Legislative Fundraising Committees Raise Record $1.6M in Six Months

July 21, 2016

Shadowy figure in suit being showered with money

Four legislative campaign committees that milk special interests for cash to spend on elections raised a record $1.6 million during the first six months of 2016.

This was the first fundraising and spending period governed by sweeping changes to state campaign finance laws that were approved late last year by the GOP-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The new campaign finance laws allow the four legislative campaign committees to create segregated funds, which they have done, to collect donations of up to $12,000 a year from corporations, trade groups, political action committees (PACs), unions and American Indian tribes. There are no limits on contributions that individuals may give to legislative campaign committees. There are also no limits on the contributions that legislative campaign committees can give to candidates or parties. But legislative campaign committees may not use corporate, union and other special interest money from their segregated funds to contribute to candidates or sponsor independent expenditures, which are electioneering activities, like mailings and broadcast ads that directly tell people how to vote.

The amount raised by the four committees (Table 1) exceeded the previous six-month fundraising record of $1.4 million set during the first six months of 2011, the same year that nine Senate recall elections allowed for unlimited fundraising by the targeted incumbents and the legislative campaign committees for several weeks. In most past six-month periods since 2004, the four committees combined generally have raised only about a quarter to a third of the $1.6 million that they raised between January and June of this year.

Fundraising among the four legislative campaign committees was led by the two GOP committees, which shows that special interest money generally flows to the party in power. Republicans control both houses by comfortable margins – 63-36 in the Assembly and 19-14 in the Senate. The Committee to Elect a Republican Senate accepted about $478,000 and the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee accepted about $466,350.

Table 1
Legislative Campaign Committee Fundraising
January – June 2016

Committee Amount
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate (CERS) $478,005
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee (RACC) $466,345
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee (ADCC) $384,635
State Senate Democratic Committee (SSDC) $274,770
TOTAL $1,603,755

A Wisconsin Democracy Campaign preliminary review of more than 4,500 contributions to the four committees found one contributor who contributed more than $100,000 and 11 others who contributed $25,000 or more.

Topping the list of contributors (Table 2) to the committees during the first six months of this year was Milwaukee County executive Chris Abele, who gave $105,000 to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee. Abele, who is also a wealthy Milwaukee philanthropist, has contributed more than $145,000 since 2000 to mostly Democratic legislative and statewide candidates.

Two others made $50,000 contributions to the committees. The campaign committee of outgoing Republican Sen. Rick Gudex, of Fond du Lac, gave $50,000 to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate. Gudex’s open 18 th Senate seat is likely to draw high spending from Republican and Democratic candidates and outside special interest groups because it has seen close races and wins by both parties in recent elections. Another Milwaukee philanthropist, Lynde Uihlein, contributed $50,000 to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee. Uihlein is an heir to the Schlitz Brewing and Allen Bradley family fortunes and a longtime backer of women’s and Democratic causes and candidates. She has contributed more than $190,000 since 2000 to mostly Democratic legislative and statewide candidates.

Rounding out the top five contributors to the legislative campaign committees between January and June 2016 were the Wisconsin Realtors Association PAC and the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association.

The state realtors group gave a total of $36,500 to all four legislative campaign committees. The realtors PAC has contributed nearly $945,000 since 2000 to legislative and statewide candidates, including more than $650,000 to Republicans.

The Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association contributed a total of $36,000 to all four legislative campaign committees. The beer distributor’s PAC has contributed nearly $273,000 since 2000 to legislative and statewide candidates, including about $172,000 to Republicans.

Several other groups also contributed to all four committees, spreading their money on both sides of the aisle.

Table 2
Top Contributors* to the Four Legislative Campaign Committees
January – June 2016

Contributor Recipient(s)** Amount
Chris Abele (Milwaukee County executive) ADCC $105,000
Rick Gudex for State Senate CERS $50,000
Lynde Uihlein (Brico Fund) ADCC $50,000
Realtors PAC ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $36,500
WBD Corporate (Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association) ADCC, CERS, RACC, SSDC $36,000
Forest County Potawatomi Tribe and Casino ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $35,000
Altria ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $32,500
Associated Builders and Contractors CERS, SSDC, RACC $32,050
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $26,250
Volunteers for Agriculture PAC ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $26,000
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) State and Local unions ADCC, SSDC $25,034
Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce RACC, CERS $25,000
Operating Engineers Local 139 SSDC, ADCC $18,000
Wisconsin Bankers Association ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $18,000
Wisconsin Laborers District Council ADCC, SSDC $18,000
Agents Assistance Corp. of Wisconsin RACC, CERS $16,000
Anthem PAC RACC, SSDC, CERS $16,000
Wisconsin Institute of CPAs ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $15,750
Wisconsin Credit Union Legislative Action ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $15,230
Alexander Lasry (a Milwaukee Bucks vice president) ADCC, SSDC $15,000
Wisconsin Dental Association RACC, SSDC, CERS $15,000
Tavern League of Wisconsin ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $14,000
Insurance and Financial Advisors PAC ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $13,500
Milwaukee Police Association ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $13,500
BNSF Railway ADCC, RACC, CERS, SSDC $13,000
Koch Industries PAC RACC, CERS $12,000
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee SSDC $12,000
LKQ Corp. Good Government Fund RACC, CERS $12,000
Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters ADCC, SSDC $12,000

*Contributors who gave a total of $12,000 or more to one or more LCCs based on a preliminary review of LCC fundraising and spending reports by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

**ADCC means Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee
RACC means Republican Assembly Campaign Committee
CERS means Committee to Elect a Republican Senate
SSDC means State Senate Democratic Committee