Wisconsin Donations to Unregulated Groups Topped $5 Million in 18 Months

Republican groups got twice as much as Democratic groups

September 10, 2014

Madison – Wisconsin contributors gave $5.3 million between January 2013 and June 2014 to political groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts on electioneering activities but must disclose the donations to federal tax authorities, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.

The Wisconsin contributions to these so-called 527 groups during the first 18 months of the 2013-14 election cycle were 86 percent ahead of the $2.9 million doled out by state residents, businesses, labor unions and trade and ideological groups during the same period in the 2009-10 election cycle which featured Republican Governor Scott Walker’s run.

The latest 18-month contribution tally was short of the record $6.1 million in Wisconsin contributions to these groups during the first 18 months of the 2011-12 cycle which featured Walker’s high-profile summer recall election, and a fall presidential race and open-seat U.S. Senate contest in Wisconsin (see Bar Chart).

18-Month Wisconsin Contributions to 527 Groups

Other key findings in the Democracy Campaign review were:

  • Wisconsin contributors doled out $2.84 million to two 527 groups with state political action committees that have spent $2.83 million as of early September in the governor’s race.

State donors, including businesses, individuals and trade groups, have contributed $2.78 million to the Republican Governors Association 527 group. In turn, the group's Right Direction Wisconsin PAC has spent nearly $2.1 million in the Wisconsin governor’s race as of early September.

Wisconsin donors – mostly unions –contributed $63,400 to the Greater Wisconsin Committee’s 527 group which supports Democratic candidates for state and local offices. The group’s PAC had spent $737,183 as of early September to support Walker’s Democratic opponent, Mary Burke.

Wisconsin donors also gave $50,000 to a 527 group run by the League of Conservation Voters and $265,350 to Emily’s List, a national group that supports women Democratic candidates for public office. State arms affiliated with both groups to make independent expenditures had yet to sponsor any outside electioneering activities as of early September in the fall 2014 elections.

  • Republican 527 groups received more than twice as much from Wisconsin contributors than Democratic 527 groups. Donors gave $3.5 million or 66 percent of all Wisconsin contributions to GOP-leaning 527 groups compared to $1.6 million or 31 percent to Democratic 527s. About 3 percent or $164,317 in contributions went to groups that supported both parties or were neutral.
  • Topping the list (Table 1) of 527 groups that accepted Wisconsin contributions was the Republican Governors Association at $2.8 million, followed by Wisconsin Progress at $481,989, United Association at $324,960, Wisconsin Club for Growth at $272,902 and Emily’s List at $265,350.

The Republican Governors Association supports GOP candidates for governor around the country. The group has been among the top spending outside electioneering groups in state elections, doling out an estimated $14.4 million to support Walker’s initial 2010 election and his 2012 recall contest.

Wisconsin Progress is a Madison-based organization founded in 2009 to recruit and train Democratic candidates to run for state and local offices. The group also provides campaign advice and resources and endorses candidates. Unlike many 527s, Wisconsin Progress does not directly sponsor broadcast ads, mailings or other electioneering activities on behalf of candidates.

United Association is a Maryland-based national plumbing and pipe trades union that operates two 527 organizations and collects contributions from its six local unions in Wisconsin. The union backs federal, state and local candidates that support pro-labor policies through get-out-the-vote and other grassroots efforts, and has not directly sponsored outside electioneering activities in Wisconsin elections.

Wisconsin Club for Growth is the state arm of the national Club for Growth and supports conservative policies and candidates for state and federal offices. The state group doled out an estimated $12.4 million between 2007 and 2013 to support conservative Republican candidates for state and legislative offices, but has yet to directly sponsor any outside electioneering activities in the 2014 elections. Wisconsin Club for Growth is one of the groups involved in the latest John Doe investigation.

EMILY’s List is a Washington D.C.-based group that supports women Democratic candidates for federal and state offices throughout the country. The group spent nearly $265,000 on independent expenditures in the 2011 recall races through a state corporation called Wisconsin Women Vote! In addition, Emily’s List Wisconsin Political Action Committee doled out $106,866 in direct contributions to candidates between 2008 and June 2014. The group has created another state committee to pay for outside electioneering activities in the 2014 fall elections.

  • Most of the $5.3 million in Wisconsin contributions to 527 during the 18-month period came from businesses, unions and trade and ideological groups – about $3.2 million or 61 percent. The remaining $2.1 million came from people.

Topping the list of Wisconsin businesses and groups (Table 2) that gave to 527s was American Transmission Company of Waukesha which builds and operates major electrical transmission lines throughout the Upper Midwest at $345,855. The company gave $45,000 to the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and $300,855 to the Republican Governors Association and the Republican State Leadership Committee. Both the Republican and Democratic groups raise and spend unlimited amounts to elect governors and state legislators across the country.

Second on the list were six United Association local unions in Wisconsin that contributed a combined $324,960 to the national union, and third was the Brico Fund at $297,000. The Brico Fund is run by Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein. Uihlein is a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates and environmental and women’s causes. The fund contributed $262,000 to EMILY’s List and $35,000 to Emerge Wisconsin, a grassroots organization that recruits and trains women Democratic candidates.

Heading the list of top individual donors (Table 3) were Mike and Mary Sue Shannon of Milwaukee who contributed $1.5 million to the Republican Governors Association, followed by Uihlein who contributed $150,000 and Terry and Mary Kohler of Sheboygan who contributed $77,000.

The Shannons contributed $500,000 to the Republican Governors Association in March 2013 and followed it up with another $1 million in March 2014 – the largest single disclosed contribution by a Wisconsin donor to a candidate or group in state political history.

Uihlein contributed $100,000 to Wisconsin Progress and $50,000 to the League of Conservation Voters. The league’s PAC spent nearly $530,000 on independent expenditures between 2006 and 2013 to support mostly Democratic candidates for state and legislative offices.

The Kohlers who are longtime backers of conservative causes and Republican candidates for state and federal office in Wisconsin and around the country contributed $40,000 to America’s PAC which supports conservative Republican candidates, $20,000 to GOPAC, $15,000 to the Republican Governors Association and $2,000 to Tim Scott for Senate. Scott is a Republican senator from South Carolina who was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2013 and must run for the seat in a special election in 2014.

The 527 organizations are only part of the constellation of special interest groups engaged in outside electioneering activities and do not include issue ad and other dark money organizations that secretly raise and spend millions of dollars on federal, state and even local elections.

Table 1
Wisconsin Contributions* To 527 Groups
January 2013 – June 2014

527 Group Amount
Republican Governors Association $2,779,496
Wisconsin Progress $481,989
United Association Political Issues and Action Funds $324,960
Wisconsin Club for Growth Political Fund $272,902
Emily's List Non-federal $265,350
Republican State Leadership Committee $185,550
Democratic Governors Association $149,189
Emerge Wisconsin $117,401
National Association of Mutual Insurance Cos. Administrative Fund $96,355
ActBlue Technical Services $79,426
Jobs First Coalition Political Fund $76,000
Greater Wisconsin Political Fund $63,400
GOPAC. $51,210
League of Conservation Voters $50,000
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee $43,190
Reince for RNC Chairman $42,537
America's PAC $40,000
Voices for Growth $38,775
Property Casualty Insurers (PCI) Political Accounts $26,496
Ironworkers Political Education Fund $25,475

*Table shows 527 groups that received $25,000 or more from state donors.

Table 2
Contributions* From Wisconsin Individuals And Couples To 527 Groups
January 2013 – June 2014

Name City Employer Amount
Mike and Mary Sue Shannon Milwaukee KSL Capital Partnership/Homemaker $1,500,000
Lynde B. Uihlein Milwaukee Brico Foundation $150,000
Terry and Mary Kohler Sheboygan Windway Capitol $77,000
Paul Jones Chenequa AO Smith Corp. $35,000
Michael Grebe Milwaukee Bradley Foundation $25,000
Cynthia Torhorst Milwaukee None Listed $25,000
Richard Strong Brookfield Baraboo Growth LLC $17,000
Grant Abert Hillpoint None Listed $15,000
Richard Halmstad Eau Claire JAMF Software $10,000
Samir Murty Eau Claire Orgel Wealth Management $10,000
Brian McCarthy Madison None Listed $10,000
Joseph E. Richardson II Sheboygan Falls Richardson Industries $10,000
Donald Katz Madison None Listed $7,500
Terence and Mary Kelly Madison Weather Central/ Retired $7,000
Michael Eisenga Columbus American Lending Solutions $6,250
William Johnson Jr. Hayward Johnson Timber $6,250
Steve and Gayle Kagen Appleton Kagen Allergy Clinic $5,500
Stephen Ziegler Oconomowoc NPRO Corp. $5,000
James Coburn Whitewater Coburn Co. $5,000
David Gruber Milwaukee Gruber Law Office LLC $5,000
Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Homemaker $5,000

*Table shows contributions totaling $5,000 or more from Wisconsin individuals and couples.

Table 3
Contributions* From Wisconsin Businesses, Unions and Groups To 527 Organizations
January 2013 – June 2014

Name City Amount
American Transmission Co. Waukesha $345,855
United Association Locals 75, 118, 183, 400, 434 & 601 Various $324,960
Brico Fund Milwaukee $297,000
Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Milwaukee $273,750
Wisconsin Club for Growth Sun Prairie $271,272
Robert and Patricia Kern 1992 Revocable Trust Waukesha $200,000
USCC Services LLC Middleton $150,000
Forest County Potawatomi Community Crandon $101,535
Johnson Controls Milwaukee $97,578
WEAC Madison $92,700
Jobs First Coalition Brookfield $76,000
Integrys Business Support LLC Green Bay $72,000
Solidarity PAC Madison $61,466
American Federation of Teachers Madison $57,950
Monster Worldwide Milwaukee $50,000
Skill Integrity Responsibility Council Madison $50,000
Burke for Wisconsin Madison $40,981
American Family Mutual Insurance Madison $36,400
Miller Coors Brewing Milwaukee $36,031
Kwik Trip La Crosse $31,155
AFSCME Wisconsin Councils 40 and 11 Madison $30,750
Michael Best and Friedrich Milwaukee $30,000
ACUITY Mutual Insurance Sheboygan $28,059
Ironworkers Locals 008 and 383 Various $27,975
SEIU Wisconsin State Council Milwaukee $26,000
Greater Wisconsin Committee Madison $26,000
Persuasion Partners Madison $25,037
ABC Supply Beloit $25,000
Johnson Timber Hayward $25,000
Advance America Middleton $25,000

*Table shows contributions totaling $25,000 or more from Wisconsin businesses, unions and groups.