August 23, 2019
Pro-Democratic electioneering groups in Wisconsin raised five times as much as their Republican counterparts in the first half of 2019. All told, three dozen special interest groups that raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence state and federal elections received nearly $3.2 million from Wisconsin contributors during this period, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.
The contributions went to 527 groups, which are named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules that govern them. The Wisconsin contributions came from nearly 300 individuals, businesses, unions, trade groups, and tribes representing a host of powerful special interests like health care, manufacturing, transportation, business, and liberal and conservative ideological outfits.
Nearly $2.7 million, or 84 percent, of the Wisconsin contributions went to Democratic-leaning 527 groups, and about $497,600, or 16 percent, went to Republican 527 groups. 527 groups often use those contributions to sponsor negative broadcast ads, mailings, robocalls, and other electioneering activities to smear or praise Democratic and Republican candidates.
The nearly $3.2 million in Wisconsin contributions to these groups between January and June is a record for the first six months of an odd-numbered year. The overall record for contributions to 527 groups from Wisconsin was $3.6 million in the first six months of 2018.
Five 527 groups received $100,000 or more from Wisconsin contributors.
- Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, about $1.3 million. This 527 group is one of four electioneering arms operated by the Madison-based Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC), which supports Democratic and liberal candidates for legislative and statewide offices. GWC regularly transfers cash between its four entities to hide its fundraising activities. GWC gets most of its overall support from unions and Democratic ideological groups. About $600,900 in contributions to this 527 group came from GWC’s issue ad arm and political action committee. High Ground Action Fund, an independent expenditure group based in Milwaukee that supports Democrats, gave $500,000 to the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund.
- Democratic Governors Association (DGA), $570,165. This Washington, D.C.-based group raises money to elect Democratic governors nationwide. In 2018, the DGA used a phony issue ad group called A Stronger Wisconsin to sponsor an estimated $13,450,000 to help elect Democratic Gov. Tony Evers last November. The DGA’s top Wisconsin contributors in the first half of 2019 were the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $250,000; Ho-Chunk Nation, Black River Falls, $100,000; and $50,000 each from U.S. Venture, Appleton; American Transmission Co., Waukesha; and the Forest County Potawatomi Community, Crandon.
- LGBTQ Victory Fund, formerly called the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, $516,200. This Washington D.C.-based group works to increase the number of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender public officials nationwide. The group’s top Wisconsin contributor is Milwaukee County Executive and multi-millionaire philanthropist Chris Abele, who gave it $515,000. Abele sits on the group’s board and regularly gives the group six-figure donations.
- Republican State Leadership Committee, $181,316. This is an Arlington, Va.-based group that was created almost 20 years ago to support conservative and Republican candidates for legislative and statewide offices across the country. Last year, the group spent just over $1 million in six legislative races and to support former GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Its top Wisconsin contributors were the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $100,000; Miller Coors Brewing, Milwaukee, $25,745; Kwik Trip, La Crosse, $25,658; and American Transmission Co., $25,000.
- Forest County Potawatomi Action Fund, $100,000. This 527 group is funded and operated by the Forest County Potawatomi Community, based in Crandon. The tribe operates a casino in Milwaukee and has frequently contributed to GOP-leaning 527 groups in recent years, like the Republican Governors Association and Republican State Leadership Committee.