Unfair Fight

Legislative officeholders who auctioned off two state budget bills to attract special interest campaign contributions have built up a 14-1 cash advantage over challengers with only three months to go before the November elections, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows. Unfair Fight

Legislative officeholders have 14-1 cash edge on challengers

August 1, 2002

Madison -

Campaign reports that cover the first six months of 2002 available at the state Elections Board show that legislative officeholders had $3.19 million on hand as of June 30, compared with $227,288 held by their challengers.

Legislative officeholders also raised substantially more money than challengers - $933,568 versus $271,651 - during the first six months of the year, thanks in part to a protracted debate on a state budget adjustment bill that allowed lawmakers to pump special interests for contributions in exchange for adding breaks and other special interest benefits to the proposal.

Candidates for the legislature’s 19 open seats, which are legislative districts where no incumbent is seeking reelection, had $182,850 in their accounts.

"Now it’s clear why half of the candidates in this year’s legislative races face no major party opposition. The campaign finance system is rigged in favor of the current officeholders," Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe said, citing an earlier WDC analysis showing that candidates in 57 of the 116 legislative contests do not have a major party opponent. In 49 races candidates are unopposed altogether, not even facing minor party opposition.

The fundraising figures cover 99 Assembly races and 17 senators in odd-numbered districts facing reelection this year. The analysis does not cover senators in even-number districts who do not face reelection this year, and does not include Senator Brian Burke because he is not seeking reelection to the Senate.

The largest disparity between officeholders and challengers regarding cash on hand was in the Assembly where current members up for reelection held a 33-1 advantage over challengers. Senate incumbents held a 6-1 advantage over their challengers.

Table 1
Cash on Hand

State Assembly Candidates State Senate Candidates
Officeholders $2,214,096 Officeholders $979,535
Challengers $67,613 Challengers $159,675
Open Seats  $97,778 Open Seats $85,072

Officeholders in the Assembly and Senate topped the list of those with the largest campaign war chests (see table 2 below), including Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, a Brookfield Republican who had the largest cash balance of all legislative candidates - $333,763. Democratic Senator Kimberly Plache of Racine had the second largest balance among legislative candidates and the largest war chest among Senate candidates with $192,213.

Table 2
Largest Campaign Cash Balances

State Assembly Candidates State Senate Candidates
Speaker Scott Jensen - R  $333,763 Kimberly Plache - D     $192,213
Sheldon Wasserman - D   $108,805 Michael Ellis - R $190,149
Antonio Riley - D $100,176 Judy Robson - D $94,151
Mark Gundrum - R $83,650 Dale Schultz - R  $75,789
Shirley Krug - D $79,267 Russell Decker - D $72,821

Unlike those with the largest war chests, the largest fundraisers in the first six months of 2002 include challengers in targeted Senate races (see table 3 below) such as southeastern Wisconsin’s 21st Senate District where Republicans Cathy Stepp and John Knuteson will face off in a primary to determine who challenges Plache. Republican Representative Joseph Leibham is the challenger in another targeted Senate race for the 9th District held by Democratic Senator James Baumgart.

Table 3
Top Legislative Fundraisers

State Assembly Candidates State Senate Candidates
Speaker Scott Jensen - R $49,529 Cathy Stepp - R (challenger) $60,387
Rep. Antonio Riley - D $31,568 Joseph Leibham - R (challenger) $53,626
Rep. JA Hines - R $26,092 John W. Knuteson - R (challenger) $51,057
Rep. Mark Gundrum - R $24,651 Sen. Kimberly Plache - D $47,348
John Dickert - D (challenger) $23,96 Sen. David Zien - R $32,860

Overall, legislative candidates had a total of $3,603,769 in their campaign accounts as of June 30, a 1 percent increase over the $3,555,507 they had on hand at the same point in 2000. Fundraising by all legislative candidates totaled about $1.43 million in the first half of 2002, compared with $2 million in the first half of election year 2000.

The primary reason for the drop in fundraising from the 2000 election year is this year’s races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general which are diverting contributions from the legislative races. Governor Scott McCallum drew $1.6 million, much of it in large contributions, from traditionally Republican donors, while the four-way Democratic primary attracted millions in contributions from traditionally Democratic contributors (see table 4 below). All told, 12 candidates in the three statewide races collectively took in $4.8 million in the first six months of 2002.

A more apt comparison might be to compare the campaign balances and fundraising totals for the first half of the 1998 election year when there were races for governor, lt. governor and attorney general. This year’s $3.6 million in total legislative cash balances as of June 30 was 62 percent higher than the $2.22 million in campaign coffers as of June 30, 1998. Fundraising so far this year was 11 percent ahead of the $1.29 million raised by all legislative candidates by June 30, 1998.

Table 4
Constitutional Offices

Name/Party June 30 Cash Balance Jan-June 2002 Fundraising
Scott McCallum - R $1,601,949 $1,611,152
James Doyle - D $1,760,772 $905,738
Tom Barrett - D $1,418,352 $657,595
Kathleen Falk - D $610,432 $542,474
Gary George - D* $34,909 $143,162
Ed Thompson - L $155,150 $145,195
Name/Party June 30 Cash Balance Jan-June 2002 Fundraising
Margaret Farrow - R $83,180 $48,097
Kevin Shibilski - D $441,340 $243,318
Barbara Lawton - D $75,115 $100,342
Name/Party June 30 Cash Balance Jan-June 2002 Fundraising
Vince Biskupic - R $187,834 $214,231
Peg Lautenschlager - D $92,587 $127,861
Brian Burke - D* $291,462 $56,288
TOTALS $6,753,076 $4,795,453

* George was removed from the ballot by the State Elections Board on July 31 and Burke dropped out of race May 10, 2002.