Lawmakers Addicted to Out-of-District Money to Fuel Campaigns

New Brand of Carpetbagging Leaves Constituents Out in the Cold

March 27, 2000

Madison - State legislators have become so heavily dependent on campaign contributions from people they are not elected to represent that a new form of "carpetbagging" has emerged in Wisconsin, a report released today by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign shows.

"Voters always have been wary of someone with no stake in their community moving into the area just to run for political office. Now the problem is not people moving to find greener political pastures, it’s the money that’s moving. Voters are left to wonder where their representatives’ allegiances lie when they are getting so much of their money from people who can’t vote for them," WDC Executive Director Gail Shea said.

The study, entitled "Modern Carpetbaggers," shows winning Senate candidates in the 1998 election got 66% of their large individual contributions from outside their districts. The trend is worsening, with Senate incumbents facing re-election in 2000 raising 71% of their contributions of $100 or more from outside their districts.

Of those facing re-election this year, Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) raised the most in out-of-district donations -- $228,334 -- but this total includes money raised during her special election bid two years ago. Second on the list is Senator Alice Clausing (D-Menomonie), who so far has raised $80,029 -- or 91% -- of her large individual contributions from outside her district. Clausing is chair of the Senate Agriculture, Environmental Resources and Campaign Finance Reform Committee. Senate Majority Leader Charles Chvala (D-Madison) has raised $63,062 -- or 82% -- of his $100-plus donations from out of district.

In the last election, Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Senator Peggy Rosenzweig (R-Wauwatosa) raised the most from outside their district. Erpenbach collected $70,908, which amounts to 89% of his large individual contributions. Rosenzweig raised $64,195, or 76% of her $100-and-over donations.

In the Assembly, Speaker Scott Jensen took in by far the most out-of-district money during the 1998 election cycle, collecting $133,789, or 95% of his total large individual donations. Representative Rick Skindrud (R-Mount Horeb) raised $47,538 from outside his district (75%) and Representative Steven Foti (R-Oconomowoc) raised $45,617 (83%).

Fund-raising in the Assembly for the upcoming 2000 election reveals much the same pattern. Speaker Jensen has raised $119,477 in out-of-district contributions, or 96% of his total large individual donations. Other key figures in the Assembly also rely almost exclusively on out-of-district money. Minority Leader Shirley Krug (D-Milwaukee) has raised 98% of her large individual donations from outside her district, while out-of-district money has accounted for 95% of the total for Joint Finance Committee co-chair John Gard (R-Peshtigo) and 99% of $100-plus donations for finance committee member Antonio Riley (D-Milwaukee).

For the 2000 election, Senator Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison) received the smallest amounts of out-of-district money, $1,353 and $2,210, respectively. Senator James Baumgart (D-Sheboygan) took in the smallest amount of out-of-district money in the 1998 election cycle, collecting only $1,900 from outside his district.

Of Assembly incumbents who’ve raised at least $10,000 in individual contributions of $100 or more in preparation for the 2000 election, Representative Jean Hundertmark (R-Clintonville) took in the least from out of district with $2,800. In the last election, Representative Joan Wade Spillner (R-Montello) raised the least outside money ($1,500).

The WDC report also details how lawmakers have become heavily dependent on a few big-money contributors who give the vast majority of their money to legislators they cannot vote for. The analysis shows lawmakers received contributions of $100 or more from over 1,000 different zip codes, but nearly a quarter of the money came from just 1% of those zip codes, almost all of which are in the Milwaukee metropolitan area and Madison. The greatest amount of out-of-state contributions came from the Indianapolis area.

The study also focuses on the newest type of carpetbagger -- the special interest groups that run expensive independent campaigns and unregulated "issue ads." Outside groups spent $1.13 million on these rogue campaigns during the 1998 elections, led by the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

"The people who are pouring all this money into elections expect something in return. As legislators rely more and more on out-of-district money to run their campaigns, they become more beholden to these cash constituents than their voting constituents," Shea said.

Modern Carpetbaggers