Influence Peddler of the Month - Republican State Leadership Committee (Update)

This Virginia-based group was created in 2002 and engages in electioneering activities around the country to support Republican and conservative candidates for legislative and statewide offices.

Recently, the group was active in a 10th Senate District special election held last month to replace longtime GOP Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, of River Falls, who resigned to become Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s agriculture secretary. The committee spent an estimated $25,000 on a radio ad – here – and a mailing to attack Democratic candidate Patty Schachtner, of Somerset, who ended up defeating Republican Rep. Adam Jarchow, of Balsam Lake.

The committee has been interfering in Wisconsin legislative and statewide elections since the 2010 fall elections, spending more than $2.9 million on disclosed independent expenditures as well as secret phony issue ads. Most of its electioneering activities are broadcast ads and mailings in about a dozen legislative races and three statewide contests for governor, lieutenant governor and Wisconsin Supreme Court justice.

Among the group’s initial targets in the 2010 legislative elections was then-Democratic Majority Leader Russ Decker, of Wausau, who was among numerous prominent state and federal Democrats to lose that year.

The committee also sponsored numerous outside electioneering activities during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, which were spurred by Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s successful plan to slash public employee collective bargaining rights. The group sponsored broadcast ads – here and here – attacking two Democratic senators. The ads said teachers’ union contracts hurt education by discouraging good teachers from coming to or staying in Wisconsin. Broadcast ads – here and here – in two other recall races also accused Democrats of voting against job creation measures and in favor of higher government spending and taxes.

In 2016 the committee spent about $114,000 to support conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Rebecca Bradley, who won a 10-year seat on the high court. A broadcast ad – here – sponsored by the group attacked Bradley’s Democratic opponent, an appeals court judge, for decisions in three cases before her.

Much of the group’s spending in Wisconsin has been fueled by individual and corporate contributors to the committee’s 527 group, which are tax-exempt political nonprofits that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from any source on elections. Wisconsin contributors gave the Republican State Leadership Committee nearly $1.7 million between January 2010 and June 2017. Top Wisconsin contributors to the committee’s 527 arm were:

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $407,535

American Transmission Co., about $279,000

Kwik Trip, about $189,830

Miller Coors Brewing Co., about $168,930

Forest County Potawatomi Community, $140,535

In addition to its outside electioneering activities in Wisconsin, the committee has a state political action committee (PAC) to contribute directly to Wisconsin candidates. Since January 2009, the PAC has made two contributions – one for about $12,940 to Republican Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and a $10,000 contribution to former GOP Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

Like many other special interests that engage in electioneering activities, the committee does not lobby on any of the state spending and policy issues that it uses to praise or attack candidates in its electioneering activities.