Wisconsin Contributors Gave Record $3.6M in First Half of 2018 to Unregulated Groups

July 30, 2018

Nearly four dozen special interest groups that raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to hijack state and federal elections received a record $3.6 million from Wisconsin contributors during the first half of 2018, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.

The contributions went to so-called 527 groups, which are named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules that govern them. The organizations are run by a host of powerful special interests, like business, health care, manufacturing, energy, transportation, and conservative and liberal ideological concerns.

The previous record for Wisconsin contributions during the first six months of any year to 527 groups was $2.7 million in 2014. The new record is 33 percent higher.

Of the $3.6 million from Wisconsin donors during the first six months of this year nearly $2.3 million, or 63 percent, went to Republican or conservative groups, about $1.2 million, or 34 percent, went to Democratic or liberal groups, and about $102,000 went to groups that were bipartisan or didn’t support either party.

The Wisconsin contributors included individuals, unions, businesses, trade organizations, Indian tribes, and political committees that state and federal campaign finance laws frequently restrict or prohibit from giving directly to candidates.

527 groups may raise money from any source and many of them spend it on negative broadcast ads, mailings, automated phone calls, and other electioneering activities to praise or smear Democratic and Republican candidates at election time.

The top 527 groups and the amount they received from Wisconsin contributors in the first six months of 2018 were:

The Republican Governors Association, Washington, D.C., nearly $1.9 million. The group’s mission is to elect GOP governors throughout the country. It spent $18.4 million to help Republican Gov. Scott Walker win his 2010 general, 2012 recall, and 2014 reelection, and it will likely spend millions more in the coming months to help Walker win a third, four-year term in November.

The Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, Madison, $734,500. This 527 group is one of four arms of the Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC), which supports Democratic legislative and statewide candidates. The group spends money on disclosed and undisclosed electioneering activities, and frequently transfers cash between its issue ad, 527, PAC, and corporate arms to hide its fundraising activities. GWC gets most of its support from unions and Democratic ideological groups.

Republican State Leadership Committee, Arlington, Va., $196,350. This group was created in 2002 to support Republican and conservative candidates for legislative and statewide offices around the country. It started interfering in Wisconsin state elections in 2010 and has since spent more than $2.9 million on disclosed independent expenditures as well as secret phony issue ads.

The top Wisconsin contributors to 527 groups during the first half of 2018 were:

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), in Madison, the state’s largest business group, gave $1.25 million to the Republican Governors Association;

Greater Wisconsin Committee funneled $485,000 to its 527 group, the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund;

Robert and Patricia Kern 1992 Revocable Trust, of Waukesha, $250,000. Robert and Patricia Kern founded Generac Power Systems. The couple are longtime givers to Republican and conservative candidates and causes in Wisconsin and throughout the country.