May 13, 2019
Special interest groups spent $226.1 million on legislative and statewide elections over the past 10 years, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.
Groups that backed Republican and conservative candidates spent more than $108.4 million and groups that backed Democratic and liberal candidates spent nearly $101.2 million between January 2010 and April 2019. Outside groups spent nearly $16.5 million to support or oppose “nonpartisan” and independent candidates.
Outside electioneering groups represent a wide variety of powerful business, conservative and liberal ideological, and labor interests that bombard voters with often false and negative advertising and mailings. Special interests sponsor independent expenditures, which they have to disclose, and phony issue ads, which they don’t have to disclose. Their aim is to elect candidates who will back their agendas, which are often at odds with the public interest.
Nineteen outside electioneering groups have spent $2 million or more since 2010. The top spenders were:
Greater Wisconsin Committee, $40.8 million, to support Democratic and liberal candidates in legislative and statewide elections. The group discloses little about its fundraising but gets the bulk of its cash from labor unions and Democratic ideological groups, like the Democratic Governors Association, that are also supported by wealthy business interests. Greater Wisconsin operates a political action committee, corporation, issue ad group and a 527 organization;
Republican Governors Association, $29.5 million, to support former GOP Gov. Scott Walker. The group, which spends tens of millions of dollars to elect Republican governors across the country, used ACC Wisconsin PAC and Right Direction Wisconsin PAC to sponsor its Wisconsin electioneering activities. The group raises much of its money from wealthy individual and corporate special interests using a 527 organization;
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, $25.1 million, the state’s largest business organization generally supports Republican and conservative candidates for legislative and statewide offices with undisclosed issue ad spending and independent expenditures. Like the top two electioneering groups, WMC spends much of its electioneering budget on negative broadcast ads.
The races for governor drew the most interference from outside groups, which spent a total of $117.3 million in the 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2018 contests. Electioneering group spending set a record $40.6 million in the governor’s race last year.