Special Interest Groups Spent More Than $36 Million in the 2014 Fall Elections

Posted: February 16, 2015
Updated: March 9, 2015

Forty outside electioneering groups funded by ideological, business and union interests spent an estimated $36.6 million on mostly negative broadcast ads and mailings to influence the 2014 races for statewide office and the Wisconsin Legislature, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

The spending by outside groups in the 2014 elections was 94 percent more than the estimated $18.9 million spent by outside groups in the comparable 2010 general elections.

Groups that backed Democratic candidates spent an estimated $18.9 million and groups that backed Republican candidates spent an estimated $17.7 million.

These electioneering groups fall into two categories: Independent expenditures groups, which must file fundraising and spending reports with the state, and phony issue ad groups, which can also raise and spend limitless amount of money, but do not have to disclose their activities. All of these groups are funded by business, manufacturing, labor, real estate, gun, education, and agriculture interests. They have conservative and liberal ideological leanings.

Eight of these special interest groups spent more than $1 million in the 2014 general elections (Table). The top spenders, who doled out much of their cash for television ads in the governor’s race, were:

  • The Greater Wisconsin Committee, which operates four different entities to support Democratic candidates for state and local offices, spent an estimated $8.5 million on independent expenditures and undisclosed issue ads. Most of Greater Wisconsin’s spending was on at least nine television ads to support Democrat Mary Burke in the governor’s race;
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization and one of the most powerful lobbying and electioneering groups to influence state policy, spent an estimated $7.5 million on phony issue ads to support Republican candidates in statewide and legislative races. The bulk of WMC’s secretly raised cash was spent on television ads to support GOP Gov. Scott Walker, Republican Brad Schimel in the attorney general’s race and GOP candidate Howard Marklein in the 17 th Senate District contest;
  • The Republican Governors Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group that backs GOP candidates for governor nationwide, spent nearly $4 million through its state PAC, Right Direction Wisconsin. The PAC spent most of its cash on six television ads to support Walker;
  • We Are Wisconsin Political Fund, a coalition of national labor unions created in 2012 to oppose Walker and four incumbent GOP state senators in the summer recall elections, spent more than $3 million mostly on wages for campaign staff to support Democratic candidates for governor and the legislature last fall;
  • The National Rifle Association, the nation’s most powerful pro-gun group, spent about $2.5 million through its state PAC and a corporation. The group spent the vast majority of its cash on television ads to support Walker, and about $10,000 in 19 legislative races to back Republican candidates;
  • Emily’s List, a Washington, D.C.-based group that makes direct contributions and engages in outside electioneering activities to support women Democratic candidates across the country, spent about $2.2 million. The group used its state corporation, Wisconsin WOMEN VOTE, to sponsor television ads critical of Walker’s stance on abortion.

For more details about the spending and electioneering activities of all of the independent expenditure and phony issue ad groups, click on the name of the group in the table below or go to the Democracy Campaign’s “Hijacking Campaign 2014” feature.

Spending By Outside Groups in the 2014 Fall Elections

Group Amount
Greater Wisconsin Committee** $8,500,000
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC)* $7,500,000
Republican Governors Association $3,960,562
We Are Wisconsin Political Fund $3,041,738
National Rifle Association $2,542,956
Emily’s List $2,217,699
Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters $1,432,867
Americans for Prosperity* $1,100,000
American Federation for Children $850,857
Committee for Justice and Fairness – Wisconsin $783,812
NARAL Pro-Choice America* $600,000
AFL-CIO $571,459
Planned Parenthood $563,900
Progressive Kick Wisconsin $411,000
Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance* $350,000
First Amendment Alliance Educational Fund* $335,710
Wisconsin Realtors Association $199,381
Volunteers for Agriculture $198,703
Rule of Law Project* $184,970
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union $170,496
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee $170,000
Fire Fighters for a Better Wisconsin $159,420
Jobs First Coalition* $159,110
America’s Political Action Committee* $156,250
Service Employees International Union $139,161
Conservatives for Governor Scott Walker $63,500
Faith and Freedom Coalition* $50,000
United Steel Workers $41,500
Wisconsin Family Action $34,373
Physicians for Responsible Government $28,360
Fair Wisconsin $26,600
Citizen Action of Wisconsin $25,000
Voces de la Frontera $22,165
Wisconsin Right to Life $14,815
Progressives for Victory 2014 $13,843
International Association of Fire Fighters $1,869
Citizens for Southwest Wisconsin $1,527
Racine TEA Party $1,069
Educators for Better Schools $537
American Majority Action $445
TOTAL $36,625,654

* Estimated spending for undisclosed issue ad activity.
** Estimated spending for undisclosed issue ad activity and disclosed independent expenditures.