Incumbents Hunkering Down In Beds Of Cash

Legislative officeholders, special interests determined to maintain status quo

September 26, 2008

Madison - Legislative candidates on the November ballot had $5.52 million in their campaign accounts at the end of August, but nearly $3 of every $4 was held by incumbents who also are likely to benefit from more contributions and negative, outside electioneering activity by powerful business, labor and other special interests in the coming weeks, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Legislative incumbents had nearly $4 million in their campaign accounts – a $4 to $1 advantage over challengers who cleared the September primary – as special interest contributions and their spending on negative, outside electioneering escalate to determine control of the legislature in November, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Campaign finance reports filed by the candidates covering fundraising and spending activities for July and most of August show the 102 incumbents had campaign cash balances totaling $3.95 million (see pie chart) while 73 challengers had just short of $1 million in their accounts. Twenty-seven candidates for open seats had nearly $600,000 in cash on hand.

Pie Chart: Breakdown Of Cash On Hand By Legislative Candidates

The cash advantage held by incumbents was built from more than 270 fundraisers between January 2007 and August 2008 when they milked powerful special interests using last year’s months-long state budget standoff and other key spending and policy proposals, like cable regulation and smoking bans to draw campaign contributions. During the same 20-month period the Senate met only 33 days and the Assembly met only 29 days to consider public policy and spending legislation.

The candidates are vying for 99 Assembly seats and 16 Senate seats up for grabs in the November 4 general election. Republicans control the Assembly 51-47 and Democrats the Senate by 17-14.

With such close margins it appears likely direct special interest contributions to the candidates as well as outside electioneering activities will be as bad or worse than previous, comparable years. Independent expenditures groups which report their spending and activities and phony issue ad groups that secretly raise and spend as much as they want doled out a record $6.7 million in 2004 and about $5 million in 2000 – the last two elections where there were only legislative races – on negative ads, mailings and other activities.

Other key findings from the candidates’ latest campaign finance reports show:

  • In addition to the legislative candidates, the four legislative leadership committees which are used by Senate and Assembly leaders to raise money from lobbyists and powerful special interests for election year spending, had $361,004 to help elect legislative candidates;
  • Assembly incumbents had a $6 to $1 advantage over the challengers they will face in November with $2.76 million in their campaign accounts versus $471,367. Senate incumbents had a $2 to $1 advantage over challengers they face on the November ballot with $1.19 million on hand compared to $517,271;
  • Sixty-three percent, or 24 of the 38 legislative primaries – all in the Assembly – were won by the candidate who spent the most money;
  • Twelve candidates – nine incumbents, two open seat candidates and a challenger – had cash balances exceeding $100,000 at the end of August;
  • All 269 legislative candidates going into the September primary had a record $5.81 million in their campaign accounts at the end of August. That was 14 percent higher than the previous record $5.09 million all legislative candidates had in their accounts at the same time in 2006 and 47 percent higher than the $3.96 million they had in 2004;

Leading the pack was Democratic Representative Sheldon Wasserman of Milwaukee (see Table) who had $346,705 in his campaign account followed by Republican Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills who had $268,854 in the bank. Wasserman is challenging Darling in what is expected to be one of the most expensive legislative races in state history.

During the first eight months of 2008, Wasserman and Darling have collectively spent nearly a third of a million dollars on the race.

Top* Campaign Cash Balances Of Legislative Candidates
On The November Ballot

Candidate District Party Candidate
Cash Balance
Wasserman, Sheldon S08 D C $346,705.43
Darling, Alberta S08 R I $268,854.24
Hansen, Dave S30 D I $196,024.69
Black, Spencer A77 D I $150,462.43
Wirch, Robert S22 D I $134,633.49
Harsdorf, Sheila S10 R I $127,097.69
Kapanke, Dan S32 R I $126,092.79
Lazich, Mary S28 R I $116,791.01
Gundrum, Mark A84 R I $114,257.31
Holperin, Jim S12 D O $106,498.10
Kaufert, Dean A55 R I $102,207.03
Tiffany, Tom S12 R O $100,317.99
Johnson, Tara S32 D C $98,972.12
Lassa, Julie S24 D I $98,282.22
Moulton, Terry A68 R I $96,297.97
Davis, Brett H A80 R I $93,904.60
Nelson, Tom A05 D I $83,463.03
Stone, Jeff A82 R I $78,149.44
Vos, Robin A63 R I $74,551.03
Petrowski, Jerry A86 R I $61,669.51
King, Jessica J S18 D O $58,056.57
Page, Alison H S10 D C $57,006.27
Bernard Schaber, Penny A57 D O $56,278.74
Meyer, Dan A34 R I $55,309.92
Rhoades, Kitty A30 R I $54,683.11
Vruwink, Amy Sue A70 D I $52,996.07
Dexter, Kristen A68 D C $51,680.78
Hopper, Randy S18 R O $51,055.67

*Table shows November ballot candidates who had campaign cash balances of $50,000 or more August 25.
** “I” means incumbent; “C” means challenger; and “O” means open seat.

November Ballot Candidate Cash Balances

Cash Balance DistrictAlphabetical