Influence Peddler of the Month
Greater Wisconsin Committee
July 1, 2015
The Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC) was created in 2004 to support Democratic candidates for legislative and statewide offices using outside electioneering activities, like television and radio ads, and mailings. The Madison-based group spent an estimated $32.9 million between 2006 and 2015 on electioneering activities – more than any other special interest group in Wisconsin.
GWC operates four entities, including issue ad and 527 groups, a corporation, and a political action committee, to raise and spend money to pay for independent expenditures and phony issue ads. GWC frequently uses its entities for a shell game to transfer money back and forth and avoid disclosing its fundraising and spending in detail. But, fundraising and spending reports, like this one, filed by its 527 group with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, shows GWC gets much of its money from state and national labor unions, like AFSCME and the AFL-CIO, and democratic ideological groups, like Emily’s List.
Even though Greater Wisconsin has been at or near the top in special interest group spending in every spring and fall election since 2006, its success rate is spotty.
The group spent more than $4 million to help reelect Democrat Jim Doyle to the governor’s office in 2006, but then doled out a total of $16.9 million in the 2010 general, 2012 recall and 2014 general elections in failed attempts to defeat Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Greater Wisconsin spent an estimated $1.5 million in the 2006 and 2014 attorney general races in unsuccessful attempts to help elect Democratic candidates.
The group spent an estimated $4.1 million in five Supreme Court races between 2007 and 2015 but only two of the five candidates it supported won their elections.
In legislative elections, Greater Wisconsin doled out an estimated $6.4 million between 2006 and 2014, but both the Assembly and Senate have been controlled by Republicans most of that time, except for the 2009-10 legislative session and a portion of the 2011-12 legislative session.
Part of the reason for Greater Wisconsin’s election record is due, in part, to the growing number of big-spending groups that emerged in 2010 and beyond to support Republican and conservative candidates, and counteract the spending by Greater Wisconsin and the labor, ideological, and environmental groups that back Democrats.
Since the beginning of 2010, 12 groups have spent more than $2 million on Wisconsin elections – eight of them are Republican and conservative groups that have doled out an estimated $66.3 million, and four of them are Democratic groups, including Greater Wisconsin, that have spent an estimated $50.4 million. Greater Wisconsin is number one on that list, having spent $27.6 million over the last five years.
In recent elections, Republican outside spending groups topped Democratic outside spending groups by $39.8 million to $35.9 million in the 2011 and 2012 recall elections for governor, lieutenant governor and 13 state Senate seats, and in the 2014 race for governor, outside spending by Democratic groups topped Republican groups $15.4 million to $12.7 million.
Unlike its chief political and election spending rival, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Greater Wisconsin is not a lobbying group that engages in year around lobbying on state policy and spending proposals at the State Capitol.
However, most of Greater Wisconsin’s electioneering spending has been on broadcast advertising that has attacked Republican legislative and statewide candidates on an array of policy, spending and social issues, including:
Deep cuts to public education and a growing state deficit in order to pay for tax cuts and other state giveaways to powerful special interests and campaign contributors – here, here, here, here, and here;
Greater Wisconsin identifies Rich Judge as its treasurer on documents filed by its corporation with the state Government Accountability Board. Judge, who joined Greater Wisconsin in 2013, is a former chief of staff for Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha and a former deputy chief of staff for former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.