Legislative Hopefuls Score Record Cash

Incumbents hold $4 to $1 advantage over challengers

August 13, 2008

Madison - Legislative candidates and fundraising committees raised a record $3.39 million and had nearly $6 million in their campaign accounts in the first half of 2008 – an election year where slim majorities have party control up for grabs in the Assembly and Senate, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

The record contributions – much of it from powerful special interests – came in the final months of the 2007-08 legislative floor session. The Senate met only 33 days and the Assembly only 29 days during the two-year period. Meanwhile, legislators held 74 fundraisers during the first six months of 2008 alone.

The $3.39 million raised by legislative candidates and the four legislative campaign committees was 17 percent more than the $2.9 million raised in the first six months of the 2006 election year; 27 percent more than the $2.66 million raised during the first six months of 2004; and 107 percent more than the $1.64 million raised in the first six months of 2002 (see Bar Chart below).

Chart: Total Legislative Fundraising First Six Months of Election Years

In addition to record fundraising, legislative candidates and the four legislative campaign committees also had a record $5.94 million in their campaign accounts as of June 30. That was 15 percent more than the $5.19 million they had at the same time in 2006; 53 percent more than the $3.89 million they had in June 2004; and 55 percent more than the $3.84 million in their accounts in June 2002.

Incumbents, who raised $1.43 million during the six-month period, had $3.92 million on hand June 30 – a $4 to $1 advantage over challengers who raised $796,291 and had $903,562 in their campaign accounts. By house, Assembly incumbents held a $6 to $1 money advantage over challengers with officeholders amassing $2.76 million compared to the challengers’ $452,483. In the Senate, the 14 officeholders up for reelection had $1.15 million on hand June 30 – a nearly $3 to $1 advantage over the challengers’ $451,079.

Assembly Democratic candidates and their legislative campaign committee raised and saved more than Republicans who control the Assembly by a slim 51-47. Senate Democratic candidates and their legislative campaign committee also raised and saved more than GOP candidates. Democrats control the Senate 17-14 (see Table 1). Independent candidates reported raising $3,050 and had $5,867 cash on hand. Most of that money was raised and held by Representative Jeff Wood who left the Republican Party in July to run as an independent.

Table 1
Fundraising and Cash Balances by Legislative Caucus
January – June 2008

Caucus Total Raised Cash Balance
Assembly Democrats $1,392,634 $1,935,779
Assembly Republicans $1,051,192 $1,917,310
Senate Democrats $532,718 $1,243,143
Senate Republicans $411,023 $840,102
Total $3,387,567 $5,936,334

The top fundraisers in the last six months include candidates in targeted races that historically swing Republican or Democratic and for open seats where no incumbent is seeking reelection (see Table 2). For a complete list of legislative candidates and their fundraising totals and cash balances, please see below.

Republican Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills raised $106,457 and Democratic Representative Sheldon Wasserman of Milwaukee was second with $88,420. Wasserman is challenging Darling for her Senate seat in the most hotly contested race this November and what may be one of the most expensive legislative races ever. The two candidates also had amassed the top cash balances as of June 30 with Wasserman at $335,287 followed by Darling at $270,248.

Darling and Wasserman were followed by Republican Tom Tiffany of Rhinelander at $79,688 who is running for the open 12th Senate District seat against Democrat Jim Holperin of Conover who was fifth in fundraising at $59,316. One of them will replace former Democratic Senator Roger Breske who left office last spring to become state railroad commissioner.

Tiffany was followed by Democratic candidate Tara Johnson of La Crosse who is challenging incumbent Republican Senator Dan Kapanke of La Crosse in a targeted race for his 32nd District seat. Johnson raised $67,381 and had $55,753 in her campaign account. Kapanke raised $37,415 and had $113,645 on hand.

In another targeted race, Democrat Alison Page of River Falls is challenging incumbent Republican Senator Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls for her 10th District seat. Page raised $57,714 and had $44,295 on hand followed by Harsdorf who raised $56,677 and had $105,942 in her campaign account.

The top Assembly fundraisers were candidates in a targeted race and open seat contest, and a legislative leader. Democrat Dan Kohl of River Hills, who is vying for the 22nd Assembly District open seat being vacated by Wasserman, raised $53,124 and had $41,883 in the bank. Kohl was followed by Republican Representative Brett Davis of Oregon whose 80th District seat is generally targeted. Davis raised $53,032 and had $85,677 in his campaign account. Rounding out the top three Assembly fundraisers was Republican Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch of Onalaska who raised $50,246 and had $28,614 in the bank.  

Table 2
Top* Legislative Fundraisers
January – June 2008

Candidate Office Party Status** Raised Cash Balance
Darling, Alberta S08 R I $106,457.16 $270,247.94
Wasserman, Sheldon S08 D C $88,420.01 $335,287.32
Tiffany, Tom S12 R O $79,688.12 $85,466.86
Johnson, Tara S32 D C $67,381.47 $55,752.52
Holperin, Jim S12 D O $59,315.88 $51,000.91
Page, Alison H S10 D C $57,714.29 $44,295.14
Harsdorf, Sheila S10 R I $56,676.75 $105,942.15
Kohl, Dan A22 D O $53,124.07 $41,882.79
Davis, Brett H A80 R I $53,031.78 $85,676.71
Huebsch, Mike A94 R I $50,246.12 $28,614.10

* Table shows candidates who raised $50,000 or more

** “I” means incumbent; “C” means challenger; “O” means open seat

Eleven legislative candidates – all current officeholders – had campaign account balances of more than $100,000. Behind Wasserman and Darling in the top five were Democratic Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay at $186,432; Democratic Representative Spencer Black of Madison at $149,046 and Democratic Senator Robert Wirch of Kenosha at $137,567. Hansen and Wirch face Republican opponents in November. Black has no primary or general election challenger.

The state’s top constitutional officers, who do not face reelection until 2010, also raked in a pretty sum during the first half of 2008. Democratic Governor Jim Doyle raised $906,000 in the first six months of the year and had a June 30 cash balance of $1,097,900. The period covered Doyle’s priciest fundraiser of the year – his sixth annual golf outing at University Ridge in Verona which asked for $1,250 per contributor.

Democratic Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton raised $53,427 and had a June 30 cash balance of $42,903. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen raised $49,314 and had $107,819 in his campaign account June 30.

All Candidate Fundraising

Candidates by Total RaisedCash Blance Alphabetical

July 2006 FundraisingJuly 2004 Fundraising