity from prosecution by criminal investigators in exchange for information during the caucus scandal investigation.

At the end of April 2005, the Greater Wisconsin Committee began running radio ads denouncing Republican Senators Stepp, Reynolds, Leibham and Brown on their positions against the proposal to raise the minimum wage in Wisconsin. GWC is expected to continue issues advocacy into the 2006 gubernatorial election.

Pro-Life Victory, Inc.

Pro-Life Victory, Inc. is the issue advocacy organization of Pro-Life Wisconsin Victory Fund. Pro-Life Wisconsin Victory Fund supports candidates who oppose abortion. Their political action committee was active in Fall 2004 only in the Republican Primary of the 20th Senate District, spending nearly $800 on a direct mail piece that supported challenger Glenn Grothman who successfully ousted Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer. Their Fall General Election activities focused on issue advocacy which discussed the "civic and political responsibilities of Catholics," and ended by urging they vote for right to life candidates.

Wisconsin Citizen Action

Wisconsin Citizen Action’s self-described mission is advocacy of social, economic and environmental justice. In 2003 WCA spent undisclosed amounts on a television issue ad campaign supporting Milwaukee-area assembly Democratic candidate Al Foeckler.

In the fall 2004 legislative election, WCA ran negative issue ads against the following Republicans: first-term incumbent Becky Weber (5th Assembly District); candidate Lee Nerison (open 96th Assembly District); candidate Terry Moulton (open 68th Assembly District); candidate Dan Kapanke (open 32nd Senate District); challenger Andy Lamb (29th Assembly District); and challenger Reince Priebus (22nd Senate District). The Lamb and Priebus ads also supported the incumbent Democrats, Joe Plough and Bob Wirch respectively.

The Weber ad’s message focused on corruption in the Legislature and said "something happens when people breath that State Capitol air." The ad also attacked Weber’s voting record, saying she "voted right down the line for a Republican agenda that puts corporations and the wealthy ahead of people who deserve help.... Just whose side is Becky Weber on?"

Most activity was done in the final week before the General Election. Radio ads against Assembly candidates Moulton and Lamb focused on skyrocketing health care costs. Moulton was charged with worrying that Wisconsinites "won’t pay enough for health care;" Lamb was accused of joining existing Assembly Republicans in support of policies that increase health care costs. In at least three mail pieces, Lee Nerison (AD 96) was attacked for his support of the current "extremist Republican agenda," the same agenda they say drove out retiring Republican Representative DuWayne Johnsrud. Radio ads and direct mail pieces charged Kapanke and Priebus, as Senate candidates, with supporting more corporate tax breaks and other tax policies that would shift the tax burden to Wisconsin families.

WCA also has a political action committee that made more than $25,000 in independent expenditures during the 2004 campaign.

Wisconsin Education Association Council

The Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) represents public school teachers, educational support personnel, technical college employees, and student teachers in Wisconsin. Through its political action committee, it has a history of spending more money in elections than any other special interest group through direct PAC contributions, independent expenditures and issue ads.

In 2004 WEAC conducted a direct mail campaign targeting Republican Assembly Speaker John Gard (89th Assembly District) for advancing the "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" legislation (TABOR) without public input, and for supporting private and religious schools in Milwaukee with public funds while advocating statewide public school funding cuts. The TABOR piece highlighted articles written by Donald Kettl, UW-Madison political science professor, reprinted from the Wisconsin State Journal earlier this year. One article connected this legislation to a "tightly coordinated crusade of national conservatives to ‘starve the beast’ they see as government spending;" the other highlighted the "high-tax myths" that are said to misguide legislative debate away from what really matters.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Issues

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is the state’s largest pro-business lobbying organization. It uses its political action committee (PAC), Concerned Business and Industry, and its conduit, Capitol Gains Club, to make direct contributions to candidates. Concerned Business and Industry also does independent expenditures. WMC, through its Issues Mobilization Council (IMC), helped pioneer the use of phony "issue ads" in Wisconsin politics in the 1996 elections.

Even though it is illegal to use corporate money for political activities in Wisconsin, WMC admits use of corporate money for its "issues ads." It has conducted issue ad campaigns in every election cycle since 1996, reducing drastically their publicly disclosed PAC activities along the way.

Shortly after the 2004 September 14 Primary, WMC ran Milwaukee and Kenosha TV and radio ads targeting state Democrat incumbent Senator Robert Wirch, 22nd Senate District. These ads urged viewers and listeners to contact Wirch’s office about his opposition to a property tax freeze proposal in 2003. Radio ads were paid for by the Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce Foundation whose parent organization is WMC. They are estimated to have paid $200,000 - $250,000. This amount far exceeds the amounts raised and spent by either candidate in this race.

In addition to these broadcast ads, a print ad was published a number of times by WMC IMC in the Kenosha News that same week, as well as on the day before the General Election, promoting his opponent’s commitment to the property tax freeze. This blatant endorsement of Wirch’s Republican opponent said, "Reince Priebus is committed to putting the Freeze on property taxes...Call Reince Priebus...and tell him we need a property tax freeze! Reince Priebus. Hard to pronounce. Hard to forget." Wisconsin Realtors Association is noted to have assisted with the cost of running this ad.

WMC ran broadcast ads in the 12th Senate District against Democrat incumbent Roger Breske and in support of Dan Kapanke, a Republican running for an open seat in the 32nd Senate District. This ad touted Kapanke’s support for regulatory reform and job creation, ending the ad with "Dan Kapanke. Working hard to keep you working." Local airwaves in northern Assembly District 36 aired WMC-IMC ads supporting Republican candidate Jeff Mursau in the open seat vacated by Republican Lorraine Seratti.

Radio ads aired closer to Election Day were billed as an important message for taxpayers or a "taxpayer alert" from the Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce. The ads were critical of Wisconsin property taxes and attacked Wirch’s vote against a proposed property tax freeze. They also claimed he sponsored a plan to "give state bureaucrats a $421M taxpayer-funded pension sweetener." Listeners were urged to call Senator Wirch and tell him to freeze property taxes and stop the "pension give-aways."

Another ad used an elderly widow portrayed as concerned about the difficulties of living at home alone. She claimed 32nd Senate District candidate Brad Pfaff lacked understanding about seniors’ need for property tax freeze, and applauded Dan Kapanke’s support of the freeze. Similar ads were used to target Democrats Gary Sherman (Assembly District 74 ) and Joe Plough (Assembly District 29) but were paid for by Concerned Business and Industry PAC as registered independent expenditures.

WMC acknowledged spending more than $500,000 on state races in 2004, but the figure was probably much higher given the number of ads produced.

Wisconsin Realtors Association

The Wisconsin Realtors Association helped pay for the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Issues Mobilization Council phony issue ad targeting Senator Wirch (see WMC IMC for details). The Realtors Political Action Committee reported paying for billboard ads that oppose Senator Wirch, ads in support of his opponent Reince Priebus, and support Republican candidate Dan Kapanke in the open 32nd Senate District in the La Crosse.

Through its conduit and PAC, the Realtors Association is one of the largest contributors to Wisconsin candidates. It also uses its PAC to make independent expenditures.

Wisconsin Right to Life

Wisconsin Right to Life’s electioneering activity in 2004 appears to have involved only undisclosed issue ads. WRL joins the ranks of many of the big spending special interest groups that have gone below the radar with their efforts to influence state elections. In 2002, the anti-abortion lobbying group ranked 13th among interest groups in so-called "independent expenditures,"disclosing campaign spending in 69 Assembly races and 12 Senate races. In 2000, WRL was the 7th highest spender in legislative races, reporting campaign spending for or against candidates in 64 Assembly districts and eight Senate districts. In 2004, WRL reported no independent expenditures to influence state races. Yet the group issued a press release immediately following the election trumpeting a "one net pro-life seat gain in the Assembly and a one net pro-life seat gain in the State Senate" and boasting that it was the "only organization on either side of the abortion issue who can claim responsibility" for electoral gains.

WRL produced a direct mail flyer distributed in the Stevens Point area predicting how candidates for state and federal office would vote on the abortion issue and asking readers to vote in the November 2 election. In late October WRL reported to the state Elections Board a list of candidates that the group was potentially targeting for independent expenditures but nothing further was filed. The group also posted an extensive list of endorsed candidates on its website. WRL claims that it reached over 100,000 households with phone calls and mailings for state legislative candidates and says radio ads "on behalf of state legislative candidates" reached hundreds of thousands. The group claims it also distributed literature door to door and in churches. But not a penny of the expense of this statewide effort was publicly disclosed.