Wisconsin Contributors Gave Record $10.3M to Electioneering Groups in 2018

March 6, 2019

Nearly 800 Wisconsin contributors gave a record $10.3 million in 2018 to political nonprofit groups that sponsor electioneering activities to influence state and federal elections.

More than $6 million, or 59 percent, of the Wisconsin contributions went to Democratic groups and nearly $4.3 million, or 41 percent, went to GOP groups. About $15,500, or two-tenths of 1 percent, went to groups that supported both major parties or neither party.

The contributions went to 527 groups loosely regulated by the IRS. These groups can raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash. The groups are used by conservative and liberal ideological outfits, as well as special interests like business, manufacturing, transportation, and health care, among others. The Wisconsin contributions came from individuals, unions, businesses, trade groups, tribes and political committees that are often restricted or prohibited from giving directly to candidates by state and federal campaign finance laws.

The 2018 contributions from Wisconsin beat the previous even-numbered election year record of more than $8.7 million set in 2014.

Seventeen Wisconsin contributors gave $100,000 or more and three contributors doled out more than $1 million to 527 groups in 2018. The top three contributors were:

Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC) and its political action committee, $2,150,000. GWC operates four entities that spend millions of dollars to support Democrats for state and local offices. All of the contributions went to the group’s 527 organization, the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund. GWC often transfers cash between its issue ad, 527, PAC and corporate arms to mask its fundraising activities.

In addition to its 527 activity, GWC spent an estimated $7 million on independent expenditures and phony issue ads to help elect Democrats to legislative and statewide offices last fall.

WMC Jobs Fund, $1,250,000. This is an independent expenditure committee used by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state's largest business group. WMC’s 527 contribution went to the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which spent more than $11.1 million last year to back Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s unsuccessful bid for reelection. The RGA received a total of $3.1 million from Wisconsin contributors in 2018 – the most Wisconsin contributions of any 527 group.

In addition to its 527 contribution, WMC spent an estimated $5.3 million on independent expenditures and phony issue ads to help elect Republicans to legislative and statewide offices last fall.

High Ground Action Fund, $1,025,000. This Milwaukee-based organization supports Democratic and progressive causes and candidates. The group gave $1 million to A Stronger Wisconsin, a secretive state issue ad group operated by the Democratic Governors Association that spent more than $13.4 million to support Democrat Tony Evers’s win over Walker. High Ground also contributed $25,000 to the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund. Earlier, High Ground spent $90,000 in independent expenditures in last spring’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race.