Record Outside Spending Set in AG Race

November 1, 2018

Outside electioneering groups have already spent a record amount on the 2018 state attorney general’s race.

Reported independent expenditures by express advocacy groups totaled more than $4.9 million as of Thursday morning, according to a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis. That’s almost five times the previous record for express advocacy groups. And that doesn’t count estimated spending by at least two phony issue groups involved in the race.

Express advocacy groups sponsor broadcast and online advertising, mailings and other electioneering activities that use the magic words “vote for” or “vote against” or their equivalents. Phony issue ad groups sponsor similar activities that praise or smear candidates, but do not have to report their fundraising and spending because they do not explicitly tell viewers how to vote.

Express advocacy spending in the previous four attorney general races – in 2014, 2010, 2006 and 2002 – ranged from $2,263 to just over $1 million. Total spending by express advocacy and phony issue ad groups in those past attorney general races ranged from $2,263 to $3.9 million, which was the old outside spending record set in 2014.

The outside spending so far in this election was done by 10 groups. The vast majority of reported spending was done by two out-of-state groups that raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from any source to elect Republican and Democratic state attorneys general nationwide.

The Republican Attorneys General Association has doled out more than $2.7 million through its Wisconsin Freedom PAC on mostly negative television ads attacking Democratic candidate Josh Kaul.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Attorneys General Association has spent about $1.9 million, mostly on television ads to oppose incumbent GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel.

Planned Parenthood, which supports Kaul, was a distant third in spending at about $182,150.

The two phony issue ad groups involved in the race are Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), which support Schimel, and the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which support Kaul, have both run television ads in the race. A final report that estimates their spending will be issued later this year by the Democracy Campaign.