Koch Group Targets Two Wisconsin State Senate Seats

June 7, 2016

Senator Jennifer Shilling

A secretive issue ad group backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch plans to hit the streets in two state Senate Districts to attack the policies and voting records of Democratic candidates in the fall elections.

The Wisconsin arm of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) says it will send volunteers door-to-door in the eastern 18th Senate District, which covers much of Winnebago and Fond du Lac counties, and in the western 32nd Senate District, which covers parts of La Crosse, Vernon, Monroe and Crawford counties.

The 18th Senate District is an open seat currently held by incumbent GOP Sen. Rick Gudex, of Fond du Lac, who will not seek reelection. The Democratic candidate in the race is Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris. Since there is no incumbent in the race, it’s likely to be a high-spending contest for outside special interest groups and the candidates as Democrats try to narrow the 19-14 majority held by Senate Republicans.

AFP said in a statement that its volunteers plan to accuse Harris of supporting higher taxes on individuals and businesses.

The 32nd District seat is currently held by Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse. Shilling faces another Democrat in the Aug. 9 primary, and if she survives, Shilling would likely face former GOP Sen. Dan Kapanke, of La Crosse, in the fall general election. Shilling got 55 percent of the vote to defeat Kapanke in a 2011 recall election.

AFP said in a statement that its volunteers plan to accuse Shilling of opposing state efforts to freeze or lower property taxes in La Crosse County.

The group also has plans for similar door-to-door activities in some Assembly races, including efforts to support Republican Rep. Joel Kitchens, of Sturgeon Bay.

Americans for Prosperity was created in 2003 by the Kochs to support conservative and Republican candidates in state and federal races throughout the country. Although it does not disclose how much it raises and spends on its outside electioneering activities, the Democracy Campaign estimates AFP has spent an estimated $5.6 million since January 2010 in legislative and statewide races in Wisconsin.