Assembly Ban Cut Legislative Fundraising In 2009

Legislators raise less than $3 million for the first time in six years

February 17, 2010

Madison - Legislators accepted $2.91 million in campaign contributions in 2009, the lowest since 2003 and a dip due to an Assembly fundraising ban during the first six months of the year when the legislature considered the 2009-11 state budget, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Campaign finance reports filed by Senate and Assembly members and their four legislative campaign committees showed legislative fundraising in 2009 was 25 percent lower than the record $3.86 million legislators accepted in the most recent, comparable 2007 non-election year and 13 percent less than the $3.35 million they collected in 2005 (see Bar Chart 1). It was their lowest annual fundraising take since 2003 when legislators raised $2.6 million and 1999 when they raised $2.27 million. Legislators raise substantially more contributions in even-numbered election years than in odd-numbered years when they consider the state budget.

Bar Chart 1

Bar Chart 1: Budget-Year Fundraising by Legislators

Other key findings in the Democracy Campaign review include:

  • Legislators and the four legislative campaign committees raised $931,758 in the first half of 2009 during the Assembly fundraising ban. It was the first time in 10 years legislators raised less than $1 million in a six-month period.
  • However, the ban did not cause a fundraising surge in the last half of 2009 when there was no fundraising ban. Legislators raised $1.98 million in the second half of 2009 – 15 percent less than the $2.33 million they accepted in the comparable, last six months of 2007. It was only six-tenths of a percent more than the $1.97 million they raised between July and December 2005.

  • The four legislative campaign committees (see Table 1) raised $1.07 million – the second time the committees collectively raised more than $1 million in a year and the first time they topped that mark in an odd-numbered budget year.
  • Table 1
    LCC 2009 Fundraising

    Committee Total Raised Cash Balance
    Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee $382,755 $190,569
    State Senate Democratic Committee $309,741 $198,730
    Republican Assembly Campaign Committee $195,635 $220,382
    Committee To Elect A Republican Senate $181,141 $41,206
    TOTAL $1,069,272 $650,887

    The committees’ fundraising record was $1.18 million in 2008 (see Bar Chart 2). These committees, which the Democracy Campaign has long supported abolishing, are used by Senate and Assembly Democratic and Republican leaders to draw large special interest campaign contributions for election year spending. The fundraising ban which was imposed by majority Assembly Democrats and applied to the entire Assembly did not cover the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee or the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee.

    Bar Chart 2

    Bar Chart 2: Legislative Fundraising Between July and December in a Budget Year

  • Curiously, total fundraising and cash balances analyzed by caucus shows the Assembly Democrats, which control that house 52-46-1, raised less and had less cash on hand than Assembly Republicans (see Table 2). Generally, special interest campaign contributions flow to the party that is in control. Assembly Democrats raised a total of $793,901, including $185,567 in the first half of 2009 and $608,334 in the last six months. Their cash balances totaled $1.28 million.
  • Assembly Republicans raised $857,081 in 2009, including $151,842 in the first half of the year and $705,239 in the last half of the year. Their cash balances totaled $1.34 million.

    Democrats who control the Senate 18-15 and did not ban fundraising during the budget raised $736,790 in 2009 and their cash balances totaled $1.09 million. Senate Republicans raised $524,748 and had $723,398 in cash reserves going into 2010.

    Table 2
    Caucus 2009 Fundraising and Year-End Cash Balances

      Assembly
    Republicans
    Assembly
    Democrats
    Senate
    Democrats
    Senate
    Republicans
    2009 Fundraising $857,081 $793,902 $736,790 $524,748
    Total Cash Balances $1,336,881 $1,278,071 $1,086,258 $723,398

    * Independent Representative Jeff Wood raised $90 in 2009 and had $150 in his campaign account

  • The $4.42 million in total cash balances incumbent legislators had going into 2010 was 9 percent less than the $4.88 million they had at the end of 2007 and 9 percent higher than the $4.05 million in total cash balances at the end of 2005.
  • Eight legislators had cash balances of more than $100,000 and most of them were legislative leaders, veteran legislators in safe seats who don’t have to spend much to get reelected, or running for another office.

    Leading the list was Republican Senator Mike Ellis of Neenah with $199,968 followed by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker of Schofield with $147,144 and Democratic Representative Spencer Black of Madison at $143,209. Republican Senator Mary Lazich of New Berlin had $124,846 in her war chest and Republican Representative Mark Gundrum of New Berlin who is running for Waukesha County circuit judge this spring had $114,355. Republican Representative Brett Davis of Oregon, who is running for lieutenant governor this November, had $105,871, Democratic Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay had $104,141 and Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson had $102,591.

  • The top 2009 fundraisers were mostly legislators in targeted Senate seats and legislative leaders. Leading the list was Republican Representative Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa who accepted $118,445 followed by Democratic Senator Jim Sullivan of Wauwatosa who raised $106,389. Vukmir is challenging Sullivan, a freshman who beat an incumbent Republican for the toss-up seat in 2006. Vukmir had $84,712 in her campaign account and Sullivan $99,450 going into 2010.
  • Davis, who decided to run for lieutenant governor after three terms in the Assembly, raised $104,827 followed by first-term Democratic Senator Kathleen Vinehout of Alma who accepted $71,364 and had $56,818 in her campaign account. Vinehout beat a Republican incumbent for the seat in 2006 and faces a challenge this November from Ed Thompson, an unsuccessful Libertarian candidate for governor in 2002 and brother of former long-time Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.

    Republican Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau raised $68,901 and another first- term Democratic senator, Patrick Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls, who beat a long-time Republican incumbent for his seat in 2006, accepted $61,056 and had $96,886 in his campaign account.

Sullivan, Vinehout and Kreitlow, who each captured a slim 51 percent or 52 percent of the vote to win their seats in 2006, were among at least four incumbents who are likely to be targeted by Republicans in November. The fourth is first-term Democratic Senator John Lehman of Racine who won the open seat in 2006 with 53 percent of the vote. Lehman, who represents a toss-up district, raised $47,213 in 2009 and had $68,300 in his campaign account.

In the Assembly, there will likely be at least a dozen tight races because of open seats, the incumbent’s freshman status or slim victories in previous elections, among other factors. Some of those races are:

  • Republican Garey Bies of Sister Bay. Elected since 2000, Bies won by 850 votes out of nearly 31,000 cast in 2008. He raised $15,514 in 2009 and had $23,083 in his campaign account.
  • Freshman Democrat Ted Zigmunt of Francis Creek who beat a long-time Republican incumbent with 52 percent of the vote thanks to $276,488 in outside spending by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, to support him. Zigmunt raised $15,265 in 2009 and had $15,764 in the bank.
  • Republican Mark Honadel of South Milwaukee who has represented the traditionally democratic district since 2003 but won a squeaker with 51 percent of the vote in 2008. Honadel raised $17,148 in 2009 and had $22,335 in his campaign account.
  • Democrat Penny Bernard Schaber of Appleton. She handily won the open seat in 2008 but it is in Republican territory and she is a freshman. The contest was also a melee corrupted by eight special interests that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside electioneering activities to support both candidates. Bernard Schaber raised $18,134 in 2009 and had $31,020 in her campaign account.
  • Republican Dan Meyer of Eagle River, who has held the seat since 2000 but won by only 164 votes out of more than 32,000 cast in 2008. Meyer raised $8,485 in 2009 and had $46,200 in his war chest.
  • Republican Jeffrey Mursau of Crivitz who has held the seat since 2004 but won by only 224 votes of 25,502 cast in 2008. He raised $9,851 in 2009 and had $16,130 in his campaign account.
  • The 67 th District representing portions of Barron, Dunn and Chippewa counties is an open seat with Independent Jeff Wood’s decision not to run. Wood was elected as a Republican in 2002 but dropped out of the GOP before his 2008 reelection which he barely won against a Republican.
  • Freshman Democrat Kristen Dexter who won by 275 votes out of 30,593 cast in 2008. Outside smear groups spent an estimated $700,000 on both candidates, including $406,322 by the state’s largest teachers union on behalf of Dexter. She raised $21,719 in 2009 and had $23,306 in her war chest.
  • Democrat Kim Hixson of Whitewater, who won his last two races by slim margins. In 2008 outside special interest groups spent an estimated $700,000 in this contest including $539,660 by the state’s largest teachers union on behalf of Hixson. Hixson raised $12,401 in 2009 and had $15,073 in his campaign account.
  • Freshman Republican Keith Ripp of Lodi who won by 28 votes in 2008. It was the most expensive race in Assembly history with 10 special interest groups spending more than $1 million on behalf of the candidates, including $513,132 by WEAC to support Ripp’s Democratic opponent. Ripp raised $23,250 in 2009 and had $24,046 in his war chest.
  • Republican Mary Williams of Medford. Elected since 2002 her last two races were close. She raised $6,175 in 2009 and had $21,948 in her campaign account.

For a complete list of legislators, the amount they raised in 2009 and their year-end campaign account balances see below.

All Legislators
By Total RaisedAlphabeticallyBy Cash Balance