Influence Peddler of the Month
Republican Governors Association
August 3, 2015
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.
|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|