October 7, 2015
About 30 dark money groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence state and federal elections received a total of $1.2 million from Wisconsin contributors during the first half of 2015, and about two-thirds of it went to groups that support Democrats.
These so-called 527 groups, which are named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules that govern them, are run by a host of powerful special interests, like business, health care, manufacturing, energy, transportation, and conservative and liberal ideological concerns. The groups may raise money from any source and many of them spend it on broadcast ads, mailings, automated phone calls and other electioneering activities to praise or smear Democratic and Republican candidates at election time.
The Wisconsin contributions to these groups came from individuals, unions, businesses, trade organizations and political committees that state and federal campaign finance laws frequently restrict or prohibit from giving directly to candidates.
Fundraising and spending reports filed with the IRS show Democratic-leaning 527 groups received substantially more than GOP-leaning 527 groups from Wisconsin contributors during the first six months of 2015. Democratic 527s received about $777,000, or 65 percent, of the Wisconsin contributions, compared to about $417,400 for Republican 527 groups.
Four 527 groups received more than $100,000 from Wisconsin contributors during the first six months of 2015. They were:
- Wisconsin Progress, in Madison, which received about $343,000 mostly from unions and individuals. The group’s top Wisconsin donors were Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein, $130,000, and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, $40,000. Wisconsin Progress recruits, trains and supports Democratic candidates for state and local offices;
- ActBlue, a national PAC created in 2004 to raise money for Democratic candidates for state and federal offices, raised about $133,000 from mostly individuals and political campaigns. The group’s top Wisconsin donors were former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold’s campaign committee, nearly $44,000, and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, nearly $6,200;
- Republican Governors Association receive about $131,000 from three contributors – American Transmission Co., of Waukesha, $100,000; Integrys Business Support, of Green Bay, $25,000; and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce, $6,250. The Washington, D.C. group, which spends tens of millions of dollars to elect GOP governors nationwide, has spent $18.4 million in Wisconsin since 2010 to support Republican Gov. Scott Walker;
- Republican State Leadership Committee, which supports GOP legislative candidates throughout the country, got about $118,000 from Wisconsin contributors. The group’s top state donors were American Transmission Co., $50,000; Kwik Trip, of La Crosse, $30,000; Miller Coors Brewing, of Milwaukee, $25,000; and Integrys Business Support, $12,000. The Virginia-based group has spent about $2.4 million since 2010 on Wisconsin legislative elections.