December 3, 2018
This Washington, D.C.-based group spent nearly $2.2 million in the homestretch of the Nov. 6 elections to help elect Democrat Josh Kaul as Wisconsin’s new attorney general.
The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) is a 527 group that raises money from wealthy business and other special interests to help elect Democratic attorneys general throughout the country. DAGA, which was formed in 2002, also provides consulting, candidate training and other services for Democratic attorneys general and candidates.
This was the first year the group sponsored electioneering activities in Wisconsin. DAGA used a corporation called the Wisconsin People’s Lawyer Project to make reported independent expenditures on behalf of Kaul’s campaign. Kaul defeated incumbent GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel by 17,190 votes.
DAGA’s spending on behalf of Kaul was for television and online advertising that attacked Schimel.
The group’s television ad accused Schimel of cutting plea deals in numerous cases that resulted in light sentences for sexual predators. The ad claimed that when Schimel served as Waukesha County district attorney he arranged plea deals with child molesters and blamed underage sexual assault victims for bad judgment. The group cited five child sexual assault cases that Schimel handled as county prosecutor from 2004 through 2007 that ended with plea deals.
An attorney for Schimel’s campaign sent a letter to television stations around the state that demanded they not run the ad saying it was full of lies.
DAGA was among nine express advocacy groups that reported spending a record-shattering $5.3 million on the Wisconsin attorney general’s race. Two phony issue ad groups, which do not have to report their spending, doled out an additional $3.7 million for a total of $9 million in outside electioneering spending on the race. The previous record for outside spending in the race was $3.9 million in 2014.
DAGA’s nearly $2.2 million in spending to smear Schimel was second only to the more than $2.8 million spent by its counterpart, the Republican Attorneys General Association, to attack Kaul.
Nationally, DAGA raised more than $7.9 million and spent nearly $8.4 million through mid-October 2018.
Wisconsin contributors to DAGA began in 2014 and have totaled about $42,000, led by:
Michael Best Strategies, of Milwaukee, the lobbying arm of the Michael Best and Friedrich law firm, $15,000;
Alliant Energy, of Madison, $15,000;
Foley & Lardner, a Milwaukee law firm, $10,000
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 DAGA and other 527 groups would be illegal if they were direct contributions to state and federal candidates and committees.