August 16, 2017
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 Republican-leaning 527 groups received more than $1.2 million, or 59 percent, of the Wisconsin contributions. Democratic-leaning 527 groups received about $824,300, or 39 percent, of the Wisconsin contributions during the first six months of 2017. About $49,300, or 2 percent, of the Wisconsin contributions went to 527 groups that were bipartisan or didn’t appear to support candidates from either party.
Topping the list of 527 groups that received Wisconsin contributions in the first six months of 2017 were:
- Republican Governors Association, more than $1 million. Top contributors to the group were the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $362,500; the Shannon 2006 Revocable Trust, which is controlled by Republican mega-donors Mike and Mary Sue Shannon, of Brookfield, $250,000; and American Transmission Co., of Waukesha, and the Forest County Potawatomi tribe, of Crandon, $150,000 each. 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, who was also elected the group’s 2017 chairman.
- Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, $300,000. The Washington, D.C., group received all of its contributions during the six-month period from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a businessman and philanthropist who traditionally supports Democratic candidates and groups.
- Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, $273,700. This 527 group is one of four arms used by the Madison-based Greater Wisconsin Committee to support Democratic state and local candidates. The contributions to the 527 group came from Greater Wisconsin’s political action committee (PAC). The Greater Wisconsin Committee frequently transfers cash between its issue ad, 527, PAC, and corporate arms to hide its fundraising activities. Overall, the group has spent an estimated $30.5 million since the beginning of 2010 on electioneering activities.