Challengers Face Uphill Fight

Officeholders Have $9-$1 Cash Advantage Over Challengers

September 27, 2004

Madison - Legislative officeholders had nearly $3.1 million in campaign funds and a $9-$1 advantage over their challengers two months before the November general election, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

WDC’s findings came from a review of preprimary campaign finance reports that cover fundraising between July 1 and August 30 by candidates in races for 99 Assembly seats and 16 Senate seats. The reports were filed by the candidates with the State Elections Board earlier this month.

Key findings in the WDC analysis include:

  • Legislative officeholders had $3,066,615 in cash on hand as of August 30 compared to $357,430 for challengers - a $9-$1 advantage. During July and August, officeholders raised $810,522 compared to $326,093 for challengers. Candidates for open seats, which occur when there is no incumbent running for reelection, raised $326,487 and had $324,094 in cash on hand.
  • All legislative candidates, including those who lost in the primary, had $3,958,880 in their campaign accounts at the end of August (see Table), which was 7 percent more than the $3.7 million all candidates had at a comparable point during the 2002 elections and about 4 percent less than the $4.1 million that all candidates had in their accounts at a comparable point in the 2000 election year.

There are a couple of reasons for the leveling off of contributions to legislative candidates from the 2002 and 2000 elections. First, federal candidates and committees are getting millions of dollars from residents of Wisconsin, which is viewed as a swing state in the presidential election. Wisconsin contributions to federal candidates, political action committees, party committees and independent groups that seek to influence federal elections for the 2004 election cycle totaled more than $16.3 million as of mid-September, including $3.1 million to presidential candidates and $3.6 million to national party committees.

Second, candidates in 51, or 44 percent, of the 115 legislative races on the November ballot face no opponent or only minor party opposition making it less urgent for many of those candidates to raise large amounts of money for the primary or general election like they have in the past. For instance, Republican Representative Mark Gundrum of New Berlin raised $17,619 during July and August of the 2002 election year when he faced an opponent. Gundrum, who is unopposed this year, raised only $3,153 during the same two-month period. The same is true for GOP Representative Ann Nischke, who raised $16,390 in July and August 2002 versus $1,200 during the same period this year. Republican Senator Carol Roessler, who faced an opponent in 2000 raised $17,184 during the two-month period. This year, she faces no opponent and raised only $2,315.

  • Seven Republicans and three Democrats, mostly incumbents, rounded out the top 10 list of all candidates with the largest war chests. Democratic Representatives Sheldon Wasserman of Milwaukee with $155,559 and Spencer Black of Madison with $143,990 led the list. Republican Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills who represents a wealthy district and is co-chair of the powerful budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, had a cash balance of $135,557 and Republican challenger Reince Priebus who challenging incumbent Democratic Senator Robert Wirch of Kenosha in a targeted race in the 22nd Senate District had $115,115 on hand at the end of August.
  • The top 10 fundraisers during the two-month period included eight Republicans and two Democrats. It was dominated by Senate candidates in hotly contested or targeted races. Leading the list were GOP Representative Glenn Grothman of West Bend who bank $102,706 and former Republican Senate Majority Mary Panzer who raised $95,752. Grothman beat Panzer in a rare primary in which a legislative leader was challenged by a member of her own party. Priebus accepted $70,443 and Dan Kapanke, a GOP candidate for a targeted open seat in the 32nd Senate District representing the La Crosse area, raised $54,391.

Candidates listed by Cash BalanceAlphabetical Listing