State Donors Give Record $3 Million-Plus To Shadow Groups

Milwaukee philanthropist exceeds $1 million in contributions

October 28, 2008

Madison - Wisconsin contributors have donated a record $3.27 million to unregulated special interest groups that spend much of their money on negative broadcast advertising, mailings and other electioneering activities to muffle what the candidates in federal and state races have to say on issues that really matter to voters, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

The contributions, which occurred between January 2007 and October 15, 2008, include more than $1 million from a Milwaukee philanthropist and come despite pleas by both presidential candidates that donors give their money directly to the candidates rather than these so-called 527 groups.

Fundraising and spending reports filed by the 527 groups, which are mostly out-of-state trade, union and ideological groups named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service code that loosely governs them, also show where some phony issue ad groups in Wisconsin are getting some of their money to pay for negative mailings and broadcast advertising in numerous legislative races.

With more than two months left in the 2007-08 election cycle, the $3.27 million already smashes the previous record for Wisconsin contributions to 527 groups for an entire two-year election cycle – $2.57 million in 2001-02 (see Bar Chart).

Chart: Wisconsin Contributions to 527 Groups by Election Cycle

*Indicates partial election cycle

Other key findings in the reports filed by the 527s include:

  • Nearly one-third of Wisconsin’s total contributions came from one person, the first Wisconsin donor to ever give $1 million to 527 groups in one election cycle. Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein, a longtime backer of women’s and Democratic causes and an heir to the Schlitz Brewing and Allen Bradley family fortunes, contributed $1,008,000 (see Table 1) to four 527 groups from 2007 through mid-October 2008 including $370,000 to the Progressive Majority, $250,000 each to the League of Conservation Voters and America Votes 2006 and $138,000 to the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund.

Uihlein was followed by Terry and Mary Kohler of Sheboygan, longtime supporters of Republican candidates and conservative causes. The couple and their Windway Capital Corporation contributed $467,000 to six 527 groups including $110,000 to All Children Matter, $105,000 each to America’s PAC and American Solutions for Winning the Future, $85,000 to GOPAC, $37,000 to the Club for Growth and $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association.

Rounding out the top five Wisconsin contributors were the Wisconsin Laborers District Council which contributed $206,561 to the Laborers Political League Education Fund, a Washington D.C. 527 group connected to labor; Allergan, an Oshkosh pharmaceutical company which gave $200,625 to the Democratic Governors Association; and the Progressive Wisconsin Political Fund in Madison which gave $200,000 to America Votes.

  • Five Wisconsin political groups – two of them phony issue ad groups – have gotten nearly $1.9 million from mostly out-of-state 527 organizations to fund their activities.

Like 527 groups, phony issue ad groups are exempt from having to report how much they raise, who they get it from and how much they spend on their activities because they do not explicitly tell people who to vote for or against, but the sometimes lurid and often demeaning tone of their message clearly tells voters who they should support or oppose. These groups can accept money that is illegal to give to candidates, such as unlimited contributions from individuals and donations from corporate and union treasuries.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee’s 527 group – the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund – raised $895,621, including $505,000 in the third quarter of 2008. The fund’s money came from Washington D.C.-based unions like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Democratic ideological groups and a few wealthy individuals including Uihlein. The Greater Wisconsin Committee in Madison is a liberal phony issue ad group that has spent an estimated $6.5 million on negative broadcast ads, mailings and other activities since 2006 to support Democratic candidates for statewide office and the legislature.

Club for Growth Wisconsin, a conservative phony issue ad group that has run negative ads since 2007 in the past two Wisconsin Supreme Court races and some current legislative races, has received $100,000 since July from the Alexandria, Virginia-based Republican State Leadership Committee. That 527 group raises money to help elect GOP candidates to state offices and gets most of its contributions from large corporations and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which gave it $2 million in the third quarter of 2008.

Advancing Wisconsin, a new pro-Democratic grassroots group that has been campaigning on behalf of presidential candidate Barack Obama and about two dozen Democratic legislative candidates, received $718,393 through mid-October from America Votes and America Votes 2006, two Washington D.C.-based pro-Democratic 527 groups.

Progressive Majority Wisconsin, a Madison group that recruits, trains and helps elect Democrats, received $76,077 in the third quarter from the national Progressive Majority to fund its activities, and the Progressive Wisconsin Political Fund got a $70,885 contribution from the Washington D.C.-based Fund for America, a 527 that also backs Democrats.

  • Wisconsin contributions to Democratic 527 groups far surpass contributions to Republican 527s. Democratic 527s have collected $2.29 million or 70 percent of the contributions from Wisconsin between January 2007 and mid-October. GOP 527s have received $956,962 or 29 percent and groups that are neutral or support both major parties have received $17,983.

Leading the pack was the Progressive Majority, a Democratic-leaning 527 that backs Democrats (see Table 2). It received 49 Wisconsin contributions totaling $441,865 including $370,000 from Uihlein and about $22,000 from various labor unions. Progressive Majority was followed by the Democratic Governors Association which received $431,010 including $200,625 from Allergan, $52,250 from Johnson Controls and $50,000 from Daniel Bader, a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates from Milwaukee. The Republican Governors Association rounded out the top three with $261,600 in contributions from Wisconsin, including three $50,000 contributions from Johnson Controls, HNTB Corporation and Verax Identity Fusion Center in Madison which provides identity theft and fraud protection services.

  • Two Wisconsin Indian tribes have contributed $98,900 to three 527 groups. The Forest County Potawatomi Community, which owns a casino in Milwaukee and opposes the construction of an $800 million mega-casino in Kenosha by another tribe, contributed $83,900 to the Democratic Governors Association and the Indigenous Democratic Network, a group that helps elect Democratic Native Americans to public office. The Oneida Nation of Wisconsin contributed $15,000 to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

Top DonorsTop Recipients

Table 1
Top* Wisconsin Contributors to 527 Groups
January 2007 – October 15, 2008

CONTRIBUTOR CITY EMPLOYER AMOUNT
Lynde B. Uihlein Milwaukee Time Out Enterprises LLC $1,008,000
Terry and Mary Kohler
and Windway Capital Corp.
Sheboygan Windway Capital Corp. $467,000
Wisconsin Laborers District Council Madison Not Applicable $206,561
Allergan Oshkosh Not Applicable $200,625
Progressive Wisconsin Political Fund Madison Not Applicable $200,000
Grant Abert Hillpoint Retired $108,000
Johnson Controls Inc. Milwaukee Not Applicable $102,250
Forest County Potawatomi Community Crandon Not Applicable $83,900
Verax Identity Fusion Center Madison Not Applicable $57,500
Daniel Bader Milwaukee Granite Micro Systems $50,000
HNTB Corp Madison Not Applicable $50,000
One Wisconsin Now Action Milwaukee Not Applicable $45,000
Wisconsin People Conference Madison Not Applicable $26,000
James and Judith Callan Fox Point James Callan Inc. $26,000
WE Energies Milwaukee Not Applicable $25,000
Results LLC Oak Creek Not Applicable $25,000
Monster Worldwide Inc. Milwaukee Not Applicable $25,000
Ironworkers Local 383 Madison Not Applicable $23,707
Extendicare Health Services Milwaukee Not Applicable $21,000
Tom Talbot Montello Glen Oak Lumber and Milling $20,000
Miller Brewing Co. Milwaukee Not Applicable $20,000
Kohl’s Corp. Menomonee Falls Not Applicable $20,000
Flambeau River Papers LLC Park Falls Not Applicable $15,000
Oneida Nation of Wisconsin Oneida Not Applicable $15,000
Capitol Navigators Inc. Madison Not Applicable $15,000
International Brotherhood
of Boilermakers
(various locals)
Marinette,
Sturgeon Bay,
Milwaukee,
Manitowoc,
Algoma,
Cudahy,
Auburndale,
Superior
Not Applicable $11,741
Leonard J Sobczak Milwaukee Eastmore Real Estate $11,350
Donald Katz Madison None Listed $10,000
Madison Teachers Inc. Madison Not Applicable $10,000
CUNA Mutual Insurance Co. Madison Not Applicable $10,000
Gordon and Judith Faulkner Madison Retired/Epic Systems $10,000
Credit Union National Association Madison Not Applicable $10,000
William E. Johnson Hayward None Listed $10,000
Donald Lynch Milwaukee None Listed $10,000
American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin Madison Not Applicable $10,000
Joseph E. Richardson II Oostburg Richardson Industries $10,000
Marilyn Domer Washington Island Retired $10,000

*Table shows contributors who gave $10,000 or more to 527 groups between January 2007 and mid-October 2008.

Table 2
Top* 527 Recipients of Wisconsin Contributions
January 2007 – October 15, 2008

NAME AMOUNT
Progressive Majority $441,865
Democratic Governors Association $431,010
Republican Governors Association $261,600
League of Conservation Voters $250,000
America Votes 2006 $250,000
Greater Wisconsin Political Fund $230,620
America Votes $204,200
Laborers Political League Education Fund $191,561
GOPAC $172,306
American Solutions for Winning the Future $150,130
America ’s PAC $125,000
All Children Matter $110,000
Progressive Wisconsin Political Fund $106,000
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee $51,225
INDN’s List (Indigenous Democratic Network) $48,900
Club for Growth.net $45,500
National Association of Mutual Insurance Cos. Administrative Fund $26,995
Ironworkers Political Education Fund $23,707
Emily’s List Non-federal $17,000
College Republican National Committee $14,910
Presidential Coalition LLC $14,825
PCI (Property Casualty Insurers) Political Accounts $15,893
International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Legislative Education Fund $11,741
Republican State Leadership Committee $11,715
Democratic Attorneys General Association $10,000

*Table shows 527 groups that received $10,000 or more between January 2007 and mid-October 2008.