Special Interest Electioneering Groups Outspending Legislative Candidates

October 19, 2016

Stuffing Ballot  Box with Cash

A handful of wealthy special interest electioneering groups are spending more on Wisconsin’s legislative races than all the 185 candidates on the November ballot combined.

Figures compiled by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign show ideological, business and other special interests have dropped more than $4.4 million on the legislative races. Meanwhile, the most recent campaign finance reports filed late last month show final-ballot legislative candidates collectively spent about $2.6 million between Jan. 1 and August 31.

Most of the spending by the groups, about $3.7 million or 84 percent, has been in three of the 16 state Senate races up for grabs. Here’s a rundown of those races and others where the candidates’ messages to voters are taking a back seat to special interest spending:

In the hotly contested 18th Senate race, Democrat Mark Harris and Republican Dan Feyen, who are vying for an open seat, raised about $204,300 and spent about $99,400 through August. Special interests, led by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC), and a new group called Prosperity for Everyday People, have spent about $2.4 million.

In the 14th Senate race, where incumbent GOP Sen. Luther Olsen, of Ripon, faces Democrat Brian Smith, the candidates raised about $100,800 and spent about $31,700. Special interests, again, led by WMC, GWC, and Prosperity for Everyday People, have spent about $800,000.

In the 12th Senate District, where incumbent Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, faces Democrat Bryan Van Stippen, the candidates raised about $228,000 and spent about $37,700. Outside special interests have spent more than $500,000 with American Federation for Children (AFC), a Washington, D.C.-based pro-school-voucher advocate, spending the most.

For the open seat in the 85th Assembly District, Democrat Mandy Wright and Republican Patrick Snyder raised about $145,300 and spent about $47,300 through August. Meanwhile, outside special interest groups have spent about $170,900, led by AFC, which has spent about $117,200 on the race.

In the 50th Assembly race, where incumbent Republican Ed Brooks, of Reedsburg, faces a challenge from Democrat Art Shrader, the candidates raised about $151,600 and spent $58,600 through August. Special interests, led by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, have spent about $95,000 in the race.

In the 51st Assembly race, incumbent Republican Todd Novak, of Dodgeville, and Democrat Jeff Wright, raised about $157,500 and spent about $58,000. Meanwhile, special interest groups have dropped about $123,400 in the race, led by AFC, which has spent about $47,000.

For 67th Assembly open seat, Democrat Dennis Hunt and Republican Rob Summerfield raised about $73,200 and spent about $37,000, compared to about $92,250 in spending by outside special interests led by AFC, which has spent about $41,500 in the race.