2018 Governor’s Race Cost Record $93M+

January 24, 2019

Spending by the candidates and outside electioneering groups who smeared them in the 2018 governor’s race set a record of more than $93 million, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Republican candidates and the special interest groups that supported them spent an estimated $57.7 million, which was about 63 percent higher than the more than $35.3 million spent by Democratic candidates and groups. Minor party candidates spent about $32,550.

The 20 major and minor party candidates for governor, and the two major party lieutenant governor candidates who won their primaries, spent more than $52.4 million. Former GOP Gov. Scott Walker and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, led candidate spending with nearly $36.2 million. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, spent a combined $10.8 million.

Independent expenditures and phony issue ad groups often funded by wealthy, secret contributors that represent ideological, business, and labor interests, spent $40.6 million (see table below). Groups that supported Walker and Kleefisch spent about $21.5 million and groups that supported Evers and Barnes doled out more than $18.6 million. Three groups also spent about $427,000 to support unsuccessful primary candidate Mahlon Mitchell.

The more than $93 million spent in the 2018 governor’s race was 14 percent higher than the previous record $81.8 million spent by candidates and groups in the 2014 governor’s race. Spending in the 2018 governor’s race was 2.5 times more than the $37.4 million spent just eight years ago in the 2010 governor’s race (see bar chart).

Governor Candidate and Special Interests Spending 2018

Five groups spent more than $1 million in the governor’s race. Those groups were:

Democratic Governors Association (DGA) , more than $13.4 million. This Washington, D.C., organization used a phony issue ad group called A Stronger Wisconsin to pummel Walker with nearly a dozen television ads from late August until Election Day. The DGA attacked Walker mostly on education, transportation, and health care;

Republican Governors Association (RGA), more than $11.1 million. The RGA, also based in Washington, D.C., used two entities, Right Direction Wisconsin PAC and ACC Wisconsin PAC to sponsor numerous television ads from September until Election Day that attacked Evers, who was the state school superintendent, for failing to discipline teachers for misconduct, and on tax and spending issues;

Americans for Prosperity, more than $8 million. The conservative group created by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch made reported independent expenditures and secret phony issue ads to sponsor TV ads and mailings that praised Walker for state spending on education and claimed Evers would raise property and gas taxes and end the state’s controversial school voucher program;

Greater Wisconsin Committee, about $1.5 million. This Democratic group, which is backed by union and rich ideological contributors, used its corporation and a 527 group to sponsor at least two television ads that attacked Walker for his frequent plane trips to events around the state and accused the former governor of cutting taxes to benefit wealthy campaign donors;

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), $1.2 million. The state’s largest business group, which backs Republicans for legislative and statewide office, used its phony issue ad arm to sponsor television ads to back Walker and accuse Evers of using state money meant for teacher pay in order to increase salaries for state Department of Public Instruction administrators.

The Democracy Campaign calculated the cost of the governor’s race using state campaign finance reports filed by the candidates and some electioneering groups; fundraising and spending reports filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service; and television ad buys made by outside groups that did not have to disclose their spending.

For more details about the spending and electioneering activities of all the electioneering groups, go to the Democracy Campaign’s “Hijacking Campaign 2018” feature.

Spending by Outside Groups in the 2018 Governor’s Race

GroupAmount
Democratic Governors Association* $13,450,000
Republican Governors Association $11,146,273
Americans for Prosperity** $8,035,698
Greater Wisconsin Committee $1,515,724
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce* $1,200,000
NRA Political Victory Fund PAC $940,585
For Our Future $737,498
Service Employees International Union $718,672
Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters $651,833
NextGen Climate Action Committee $433,536
AFSCME $402,422
Strong Wisconsin $331,024
Planned Parenthood $220,230
End Citizens United Non-federal $125,000
Center for Popular Democracy Action $121,697
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation $110,224
Fair Wisconsin $102,372
Voces de la Frontera $96,280
MoveOn.org Political Action $76,480
Republican State Leadership Committee* $50,000
American Federation of Teachers $27,620
AFL-CIO $26,845
Wisconsin Right to Life* $25,000
Forever Wisconsin Fund $20,000
Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin $15,699
Citizens for Responsible Government $5,134
Sierra Club Political Committee $5,099
Wisconsin First Political Fund $2,245
Citizen Action of Wisconsin $634
Leaders Igniting Transformation Action Fund $308
Wisconsin Family Action $205
WEAC Region 7 PAC $35
TOTAL $40,594,372

No asterisk represents disclosed spending by independent expenditure groups.
* Estimated spending for undisclosed issue ad activity .
** Estimated spending for undisclosed issue ads and disclosed independent expenditures.