527 Groups Get Record $1 Million From Wisconsin

Wisconsin Democrats gave more than Republicans to unregulated groups in 2007

February 26, 2008

Madison - Wisconsin contributors gave a non-election year record $1 million in 2007 to unregulated groups that collect and spend unlimited amounts on negative advertising, mailings and other outside electioneering activities, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

The 2007 contributions to so-called 527 groups were 58 percent higher than the previous non-election year record of $610,661 in 2005, and 75 percent higher than the $577,413 in Wisconsin contributions made in 2003.

The contributions in 2007 to these groups, which include the well-known Club for Growth, GOPAC and Progressive Majority, were made by 302 Wisconsin individuals, businesses, labor unions and others. These organizations are named after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service laws that govern them. They can accept and spend money from virtually any source, including businesses and unions which are prohibited from making direct contributions from their treasuries to candidates in Wisconsin.

Key findings in the WDC review include:

  • Democratic-leaning 527 groups collected $664,967, or 66 percent, of the Wisconsin contributions, compared to $335,161, or 33 percent, that went to Republican-leaning 527s. Three 527 groups that got $11,743, or 1 percent, supported both parties or were neutral;
  • The substantial lead in Wisconsin contributions to Democratic 527s follows 2005 when Democratic 527s got 56 percent of the contributions Wisconsin donors made that year to these groups. Before that, in 2003 and 2001, Republican-leaning 527 groups got substantially more Wisconsin contributions than Democratic 527s.

  • Leading the list of 527 groups that received Wisconsin contributions (Table 1) was the Progressive Majority, a liberal organization that supports Democrats, at $202,775. It was followed by the Republican Governors Association at $125,600. Two other 527s, the Laborers Political League Education Fund and America Votes 2006, which support Democrats, each got $100,000 or more in Wisconsin contributions. Fourteen additional 527s representing ideological, labor, insurance and conservation interests accepted $10,000 or more from Wisconsin contributors;
  • Thirty-two Wisconsin individuals, businesses, labor unions and others contributed $2,000 or more to 527 groups in 2007 (Table 2);
  • The contributors were led by Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein, a long time backer of Democratic and women’s causes, at $358,000. She contributed to the Progressive Majority, America Votes 2006, the League of Conservation Voters and the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund.

    Uihlein was followed by the Wisconsin Laborers District Council, which sent $120,313 to the Laborers Political League Education Fund, a Washington D.C.-based 527 connected to labor, and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

    Terry and Mary Kohler, of Sheboygan, and their Windway Capital Corporation contributed a total of $95,200 to the Club for Growth, GOPAC and American Solutions for Winning the Future. The Kohlers have been long time supporters of Republican and conservative candidates and causes.

  • For anyone who believes 527 groups are attractive to small, individual contributors and give them a better opportunity to affect elections than giving directly to candidates, think again. The top 17 – those who gave $10,000 or more – of the 302 Wisconsin contributors to 527s in 2007 gave $859,130, or 85 percent of the total contributions. Those 17 contributors – 10 of which were businesses or unions – gave 527s an average $50,537 apiece. That is 22 times more than the maximum direct contribution they can make to a federal candidate and five times more than the maximum $10,000 annual limit on total contributions to candidates for statewide office and the legislature;
  • The Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, whose issue ad and political action committee counterparts doled out $4 million in the 2006 state elections to back Governor Jim Doyle and other Democratic candidates, got a $620 contribution from Republican Attorney General JB Van Hollen’s campaign. Van Hollen, who was the object of negative advertising by the Greater Wisconsin Committee in his successful 2006 election, agreed to make the contribution to pay for the group’s legal costs in a defamation suit he brought against it and later dropped.

Wisconsin Contributions to 527sWisconsin Contributors

Table 1
2007 Wisconsin Contributions to 527 Groups

Committee Name Amount
Progressive Majority $202,775
Republican Governors Association $125,600
Laborers Political League Education Fund $110,313
America Votes 2006 $100,000
GOPAC $89,146
Greater Wisconsin Political Fund $83,620
Democratic Governors Association $50,375
League of Conservation Voters $50,000
American Solutions for Winning the Future $40,950
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee $26,200
Club for Growth.net $26,000
Ironworkers Political Education Fund $14,242
National Association of Mutual Insurance Cos. Administrative Fund $13,500
Presidential Coalition LLC $11,675
Republican State Leadership Committee $11,050
College Republican National Committee $10,835
Property Casualty Insurers Political Accounts $10,378
Democratic Attorneys General Association $10,000
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Legislative Education Fund $6,622
National Federation of Republican Women $4,455
Indian’s List Indigenous Democratic Network $3,900
Emily’s List Non-federal $2,750
National Education Association Fund for Children and Public Education $1,370
Last Chance for Patient Choice $1,365
Friends of Fred Thompson $1,250
America Votes $1,150
American Bakers Association Political Education Committee $700
Progressive Vote $575
Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund $500
Sepracor Inc God Governance Fund $500
Democrats for America ’s Future $50
Hospira Political Action Committee, LLC $25
TOTAL $1,011,871

Table 2
Wisconsin Contributors* to 527 Groups in 2007  

Name City Amount
Lynde Uihlein Milwaukee $358,000
Wisconsin Laborers District Council Madison $120,313
Terry Kohler Sheboygan $75,200
Johnson Controls Milwaukee $50,375
HNTB Corporation Madison $50,000
One Wisconsin Now Action Milwaukee $45,000
Verax Identity Fusion Center Madison $25,000
Extendicare Health Services Milwaukee $21,000
Miller Brewing Milwaukee $20,000
Grant Abert Hillpoint $20,000
Ironworkers Local 383 Madison $14,242
Mary Kohler Sheboygan $10,000
Tom Talbot Montello $10,000
CUNA Mutual Insurance Madison $10,000
Kohls Milwaukee $10,000
Windway Capital Corporation Sheboygan $10,000
Donald Lynch Milwaukee $10,000
Capitol Navigators Madison $5,000
Direct Supply Milwaukee $5,000
Donald Katz Madison $5,000
Wisconsin Public Service Green Bay $5,000
Wisconsin Insurance Alliance Madison $5,000
American Family Mutual Insurance Madison $4,719
Womens Choice Wisconsin Milwaukee $4,300
Church Mutual Insurance Merrill $4,193
Forrest County Potawatomi Crandon $3,900
Maurice Reese Madison $3,800
Sentry Insurance Stevens Point $3,650
Secura Mutual Insurance Appleton $3,181
Joan Okray Milton $2,615
Kathleen Burchby Milwaukee $2,500
Alan Lewitzke Mosinee $2,200

*Table shows contributors who gave a total of $2,000 or more in 2007