Legislative Fundraising Sets Election Year Record

Legislative candidates accepted nearly $4 million between January and June

August 7, 2014

Madison – Legislative candidates and fundraising committees accepted nearly $4 million during the first half of 2014 and incumbents held an $8 to $1 cash advantage over challengers at the end of June, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.

The $3.98 million raised by legislative candidates and committees was a record for the first six months of an even-numbered election year but fell well short of the $6.8 million accepted by legislative candidates and committees in the first half of 2011. The 2011 record haul was spurred by nine Senate recall elections that summer.

Stacked up against comparable six-month periods, the latest fundraising score was 13 percent higher than the record $3.52 million set during the first six months of 2010. It was also 13 percent more than the $3.52 million raised between January and June 2012 which fell about a hundred dollars short of the 2010 record.

The record fundraising in the first half of 2014 is particularly notable because legislative candidates are competing with Democratic and Republican candidates for governor and four other statewide constitutional offices for campaign cash – most notably Republican Governor Scott Walker who raised $8.3 million during the same period.

The Democracy Campaign analysis covers fundraising by the four legislative campaign committees and candidates for 99 Assembly and 17 Senate seats up for election this fall. The review does not include fundraising by senators in the 16 even-numbered districts who do not face reelection this year.

The Democracy Campaign analysis also found:

  • Legislative candidates had a total of $5.44 million in their campaign accounts at the end of June. Cash balances for the 87 incumbents totaled $2.74 million – an $8 to $1 cash advantage over their 57 challengers who held only $355,940. The 103 candidates vying for the 29 open seats in the Senate and Assembly had $1.81 million in the campaign accounts at the end of June. Open seats occur when there is no incumbent running for reelection. Fundraising and spending in those races is generally higher than incumbent/challenger contests because both parties see an opportunity to pick up a seat for lack of an incumbent’s fundraising and name-recognition advantages.
  • By party, Republican legislative candidates raised and saved substantially more than Democratic candidates. The 136 GOP candidates on the ballot raised about $2.28 million – about 35 percent more than the $1.69 million raised by 105 Democratic candidates. Republican candidates also had substantially more money in the bank at the end of June – $3.46 million or 76 percent more than the $1.97 million held by Democrats. Ten independent candidates raised $5,876 and had $3,345 in their campaign accounts.
  • Fundraising by the four campaign committees used by Republican and Democratic Assembly and Senate legislative leaders to tap powerful special interests for campaign cash at election time collectively raised $355,641 (Table 1) and had $527,526 in their campaign accounts at the end of June. The committees’ fundraising falls slightly short of the $357,280 to $390,045 they raised during the first six months of most even-numbered years since 2004 and well short of the $653,283 the committees collected between January and June 2012. Fundraising among the four was led by the State Senate Democratic Committee which collected $105,675. The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee had the highest cash balance at the end of June – $321,498 which was sharply more than the other three committees combined.

Table 1
Legislative Campaign Committee Fundraising In the First Six Months of 2014

Committee Fundraising June 30 Cash Balance
State Senate Democratic Committee $105,675 $90,118
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate $61,864 $66,885
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee $98,872 $49,025
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee $89,230 $321,498
Totals $355,641 $527,526
  • Legislative candidates collected $162,550 from out-of-state donors – about 7 percent of their total $2.4 million in individual contributions during the first six months of 2014. Topping the list of legislative candidates with the most out-of-state contributions between January and June was Tia Torhorst, a Democratic candidate in the 10th Assembly District who accepted $9,275 in individual, out-of-state contributions – about a third of her $26,665 in individual contributions. Torhorst was followed by Sara Geenen, a 19th Assembly District candidate who raised $7,190 in individual, out-of-state contributions – about 43 percent of her $16,558 in individual contributions.

The top 10 fundraisers – excluding the legislative campaign committees – between January and June 2014 were mostly Senate candidates for open seats. Six candidates were Republicans, four were Democrats (Table 2). Topping the list was Howard Marklein, a 17th Senate District Republican candidate who raised $166,214. Marklein declared his candidacy in 2013 and intended to oppose incumbent GOP Senator Dale Schultz in a primary before Schultz decided not to seek reelection.

Marklein was followed by Mike Rohrkaste, a Republican candidate for the 55th Assembly District open seat who raised $98,868 – most of which came from Rohrkaste who gave his campaign $90,000 in contributions and a loan. Rounding out the top three candidate fundraisers was Roger Roth, a 19th Senate District Republican candidate who raised $95,261. Roth entered the race in April after longtime incumbent Republican Senator Mike Ellis of Neenah decided not to seek reelection after a secret recording showed him talking about creating an illegal political committee to attack his Democratic opponent.

The Democratic opponents of Marklein and Roth also made the top 10 fundraisers list. Ernie Wittwer, who must win a Democratic primary to face Marklein in November raised $55,637 and Democratic Representative Penny Bernard Schaber, who will face Roth, raised $85,864.

Table 2
Top 10 Legislative Candidate Fundraisers Between January and June 2014

Candidate Party District Raised
Marklein, Howard R S17 $166,213.71
Rohrkaste, Mike R A55 $98,868.21
Roth, Roger R S19 $95,260.78
Bernard Schaber, Penny D S19 $85,863.69
Laning, Martha D S09 $77,711.45
Larson, Tom R A67 $62,535.00
Wittwer, Ernie D S17 $55,636.56
Nygren, John R A89 $55,165.27
Wanggaard, Van H R S21 $47,051.64
Bewley, Janet D S25 $46,138.13

Many of the same faces who were top fundraisers also ended the first six months of 2014 with the highest campaign account balances (Table 3). Marklein topped the list with $285,040 in his campaign account followed by Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald who had $260,284 and Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who had $203,555. Schaber had $169,091 in her campaign account at the end of June – nearly twice as much as Roth’s $84,390.

Table 3
Top 10 Legislative Candidate Account Balances
June 30, 2014

Candidate Party District Balance
Marklein, Howard R S17 $285,039.87
Fitzgerald, Scott R S13 $260,284.00
Vos, Robin R A63 $203,555.28
Bernard Schaber, Penny D S19 $169,090.58
Petryk, Warren R A93 $104,532.59
Nygren, John R A89 $95,320.94
Laning, Martha D S09 $94,172.74
Larson, Tom R A67 $86,798.30
Wanggaard, Van H R S21 $84,859.84
Roth, Roger R S19 $84,390.00

All Candidates
Total RaisedCash BalanceAlphabetical

July 2012 Fundraising