Electioneering Groups Set Spending Record in Legislative Elections

November 2, 2016

Smug Winner Flanked by Dejected Also-Rans

Spending by special interest electioneering groups in next week’s legislative elections in Wisconsin has topped $7.8 million – a record, according to preliminary figures compiled by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Here are some key findings:

  • The $7.8 million spent by Democratic and Republican ideological, business, and other special interest groups already beats the previous record for outside spending in non-recall legislative races, which was $7.1 million set in the 2008 general elections;
  • Groups that back Democrats have outspent Republican outside groups. Democratic groups have spent more than $4.1 million and Republican groups have spent more than $3.7 million;
  • Three groups – two Republican and one Democratic – have topped $1 million in spending, and two other Democratic organizations that share the same contact information have combined spending of more than $1 million;

Leading the list of outside spenders is the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which supports Democratic candidates and has spent more than $1.7 million on independent expenditures and phony issue ads;

Behind Greater Wisconsin is Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group. WMC, which backs Republican candidates, has sponsored undisclosed phony issue ads and independent expenditures totaling more than $1.6 million.

The American Federation for Children, a Washington, D.C.-based pro-school-voucher group that backs mostly GOP candidates, has spent more than $1 million.

Two other organizations with same address and telephone number – Prosperity for Everyday People, an issue ad group, and Wisconsin Prosperity, an independent expenditure group – have spent a combined $1.1 million to support Democrats.

  • Spending by outside groups in the 18th and 14th state Senate Districts has topped $1 million;

In the 18th Senate race where Democrat Mark Harris faces Republican Dan Feyen for an open seat, outside special interests have spent more than $3.2 million led by WMC, Greater Wisconsin and Prosperity for Everyday People.

In the 14th Senate race, where Democrat Brian Smith is challenging incumbent GOP Sen. Luther Olsen, of Ripon, outside electioneering groups have spent about $1.9 million, led by WMC, Greater Wisconsin, Prosperity for Everyday People, and the Wisconsin Freedom Alliance, which supports Democratic candidates.

  • Spending by outside groups in three other legislative races is near or more than a half-million dollars;

In the 51st Assembly race, where incumbent Republican Todd Novak, of Dodgeville, faces Democrat Jeff Wright, special interest groups have spent nearly $570,000, led by American Federation for Children and the Jobs First Coalition Political Fund, which also supports Republicans.

In the 12th Senate race where Democrat Bryan Van Stippen is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Tom Tiffany, of Hazelhurst, outside special interests have spent more than $520,000, led by the American Federation for Children and the Wisconsin First Political Fund, which supports Democrats.

In the 85th Assembly District, where Democrat Mandy Wright and Republican Patrick Snyder face off for an open seat, outside special interest groups have spent more than $477,000, led by the American Federation for Children and the Jobs First Coalition.

The Democracy Campaign’s findings are based on reports filed by independent expenditure groups and preliminary estimates for secretive phony issue ad groups based largely on television advertising purchases.

For more information about other groups and their activities and spending to influence this fall’s legislative elections, please visit the Democracy Campaign’s Hijacking Campaign 2016 feature.