Special Interests Spent $19 Million On State Elections

Smear groups fueled by business, union and ideological interests spent about $19 million on mostly negative broadcast advertising and mailings to influence the 2010 races for statewide office and the legislature, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review shows. Special Interests Spent $19 Million On State Elections

Two-thirds of the money spent by outside groups was raised from secret sources

January 4, 2011


Independent expenditure groups, which must file fundraising and spending reports with the state, doled out $9.9 million on races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the legislature. These 30 groups include political action committees and corporations representing business, labor, agriculture, education, gun and abortion interests among others.

The other culprits – 10 phony issue ad groups – spent an estimated $9 million on statewide and legislative races. Phony issue ad groups represent many of the same special interests as independent expenditure outfits but poor disclosure rules do not require these groups to publicly disclose their fundraising or spending.

The Democracy Campaign found:

  • Only $6 million of the $19 million spent by these special interest groups came from donors identified in state and federal reports filed by the groups. About $3.1 million of the $9.9 million spent by independent expenditure groups was raised from individuals and committees identified in state reports. In addition, a report filed by one of the groups with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service revealed it raised about $2.9 million for issue ad spending.

Some independent expenditure groups reported spending millions of dollars but only identified a small number of the contributions they received. For instance, the Republican Governors Association’s RGA Wisconsin 2010 PAC identified only $31,190 in individual contributions but the PAC spent $3.48 million on the election.

In other cases, groups reported contributions as coming from themselves. The Republican State Leadership Committee, which spent $935,726, reported contributions of $772,091 from the Republican State Leadership Committee. Likewise, Advancing Wisconsin which reported spending $558,895 to elect Democratic candidates, reported contributions of $270,500 from itself.

A third batch of groups, including the Wisconsin Education Association Council – the state’s largest teachers union – and the National Rifle Association’s PAC reported total individual contributions of about $1.7 million but labeled their totals as “unitemized” contributions presumably because the money was member dues that did not have to be identified.

  • About a million dollars more was spent by outside groups on behalf of Republicans than Democrats. The groups spent about $10 million to back Republican legislative and statewide candidates compared to nearly $9 million spent to support Democratic candidates.
  • These special interest groups spent money on outside activities to influence 98 of 116 legislative races in November, including at least $1,000 in 28 races the helped flip Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly.
  • The biggest spending outside special interest groups were the Greater Wisconsin Committee and the Republican Governors Association both of which operate independent expenditure and phony issue ad arms. The Greater Wisconsin Committee which backs Democratic candidates spent an estimated $5.4 million and the Republican Governors Association spent an estimated $5 million (Table). Both groups spent all or most of their money in the governor’s race.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee’s issue ad arm – the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund – spent an estimated $3 million – based largely on reports filed by its 527 group of the same name. A 527 group is so-named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service rules that require them to file disclosure reports. In addition, the Greater Wisconsin Committee PAC reported spending $1.73 million and its corporate entity reported spending $636,009.

The Republican Governors Association, which back GOP candidates for governor nationwide, spent an estimated $5 million, including $3.48 million reported by its state PAC and an estimated $1.5 million on issue ads.

Two other groups also spent more than $1 million each in the elections. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business organization which runs phony issue ads, spent about $2 million to support Republican candidates in races for the legislature and governor. The Wisconsin Education Association Council’s PAC reported spending $1.6 million in four state Senate races and the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.

For more information about these groups and to see and hear some of their electioneering activities please visit the “Hijacking Campaign 2010” feature.

Spending By Outside Electioneering Groups In The 2010 Elections

Group Amount
Greater Wisconsin Committee** $5,370,000
Republican Governors Association** $5,000,000
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce* $2,000,000
Wisconsin Education Association Council PAC $1,599,094
Republican State Leadership Committee $935,726
Building a Stronger Wisconsin** $850,000
American Federation for Children** $820,000
American Justice Partnership* $600,000
Advancing Wisconsin $558,895
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin $150,827
Jobs First Coalition* $150,000
NRA Political Victory Fund PAC $149,540
Volunteers for Agriculture PAC $132,120
Americans for Limited Government* $125,000
Club for Growth Wisconsin* $100,000
Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters PAC $68,439
Citizens for a Progressive Wisconsin $68,105
Wisconsin Professional Police Association PAC $65,141
Voces de la Frontera Action Committee $27,719
Citizen Action of Wisconsin $27,262
Citizens for Fox Valley Jobs $25,000
New Prosperity Foundation $17,000
Operating Engineers Local 139 PAC $13,086
Wisconsin Family Action* $10,000
MTI Voters PAC $9,177
Wisconsin Right to Life $9,030
Fair Wisconsin PAC $5,956
Corn PAC $2,773
UIPAT PAC (painters and allied trades union) $2,382
Citizens for Southwest Wisconsin $1,942
Koch Industries $1,612
Northwoods Patriot Group $284
Pro-Life Wisconsin Victory Fund PAC $219
TOTAL $18,896,329

*Phony issue ad group and estimated spending.
**Includes phony issue ad estimated spending and reported independent expenditures.