May 1, 2018
(This profile updates information and figures in a previous July 2015 feature.)
The Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC) has spent more on outside electioneering activities in legislative and statewide races than any other special interest group to date.
The Madison-based group spent an estimated $32 million from January 2010 through the 2018 spring elections on electioneering activities, like mailings and broadcast ads, to support Democratic candidates and attack Republicans.
GWC makes disclosed independent expenditures and undisclosed phony issue ads through four entities, including an issue ad groups, a 527, a corporation, and a political action committee. Fundraising and spending reports filed with the IRS by its 527 group and the state for its PAC and corporation over the years show GWC gets most of its electioneering cash from democratic ideological groups and unions.
The GWC’s top Wisconsin contributors to its 527 group, the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, include some of its other entities, which shows they use them as a shell game to mask their fundraising and spending. The top reported Wisconsin contributors between January 2010 and December 2017 are:
Greater Wisconsin Committee issue ad arm, about $2.25 million;
Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the state’s largest teacher’s union, $1.2 million;
We Are Wisconsin Political Fund, a group of state and national labor unions mostly active during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, $893,500;
Lynde B. Uihlein, of Milwaukee, director of the Brico Fund and a Milwaukee philanthropist who backs Democratic and women’s causes and candidates, $331,000;
Greater Wisconsin PAC, $273,700.
Despite its big spending, GWC has a mixed record in legislative and statewide elections.
In 2006, GWC spent more than $4 million to back Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s successful reelection. But then the group blew $16.9 million in the 2010 general, 2012 recall and 2014 general elections in failed attempts to defeat Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
The group also spent an estimated $1.5 million the 2006 and 2014 attorney general races to back Democratic candidates who lost.
The group spent more than $6.1 million in seven Wisconsin Supreme Court races between 2007 and 2018 but only three of the candidates it supported won their elections.
In legislative elections, Greater Wisconsin spent an estimated $8.5 million between 2006 and 2016, but both the Assembly and Senate have been controlled by Republicans most of that time, except for the 2009-10 legislative session and a portion of the 2011-12 legislative session.
Greater Wisconsin does not lobby on state policy and spending proposals at the State Capitol. Instead, Greater Wisconsin concentrates on attacking Republican legislative and statewide candidates, most often with negative broadcast advertising, on such issues as:
Cuts to public education. The group often accuses Walker and the GOP-controlled legislature of cutting state support for public education to pay for tax cuts and state giveaways to powerful special interests and campaign contributors – here, here, here, here, and here;
Cuts to health care programs and opposition to women’s health care servic