Spending by Candidates for Governor Increased Nearly 680 Percent in 20 Years

August 18, 2015

Spending by candidates for governor and final ballot candidates for lieutenant governor increased about 680 percent in 20 years, from $6.9 million in 1994 to a record $53.7 million in 2014, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review shows.

The 1994 race featured Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson and Lt. Gov. Scott McCallum, who spent a combined $5.5 million, and Democratic candidate Charles Chvala and his running mate, Dorothy Dean, who spent a combined $1.4 million. Thompson and McCallum won their third, four-year term in 1994.

Thompson, who won four four-year terms as governor, in part, because he was a tireless, mega-fundraiser for his time, said shortly after the 1996 general elections: “I’m concerned that the amount of money being spent and the independent expenditures are fraying at the democratic principles that we hold so dear in Wisconsin.”

But fundraising continued to escalate with each succeeding election, often sharply, and due mostly to the refusal of governors and legislatures to update and strengthen Wisconsin’s archaic campaign finance laws.

Total spending by candidates for governor and final-ballot lieutenant governor increased 25 percent from the 1994 election, to $8.6 million in 1998, and then by 123 percent, to $19.2 million in 2002. After a slight increase to nearly $20 million on the 2006 election, candidate spending rocketed to $25.2 million in 2010, then $44.4 million in the 2012 recall, and finally $53.7 million last year.

The near 680 percent increase in spending by candidates for the state’s top office compares to an inflation rate of 60 percent from 1994 to 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In addition to the candidates, spending by outside electioneering groups backed by business, ideological and union interests has also surged, from an estimated $3.9 million in the 2002 race for governor to a record $36.5 million in the governor’s 2012 recall election.

The spending by candidates and outside interests combined in races for governor has set records every four years since 1994, but in particular when it surged from $37.4 million in 2010 to $80.9 million in the 2012 recall , but then continued to climb to $81.8 million in the 2014 general election.