Ad Frenzy in 10th Senate District Smashes Spending Record

Independent Electioneering by Special Interests Already Past $1 Million Mark,
But Likely is ‘Tip of Iceberg’

October 31, 2000

Madison - With the crucial final days leading up to the November 7 election still ahead, special interest groups led by the state teachers union already have spent more than $1.1 million to influence the outcome of the 10th Senate District race, according to an analysis of the latest campaign finance reports by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The tally is only a partial accounting of the special interest activity in the race, because it is based on reported independent expenditures supporting or opposing the two candidates - incumbent Democratic Senator Alice Clausing and Republican challenger Sheila Harsdorf - as well as known issue ad activity. For example, it does not include a figure for any spending being done by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Groups running so-called issue ads do not have to report the activity to the state Elections Board.

Independent expenditures totaling $889,680 were reported as of mid-day today, of which $770,673 was spent by the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Reports confirming issue ad spending of at least $260,000 bring the total to at least $1,149,679.

Counting candidate spending reported so far, overall spending on the race already exceeds the previous record set in the 27th Senate District race in 1998. Clausing reported spending $188,577, bringing the total for the race to at least $1,338,256. That doesn’t count spending by Harsdorf, whose report had not yet been received by the Elections Board.

In the 27th District race, which pitted Democrat Jon Erpenbach against Republican Nancy Mistele, the combined spending by the candidates and special interest groups totaled just over $1.1 million.

"The 10th District is the worst example of runaway spending in the 2000 election, but when all is said and done we may also see at least two other Senate races break the old record," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said, pointing to the 30th and 32nd Senate District races. "When the smoke clears, we’ll have the finest legislature money can buy. Maybe now people will see why campaign finance reform is so badly needed."

Along with WEAC, groups reporting independent expenditures in the 10th District race include Volunteers for Agriculture, Building a Better Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood Advocates, Wisconsin Hunters’ Association, Eau Claire Association of Education and Wisconsin Right to Life PAC.

Numerous groups are waging issue ad campaigns in the race. Reports indicate Americans for Job Security has spent at least $160,000 on ads opposing Clausing. People for Wisconsin’s Future has spent at least $100,000 supporting Clausing, although some reports indicate the scope of the group’s activity may be much larger. It also is known that a group led by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is running issue ads attacking Clausing, as is Wisconsin Right to Life. However, there is limited information about the exact nature of those campaigns and no reliable estimate of their cost.

"We know special interests have spent over a million dollars on this race already, but there’s every reason to believe that’s just the tip of the iceberg," McCabe said. "There are groups operating in the shadows that are spending hundreds of thousands more that will never be reported. This election will be remembered as the one that drove the final nails in the coffin of clean and open government in Wisconsin."