Influence Peddler of the Month - Democratic Governors Assocation

October 1, 2018

The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) plans to spend sharply more on electioneering activities this year than in any previous governor’s race in the Badger State.

The Wisconsin governor’s race is among a handful being targeted by the DGA and other state and national Democratic and Republican groups that hope to reduce the GOP’s grip on statehouses. Currently, Republicans hold 33 governorships compared to 16 by Democrats and one by an Independent.

Earlier this year, the DGA, which raises and spends tens of millions of dollars annually to help elect Democratic governors nationwide, pledged to spend $3.8 million in Wisconsin to help elect whoever wins the Democratic nomination. Voters picked Tony Evers, the state’s school superintendent, in the August primary to face GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who is vying for a third four-year term.

In the past, the DGA has directly spent very little on Wisconsin races for governor – only about $36,000 during the election to recall Walker in 2012.  In the 2006 and 2010 general elections and the 2012 recall race for governor, the group funneled more than $4.4 million mostly to the Greater Wisconsin Committee to spend. There was no sign of activity by the group in the last 2014 race for governor in Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) has been one of the top-spending outside electioneering groups in state elections since January 2010, doling out an estimated $18.4 million to smear Walker’s Democratic opponents in 2010, 2012 and 2014. The RGA said it would spend more than $5 million this year to help Walker.

This time around the DGA is sponsoring its own outside electioneering activities through a phony issue ad group called A Stronger Wisconsin.

The group’s electioneering activities include at least $2.2 million in television time around Wisconsin from late August until Nov. 6. The DGA ads – here, here, here, here, and here – mostly accuse Walker of letting the state’s roads, education, and health care systems languish since he was first elected in 2010. The group also sponsored digital ads that hammered Walker on the same three topics.

Between January 2010 and June 2018, more than 200 Wisconsin individuals and businesses contributed nearly $862,000 to the DGA through its 527 group, including about $69,700 during the first six months of this year. The top Wisconsin contributors to the group since January 2010 were:

Johnson Controls, of Milwaukee, $480,710

American Transmission Co., of Waukesha, $100,350

EMM Holdings LLC, of Milwaukee, $50,000

Laura Peracchio, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor, $30,000

Petro Energy LLC, of Onalaska, $25,000

Cynthia Torhorst, of Milwaukee, a former aide to Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, $25,000

Renaissance Learning, of Madison, $20,000

527 groups, which are frequently used by ideological, trade, labor, and other special interest groups and number in the hundreds, are named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service rules that regulate them. These entities can raise and spend unlimited amounts from any source on electioneering activities like broadcast ads and mailings to smear or praise Democratic and Republican candidates in state and federal elections.

The 527 and other outside electioneering groups are attractive to wealthy special interests because they allow contributors to skirt state and federal campaign finance laws. In many cases, the source and size of the contributions to the DGA and other 527 groups would be illegal if they were direct contributions to state and federal candidates and committees.