Wisconsin Attorney General’s Race Cost Record $14M

January 24, 2019

The 2018 Wisconsin attorney general’s race cost a record $14 million, with outside electioneering groups sharply outspending the candidates, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review shows.

A dozen special interest groups doled more than $9 million (see table below), which was 82 percent more than the three candidates, who spent more than $4.9 million.

Former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, who lost, and four groups that supported him spent $7.4 million compared to the nearly $6.6 million spent by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul and eight groups that supported him. Constitution Party candidate Terry Larson spent about $5,500.

The total cost of the 2018 attorney general’s race more than doubled the $6.5 million spent by candidates and groups in the last attorney general’s race in the 2014. Spending in the 2018 contest was 68 percent higher than the previous record $8.32 million doled out by candidates and groups in the 2006 attorney general’s race.

Four electioneering groups spent more than $1 million each on either reported independent expenditures or secretive phony issue ads. Most of their cash was spent on negative broadcast and digital advertising. The groups and the amounts they spent were:

Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), more than $2.8 million. This Washington, D.C.-based group used a corporation called Wisconsin Freedom PAC to sponsor television and online advertising, robocalls and other activities to back Schimel;

Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA), nearly $2.2 million. This Washington, D.C.-based group also used a corporation called the WI People’s Lawyer Project to mostly sponsor television ads to support Kaul;

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), an estimated $2 million. The state’s largest business group, which backs Republicans for legislative and statewide office, used its phony issue ad arm to mostly sponsor television ads to back Schimel and attack Kaul;

Greater Wisconsin Committee, an estimated $1.7 million. This Democratic group, which is backed by union and rich ideological contributors, used its issue ad arm to mostly sponsor television and online advertising to support Kaul.

The Democracy Campaign calculated the cost of the races for governor and attorney general using campaign finance reports filed by the candidates and some of the outside electioneering groups; fundraising and spending reports filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service by some electioneering groups; and television ad buys by outside electioneering groups that did not have to file fundraising and spending reports with the state.

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

Spending by Outside Groups in the 2018 Attorney General’s Race



Republican Attorneys General Association $2,833,949
Democratic Attorneys General Association $2,180,854
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce* $2,000,000
Greater Wisconsin Committee* $1,700,000
Planned Parenthood $182,147
For Our Future $57,892
AFSCME $38,505
Center for Popular Democracy Action $18,695
NRA Political Victory Fund PAC $14,571
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation $8,367
Leaders Igniting Transformation Action Fund $454
Voces de la Frontera $20
TOTAL $9,035,454


*Estimated spending for undisclosed issue ad activity