Money Flowing to Power

The vast majority of the donations went to majority party lawmakers who control the budget process, with Senate Democrats and Assembly Republicans holding a substantial fund-raising advantage over minority party members in their respective houses of the legislature.


The Story of Incumbent Fund Raising During the First Six Months of 1999

September 7, 1999


As a new state budget was being shaped, more than $875,000 in campaign contributions poured into legislators and leadership-run legislative campaign committees in the first half of 1999. The vast majority of the donations went to majority party lawmakers who control the budget process, with Senate Democrats and Assembly Republicans holding a substantial fund-raising advantage over minority party members in their respective houses of the legislature (Charts 1 and 2). Senate Democrats, who cling to a razor-thin 17-16 majority, led the way with $299,786 in contributions.

  • Individual Senate Democrats raised $246,533. Of these donations, more than half ($126,813) came from individual contributions of $100 or more, and $89,134 came in contributions of less than $100. The remaining $30,586 came from special interest political action committees (PACs) and the campaign committees of other legislators.
  • Contributions to the leadership-controlled State Senate Democratic Committee (SSDC) totaling $53,253 came almost exclusively from PACs, with $44,850 coming from the special interest committees and only $8,403 coming from individuals.

Assembly Republicans, who control the lower house by a 54-45 margin, raised $294,183 for the six-month period.

  • That included $228,889 to individual members, of which $137,253 came from individual donors of $100 or more, $89,636 from donors giving less than $100, and $2,000 came from PACs. Of the amount raised by the 54 Assembly Republicans, nearly half went to the personal campaign fund of Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen.
  • In addition, the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee (RACC) collected $65,294, most of which came from PACs ($58,750) while $6,544 came from individual contributors.
Minority Assembly Democrats came in a distant third, raising $164,035.
  • Of that, $78,485 went to individual Assembly Democrats -- $43,356 from $100-and-over contributors, $31,292 from donors giving less than $100, and $3,200 from PACs.
  • The Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee (ADCC) collected $85,550 -- $24,933 from PACs and $60,617 in individual donations, with only $5,420 in amounts of $100 or more.
Minority Senate Republicans brought up the rear with contributions of $117,711.
  • Individual Senate GOP legislators raised $99,046 -- $66,850 from $100-and-over donors, $22,596 in contributions less than $100, and $9,600 from PACs.
  • The Committee to Elect a Republican Senate (CERS) raised $18,665, with $16,800 coming from PACs and candidate committees, and $1,865 coming from individuals.
These figures show that the fund-raising base for individual legislators and for the legislative campaign committees is very different. Legislators raise most of their money in individual contributions of $100 or more. The legislative campaign committees turn to PACs for most of their money.


Two Republican legislators lead the list of top fund raisers. However, the most striking feature of this list is the that eight Senate Democrats, all of whom are up for election in 2000, round out the top 10 fund raisers.

  • Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen of Waukesha (R) $100,819
  • Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills (R) $49,750
  • Senator Alice Clausing of Menomonie (D) $43,822
  • Majority Leader Charles Chvala of Madison (D) $33,411
  • Senator Gary George of Milwaukee (D) $29,975
  • Senate President Fred Risser of Madison (D) $26,852
  • Senator Kevin Shibilski of Stevens Point (D) $23,295
  • Senator Robert Wirch of Kenosha (D) $20,981
  • Senator Roger Breske of Eland(D) $17,223
  • Senator Gwen Moore of Milwaukee (D) $15,055
Of the more than $100,000 raised by Speaker Jensen, more than $70,000 was from individuals in amounts more than $100. He employed a fund-raising technique used by candidates in statewide elections to raise this money for his personal campaign committee. For a $125 contribution, a person can become a member of the Speaker’s Club, and in a new twist, he formed an Inner Circle for those willing to pay $250.

Jensen’s top contributors were lawyers and law firms ($7,000), manufacturers and distributors ($6,413), health professionals ($6,101) and insurance interests (6,026).

Of the $49,750 raised by Senator Darling, $43,125 came in individual donations of $100 or more, two-thirds of which came from within her affluent suburban Milwaukee district. Darling’s fundraising profile is an illustration of the advantages of residing in a wealthy area. Banking and finance interests ($9,325) head the list of her contributors, followed by lawyers and law firms ($4,625).

Senator Clausing, on the other hand, raised $30,850 of her $43,822 in contributions of $100 or more, almost all from outside her western Wisconsin district. Only 4 percent of her $100-and-over donations came from within her district. Her top contributors were lawyers and law firms ($4,600), followed by agricultural interests ($2,850).

Of the $2,850 she received from agricultural interests, $2,550 came from cranberry growers. Before this year, Clausing had not received any contributions from cranberry growers. Also, the contributions of cranberry growers during this six-month period to Senators Shibilski ($1,600) and Breske ($1,300) exceeded the total amount given to these candidates for all their previous campaigns.

Senator Clausing chairs the Senate Agriculture, Environmental Resources and Campaign Finance Reform Committee that will not only deal with legislation and administrative rules important to the cranberry growers, but also will deal with campaign finance reform legislation.

Senator Chvala raised $20,156 of his contributions from individuals in amounts of $100 or more. His top contributors were utilities and energy interests ($3,501), other business interests ($3,000), and health care interests ($2,11). His utility contributions were raised primarily during an event organized in the Green Bay area. Senator Chvala is known to play a major role in helping his members with their fund raising.


More than $419,000 of the contributions given to legislators can be assigned to interest group categories. Of this amount, $215,703 went to Republicans and $203,619 went to Democrats. The main feature of the pattern of special interest giving is the extent to which both parties depend on the same sources to fund their campaigns (Charts 3 and 4).

The Republicans and Democrats share three out of each of their top four special interest categories of contributors: banking and finance, business, and health professionals. Lawyers and law firms are first for Democrats, and manufacturing & distributing interests complete the top four for the Republicans.

The next two sources for the Republicans are lawyers and law firms (first for the Democrats) and the general construction industry.

The next two major sources of contributions for the Democrats, driven primarily by committee contributions, were labor unions and political givers dominated by Senator Rod Moen’s committee, which gave $9,000 to his colleagues. These are followed by manufacturing & distributing interests (second for the Republicans).


The ADCC raised the most money of all four of the legislative campaign committees (Chart 5). However, its pattern of fund raising is dramatically different from the other three. More than 70% of ADCC’s money came from individuals, mostly in contributions less than $100. Most of the $24,933 raised from political committees came from labor union PACs.

For the other three legislative campaign committees, the percentage of money raised from political committees is closer to 90%. This demonstrates again the dominant role played by PACs in financing the legislative campaign committees. More than 70% of all the money raised by the four committees from PACs went to the RACC and SSDC -- more evidence that "money flows to power" in Wisconsin politics.

Most of the major PACs contributed to the legislative campaign committees during this budget process (Table). Several gave the maximum contribution of $6,000 allowed in a year to one of these committees. Most, including some labor union PACs, gave across the political divide.

Charts and Table

Chart 1

Chart 1: Total Individual and PAC Contributions

Chart 2

Chart 2: Campaign Contributions ot Individual Legislators

Chart 3

Chart 3: Special Interest Contributions to Republican Lawmakers 1999

Chart 4

Chart 4: Special Interest Contributions to Democratic Lawmakers 1999

Chart 5

Chart 5: Contributions to Legislative Campaign Committees 1999


Realtors PAC $0 $6,000 $0 $1,000
Volunteers for Agriculture $0 $6,000 $500 $500
Wisconsin Education Assn. Council PAC $2,000 $2,000 $2,000 $500
Ellis to Madison Committee $0 $0 $0 $6,000
Plumbers & Gasfitters Local $0 $0 $6,000 $0
Wis. Better Government Action (Miller Brewing) $0 $5,500 $0 $500
Republican Party of Wisconsin $0 $5,000 $0 $0
Firstar Corp. Civil Affair $1,000 $0 $4,000 $0
Wis. Teamsters Joint Council $0 $0 $5,000 $0
Ameritech State PAC $250 $2,000 $2,500 $0
Wis. Builders/Building a Better Wis. $0 $0 $3,000 $1,500
Wis. Bankers Assn. PAC $0 $2,000 $2,000 $500
Banc One PAC $500 $1,000 $2,000 $500
Professional Firefighters of Wis. $2,000 $1,500 $0 $500
Wis. Physicians PAC $0 $2,500 $1,000 $500
Amoco PAC $0 $3,000 $1,000 $0
Wis. People Conference (AFSCME)  $0 $200 $3,000 $0
Transportation Political Education $3,000 $0 $0 $0
United Auto Workers State PAC $3,000 $0 $0 $0
Operating Engineers Local 139 $3,000 $0 $0 $0
Tavern Industry PAC $0 $3,000 $0 $0
General Electric PAC $500 $2,500 $0 $0
Wisconsin Restaurant Assn. PAC $0 $1,500 $500 $500
Coastal Employee Action Fund $0 $2,500 $0 $0
Waste Management Employee PAC $0 $0 $2,500 $0
Pfizer PAC $0 $2,500 $0 $0
Blue Cross & Blue Shield $0 $1,500 $500 $250
M&I Political Awareness Fund $400 $800 $400 $400
WPL Holdings (Wisconsin Power & Light) $0 $1,500 $0 $500
Wis. Electric Power Better $0 $0 $2,000 $0
Wis. Laborers District Council $2,000 $0 $0 $0
Vol Con/Better Gov. (Fort Howard) $0 $2,000 $0 $0
American Family PAC $0 $500 $500 $500
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance $500 $0 $1,000 $0
Wis. Insurance Alliance PAC $500 $0 $500 $500
Democratic Party of Wisconsin $1,265 $0 $0 $0
Friends of Jeff Plale $1,000 $0 $0 $0
Wis. Truck Operators $0 $500 $500 $0
Lawyers Active in Wis. $0 $500 $0 $500
American General Finance $0 $0 $1,000 $0

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