Influence Peddler of the Month

Republican Governors Association

August 3, 2015

Republican Governors Association Logo

The Republican Governors Association (RGA) is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that raises tens of millions of dollars each year from powerful special interests to spend on electing Republican candidates for governor nationwide.

The group, which was created in 1963, spent an estimated $20.4 million between 2006 and 2014 in four Wisconsin elections for governor. The association operates a state political action committee called Right Direction Wisconsin that makes independent expenditures. In addition to disclosed spending on independent expenditures, the organization has also engaged in secret issue ad spending.

In recent years, the RGA has been among the top special interest electioneering groups in Wisconsin, doling out an estimated $18.4 million to help Republican Gov. Scott Walker win three elections and draw national attention that sparked his 2016 GOP presidential candidacy.

The RGA has had a relatively good win-loss record, spending $5 million in the 2010 general, $9.4 million in the 2012 recall, and $4 million in 2014 general elections to help Walker, who is on the association’s executive committee. In 2006, the group spent about $2 million to back Republican candidate for governor Mark Green, who lost.

Like most well-funded electioneering groups, the RGA spends most of its cash to air negative television ads statewide that usually accuse Democratic candidates for governor of favoring higher taxes, government spending, and other policies that hurt the economy, like here, here, here, here, here, and here, in Walker’s 2014 reelection race.

The RGA raises much of its money from wealthy individuals, corporations, and trade organizations tied to manufacturing, health care, energy, insurance, and other powerful special interests using a 527 organization. 527 groups must disclose fundraising and spending in periodic reports to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, but are unregulated in so far as they can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from any source. In 2014, the association’s 527 group raised nearly $94.2 million and spent about $146 million nationwide.

Even though much of the money the association spends to influence Wisconsin elections is from wealthy special interests outside the state, the group has cultivated well-heeled groups of Wisconsin donors. Wisconsin contributions to the RGA’s 527 group skyrocketed in 2014, to a total of more than $3.1 million (see table), which was about 80 percent of the nearly $4 million the group’s state PAC spent on behalf of Walker in his 2014 reelection. Before 2014, Wisconsin individual, corporate and trade association contributions to the RGA’s 527 group ranged from about $437,000 in 2011 to about $1.2 million in 2010

The top Wisconsin contributors to the association’s 527 group in 2014 were:

Mike and Mary Sue Shannon

Mike and Mary Sue Shannon, of Brookfield, $2 million. Mike Shannon is a managing partner with KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests in travel and leisure businesses, and Mary Sue is a homemaker. Between January 2010 and December 2014, the couple contributed $120,000 to Walker’s campaign;

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $363,750. Between January 2010 and December 2014, the group’s PAC contributed about $57,000 to Republican candidates for statewide office and the legislature in Wisconsin, including $25,000 to Walker;

Robert and Patricia Kern

The Robert and Patricia Kern 1992 Revocable Trust, $200,000. Robert and Patricia Kern, of Waukesha, founded Generac Power Systems. The couple are longtime givers to Republican and conservative candidates and causes in Wisconsin and throughout the country. Between January 2010 and December 2014, the couple gave about $283,000 to Republican legislative and statewide candidates in Wisconsin, including $220,000 to Walker;

American Transmission Co., $150,900. The Waukesha company owns and operates high-voltage electric transmission lines throughout the Upper Midwest. Between January 2010 and December 2014, company executives contributed nearly $86,000 to Wisconsin candidates for statewide office and the legislature, including $27,825 to Walker.

2014 Wisconsin Contributors to the Republican Governors Association

Contributor City Employer Amount
Mike and Mary Sue Shannon Milwaukee KSL Capital Partners/ Homemaker $2,000,000
Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Milwaukee Not Applicable $363,750
Robert and Patricia Kern 1992 Revocable Trust Waukesha Not Applicable $200,000
American Transmission Co Waukesha Not Applicable $150,900
USCC Services LLC Middleton Not Applicable $75,000
Skill Integrity Responsibility Council Madison Not Applicable $50,000
Todd Nelson Wisconsin Dells Kalahari Resorts $50,000
Johnson Controls Glendale Not Applicable $36,456
Dairy Business Association Green Bay Not Applicable $35,900
Integrys Business Support LLC Green Bay Not Applicable $35,900
Monster Worldwide Milwaukee Not Applicable $25,000
Michael Grebe Milwaukee Bradley Foundation $25,000
JP Cullen and Sons Janesville Not Applicable $20,000
Ted Kellner Mequon Fiduciary Management $16,781
Terry Kohler Sheboygan Windway Capital $15,000
Daniel McKeithan Milwaukee Tamarack Petroleum $10,000
Fred Young Jr. Racine Retired $10,000
Miller Coors Brewing Co Milwaukee Not Applicable $10,000
Gerald and Judith Couri Waukesha Couri Insurance Associates $10,000
William Johnson Jr. Hayward Johnson Timber Corp $6,250
Milwaukee Police Association Milwaukee Not Applicable $2,000
Michael Best Strategies Madison Not Applicable $450
Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Appleton Not Applicable $450
Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin Madison Not Applicable $450
Martin Schreiber & Associates Madison Not Applicable $450
TOTAL $3,149,737
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