March 6, 2018
Nearly two-thirds of the Wisconsin contributions made in 2017 to special interest groups that can raise and spend unlimited cash to influence state and federal elections went to groups that mostly back Republicans.
About 40 so-called 527 groups, which are political nonprofits named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service rules that govern them, received a record $4.5 million from Wisconsin contributors in 2017. Republican-leaning 527 groups received more than $2.8 million, or 63 percent, and Democratic-leaning groups received almost $1.7 million, or about 37 percent, of the Wisconsin contributions.
527 groups are run by a host of powerful special interests, like business, health care, manufacturing, energy, transportation, and conservative and liberal ideological concerns. The Wisconsin contributions to these groups came from individuals, unions, businesses, trade organizations and political committees that state and federal campaign finance laws frequently restrict or prohibit from giving directly to candidates.
Topping the list of 527 groups that received Wisconsin contributions in 2017 were:
- Republican Governors Association, $1.7 million. The top Wisconsin contributors to the group were the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $637,500; the Shannon 2006 Revocable Trust, which is controlled by Republican mega-donors Mike and Mary Sue Shannon, of Brookfield, $250,000; and the Forest County Potawatomi tribe, of Crandon, and Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks, owner of ABC Supply, $200,000 each.
The Washington, D.C.-based association, which spends tens of millions of dollars to elect GOP governors nationwide, has spent $18.4 million in Wisconsin since 2010 to support Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who was also selected as the group’s 2017 chairman. In addition to the outside electioneering support, the group contributed $86,000 to Walker’s campaign and $12,000 to the state Republican Party last December.
- Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, $825,200. The Washington, D.C., group received all of its Wisconsin contributions in 2017 from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a businessman and philanthropist who traditionally supports Democratic candidates and groups. The Fund backs lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender candidates for public office throughout the country.
- Republican State Leadership Committee, nearly $393,000. This Virginia-based group e ngages in electioneering activities around the country to support Republican and conservative candidates for legislative and statewide offices. The organization’s top Wisconsin donors in 2017 were the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $151,500, Forest County Potawatomi, $75,000, and American Transmission Co., which builds high-voltage electric transmission lines throughout the Upper Midwest, $50,000.