Special Election Spending Sets New Mark

Just Latest Example of Need for Reform

May 8, 1998

Madison - Campaign spending by the two candidates and several special interest groups in the special election last month set a new record of $689,325. The candidates combined to spend a total of $481,285. Special interest groups spent an additional $208,040 "independently" of the candidates. The previous record, set in 1996 when Sen. George Petak was recalled, was $661,958.

"Legislators need look no further than south-east Wisconsin for the latest example of the dire need for fundamental campaign finance reform," said Gail Shea, executive director of the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "How many more spending frenzies must the voters suffer through before our elected officials say ‘Enough is enough’?"

The winner of the special election, Republican Mary Lazich spent $314,165. One individual and six organizations made a total of $31,432 in independent expenditures to support her election. Her challenger, Democrat Brian Manthey spent $167,120 on his campaign. Future Wisconsin, a super-PAC funded by labor union political action committees and a national Democratic organization, spent an additional $176,608 in support of his candidacy.

"Outside groups, with no particular ties to the district drop their bombs in these races and have no accountability to the voters. Voters may never know the true origin of much of the money. Future Wisconsin is a perfect example of what campaigns should NOT be: special interest money shuffled between political action committees and used to wage a campaign outside the control of the candidates," said Shea. 

"The special interest money flowing into these elections must be cut off," said Shea.. "A ban on PAC to PAC contributions, which would discourage the formation of super-PACs like Future Wisconsin, is an important step toward this goal."

However, PACs are not the only way special interest money is funneled into campaigns, Shea said. "The out-of-district money which flowed into the Lazich campaign in the last two weeks through the Majority GOP conduit must be reigned in as well." Of the $161,278 raised from individuals in the last two weeks of her campaign, $117,725 or 73% came through conduits. "Dependence on out-of-district money for the late surge in campaign spending creates the same opportunity for special interest influence as independent spending by super-PACs," said Shea.

"It is time for a change! Any true campaign finance reform must respond to the voters’ desire to control spending and reduce special interest influence. The legislature has the opportunity to do both next week. They need to guarantee funding for candidates who agree to spending limits and reduce special interest contribution limits for both PACs and conduits."