Legislative Hopefuls Rake In Record Cash

Summer fundraising went well despite hot races for statewide offices

September 28, 2010

Madison – Legislative candidates raised a record $1.9 million in July and August and held $5.34 million in their campaign accounts going into the primary elections where the biggest spender won two of every three races, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review shows.

Auction 2010In addition to the new fundraising marks, one race stands out for two reasons that rarely occur in a legislative primary – outside special interest groups got involved and an incumbent lost.

Democratic State Senator Jeff Plale of South Milwaukee was the only incumbent among 93 who failed to survive his primary race. Even though Plale was outspent by his opponent, his loss was due mainly to negative campaigning by outside special interest groups which spent nearly $120,000 mostly to oppose him. These groups deluged 7th Senate District voters with nasty mailings about energy, cable and telecommunications bills Plale sponsored in recent years.

For more information about the outside groups that got involved in Plale’s race and others, please go to the Hijacking Campaign 2010 feature.

The Democracy Campaign’s review of preprimary campaign finance reports filed by the candidates found:

  • The $1.9 million raised by legislative candidates in July and August was 26 percent higher than the $1.5 million raised during the same period in 2006 – the last comparable gubernatorial election year – and 76 percent higher than the $1.08 million raised at the same time in the 2002 gubernatorial election year. The previous legislative fundraising record in the two months leading up to the legislative primaries was $1.78 million in 2008 when there were no statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and U.S. Senate that generally draw cash from legislative races.
  • Legislative candidates amassed $5.34 million in their campaign accounts by the end of August – a record for a gubernatorial election year that was 5 percent higher than the $5.09 million candidates had at the same time in 2006 and 45 percent more than the $3.69 million in 2002. The overall legislative cash balance record for the period was $5.81 million in 2008 when there were no fall races for statewide offices.
  • In addition to candidate fundraising committees, four Democratic and Republican Senate and Assembly legislative campaign committees used by legislative leaders to attract special interest cash to spend on elections raised a combined $231,987 in July and August and had cash balances totaling $475,291.

Table 1
Legislative Campaign Committees

Legislative Campaign Committee Fundraising
(7/1/10–8/30/10)
Cash Balance
(8/30/10)
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee $141,721 $98,119
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee $37,966 $187,647
State Senate Democratic Committee $24,095 $127,770
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate $28,205 $61,755
TOTALS $231,987 $475,291
  • The number of candidates who spent the most money and won their legislative primaries remained high. This year the biggest spender won 34 of 49 or 69 percent of the primary contests, compared to 24 of 38 races or 63 percent in 2008 and 25 of 31 races or 81 percent in 2006. Recounts underway in three Assembly races could alter the current number of races where the biggest spender won.
  • Incumbents held a huge financial edge over challengers a few weeks before the September 14 primaries. Ninety-three incumbents had cash balances totaling $3.44 million, a near $4 to $1 cash advantage over their 122 challengers who had $938,064 in their accounts at the end of August. Ninety-seven candidates for open seats, which occur when there is no incumbent running for reelection, had banked $962,253 at the end of August.
  • In the Assembly, 79 incumbents – none of whom lost in the primaries – held a $4 to $1 cash advantage with $2.2 million in their war chests compared to 103 challengers who had $517,349 in the bank at the end of August. Eighty-nine open seat candidates had $747,578 in their campaign accounts as of August 30.
  • The Senate’s 14 incumbents up for reelection – one of whom lost his primary – held a $3 to $1 cash advantage with $1.24 million in their campaign accounts compared to $420,714 by their 19 challengers. Eight open seat candidates had $214,675 in the bank at the end of August.

Eight legislative candidates ended August with campaign account balances exceeding $100,000 (Table 2). Topping the list was Republican State Senator Michael Ellis of Neenah who had $196,680 in his account that has accumulated over several years. Ellis traditionally raises and spends little money because he rarely faces viable competition for his relatively safe seat. Following Ellis was freshman Democratic State Senator Pat Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls who had $148,496. Kreitlow is among a handful of targeted Senate Democratic incumbents expected to face a tough race. Rounding out the top three largest campaign balances at the end of August was Democratic Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker of Schofield who had $143,171.

Table 2
Top 10 Legislative Cash Balances

Candidate Office Party Status* Fundraising
( 7/1/10 – 8/30/10 )
Cash Balance
( 8/30/10 )
Ellis, Michael S19 R I $737.99 $196,680.02
Kreitlow, Pat S23 D I $31,594.60 $148,496.26
Decker, Russ S29 D I $15,636.06 $143,170.98
Sullivan, Jim S05 D I $33,526.24 $138,730.22
Marek, John A84 R O $3,130.00 $130,871.28
Vukmir, Leah S05 R C $30,104.00 $130,082.86
Kedzie, Neal S11 R I $8,860.00 $115,670.95
Lehman, John S21 D I $28,956.31 $112,776.27
Vos, Robin A63 R I $5,472.08 $93,042.51
Elmer, Monk S01 D O $37,229.18 $92,230.37

*‘I’ means incumbent; ‘O’ means open seat; ‘C’ means challenger

Two other candidates with more than $100,000 in the bank at the end of August were freshman Democratic State Senator Jim Sullivan of Wauwatosa, who had $138,730 in his campaign account, and Republican State Representative Leah Vukmir of Wauwatosa who had $130,083. Vukmir is challenging Sullivan in what is expected to be one of the most expensive legislative races in 2010.

Topping the list of legislative fundraisers (Table 3) in July and August was a challenger and two open-seat candidates – one of whom lost her primary. Republican Ed Thompson of Tomah, who is challenging freshman Democratic State Senator Kathleen Vinehout of Alma in another closely watched legislative race, raised $41,340 and had $47,828 in his war chest August 30. Thompson was followed by Republican Dari McDonald of Birchwood who raised $38,990 but lost a four-way Republican primary for the 75 th District northern Wisconsin seat held by retiring Democratic Representative Mary Hubler. Rounding out the top three fundraisers was Democratic Senate candidate Elmer Monk of Kimberly who raised $37,229 and had $92,230 in his campaign account. Monk is vying for the open 1 st District Senate seat held by retiring Republican Senator Alan Lasee.

Table 3
Top 10 Legislative Fundraisers

Candidate Office Party Status Fundraising
( 7/1/10 – 8/30/10 )
Cash Balance
( 8/30/10 )
Thompson, Ed S31 R C $41,340.43 $47,827.63
McDonald, Dari A75 R O $38,990.31 $7,922.44
Elmer, Monk S01 D O $37,229.18 $92,230.37
Plale, Jeffrey S07 D I $35,470.43 $45,214.35
Sullivan, Jim S05 D I $33,526.24 $138,730.22
Kreitlow, Pat S23 D I $31,594.60 $148,496.26
Moulton, Terry S23 R C $30,993.14 $64,429.66
Fitzgerald, Scott S13 R I $30,538.32 $34,360.34
Vukmir, Leah S05 R C $30,104.00 $130,082.86
Lehman, John S21 D I $28,956.31 $112,776.27

*‘I’ means incumbent; ‘O’ means open seat; ‘C’ means challenger

For a complete list of legislative candidates, the amount they raised in July and August and their campaign balances please see the links at the bottom of the page.

The six Democratic and Republican candidates who will face off in November for the offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general had a combined $4.6 million in their campaign accounts at the end of August – a figure that’s likely changed substantially after the September 14th primary when fundraising and spending intensify.

Leading the list was Democratic candidate for governor Tom Barrett who had $2.58 million in his campaign account after raising $962,281 in July and August. His challenger, Republican Scott Walker, had less than half of Barrett’s resources – $1.21 million in his campaign account after raising $826,542 in July and August – even before a primary faceoff with fellow Republican Mark Neumann.

In the race for lieutenant governor, Democrat Tom Nelson won a four-way primary battle for a place on the ticket with Barrett. Nelson had $223,992 in his campaign account August 30 after raising $72,279. Republican Rebecca Kleefisch won a five-way primary to team up with Walker in November. Kleefisch had $102,300 in her campaign account after raising $62,188 in July and August.

Incumbent Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen had $357,846 in his war chest August 30 – a nearly three to one advantage over Democratic challenger Scott Hassett – after raising $87,187. Hassett had $126,966 in his campaign account after raising $35,850 in July and August.

Legislative Candidate Pre-Primary Fundraising and Cash Balances

Cash BalanceDistrict Alphabetical