State Parties, Legislative Campaign Committees Take $1.1M+ in Corporate Contributions

February 4, 2020

The state Democratic and Republican parties and four legislative fundraising committees accepted more than $1.1 million in corporate contributions in 2019, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign preliminary review found.

The state Republican party and the two GOP legislative fundraising committees accepted about $882,800, or 78 percent, of the corporate contributions. The state Democratic Party and the two Democratic legislative fundraising committees raised about $250,600, or 22 percent of the corporate contributions.

The parties and committees and the amount of corporate contributions they accepted in 2019 were:

Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, $438,707

Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $393,185

Republican Party of Wisconsin, $50,910

State Senate Democratic Committee, $115,000

Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, $79,450

Democratic Party of Wisconsin, $56,143

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s review of corporate contributions shows potential violations by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), a national 527 group, and potentially by the recipients of those funds. The DLCC gave more than any other corporation last year: $60,000.

First of all, the DLCC appears to have contributed more than it was allowed.

State campaign finance laws allow a contributor to make up to $12,000 a year in corporate contributions and $12,000 a year in PAC contributions to each party and legislative campaign committee. The corporate contributions must be placed in segregated funds, since the recipients are prohibited from giving the funds to candidates or using the funds for express advocacy.

The DLCC has no state or federal PAC, so it is limited, as a corporation, to giving $12,000 a year to a legislative campaign committee. But in 2019, the DLCC gave three $12,000 donations to the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee for a total of $36,000 – three times the allowable limit.

Secondly, it appears that two of these contributions to the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee went into the SSDC’s regular campaign account instead of a segregated account. The third one was reported as a corporate contribution and was placed appropriately in a segregated account.

Lastly, the DLCC also gave $12,000 to the Wisconsin Democratic Party, and that donation appears to have been reported as a PAC contribution and appears to have gone into the party’s regular campaign account instead of a segregated account.

The DLCC also gave $12,000 to the Wisconsin Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, but this one was handled appropriately.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is filing complaints about these discrepancies with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission.

The other corporate contributions came from business, union, tribal and trade associations representing a wide array of special interests, including business, real estate, manufacturing, tourism, energy, construction, and telecommunications.

The top corporate contributors to the parties and committees in 2019 were:

Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, Washington, D.C., $60,000 to the state Democratic Party and the two Democratic legislative campaign committees;

Charter Communications, St. Louis, MO, $44,000 to the four legislative campaign committees;

Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, Madison, $43,000 to the four legislative campaign committees;

Wisconsin Realtors Association, Madison, $40,000 to three legislative campaign committees and the state GOP;

WEC Energy Group, Milwaukee, $36,000 to the four legislative campaign committees.

The $1.1 million-plus in corporate contributions in 2019 was third-highest in the last four years.

Corporate contributions from previous years totaled:

Nearly $1.7 million in 2018;

More than $1.2 million in 2016;

More than $1 million in 2017.

Corporate contributions, like other political fundraising, were lower in odd-numbered, non-election years compared to even-numbered election years when fundraising is more active.

Corporate contributions were allowed for the first time in 2016 under sweeping changes to state campaign finance laws by the GOP-controlled legislature and former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. For more than 100 years prior to this, corporate contributions were illegal.