Hijacking Campaign 2016

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce

Posted: October 5, 2016
Updated: June 1, 2017

WMC is the state’s largest business organization and one of the most powerful special interest groups in Wisconsin. The group, which claims more than 3,500 business members, has spent millions of dollars over the years to lobby the governor and legislature on dozens of state policy and spending issues ranging from taxes to education to environmental, public safety and other business-related regulations.

In addition to throwing its weight around on state policy and spending matters, WMC is among the leaders in spending on outside electioneering activities, like negative broadcast ads and mailings, in statewide and legislative elections. Between 2006 and 2015 the group had secretly raised and spent an estimated $18.4 million on phony issue ads to smear Democratic candidates and support Republican candidates for governor, attorney general and the legislature and conservative candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. 

WMC had operated soley as a phony issue ad group since the 2007 Supreme Court elections when it last made independent expenditures through its PAC, then called Concerned Business and Industry, but in 2016 it created a new committee, called WMC Jobs Fund, for the exclusive purpose of making independent expenditures in Wisconsin elections.

WMC's issue ad arm sponsored television ads from early October until Election Day, Nov. 8, to back GOP candidate, and eventual winner, Dan Feyen, who faced Democrat Mark Harris for the open 18th Senate seat. The incumbent, GOP Sen. Rick Gudex, of Fond du Lac, did not seek reelection so Democrats hoped to pick up the 18th Senate seat, which had flip-flopped between both parties in the last two elections.

Three WMC television ads accused Harris of favoring numerous tax increases as Winnebago County's executive. Among the tax increases Harris suggested is a three-cent-a-gallon state gas tax increase to fund road projects and repairs. Both WMC and Feyen had proposed similar gas tax and/or vehicle registration fee increases to pay for roads.

The Democracy Campaign estimates that WMC spent nearly $1.2 million on issue ads in the 18th Senate District.

Last active election: 2014