This article was first published by the Center for Media and Democracy at PRWatch.org. To see some of the political ads discussed in this article, see the videos embedded in the original article at PRWatch.org.
Most of the headlines in recent weeks have focused on embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s effort to ward off a recall, but four Wisconsin State Senate seats are also up for grabs in the June 5 recall elections. These four elections could swing control of the Senate to the Democrats. Last summer, six senators faced recall elections, and Democrats picked up two seats. If they pick up one more seat in the June 5 election, they win control of the Senate and put a halt to the Walker agenda.
In a 60-day winter sprint, recall proponents successfully gathered enough signatures to trigger recall elections for Senators Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls), Pam Galloway (R-Wausau), and Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau). Senator Galloway resigned at the end of the legislative session, so two elected officials are vying for her seat.
“We expect all four races to be relatively close,” Dan Romportl, executive director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Out-of-state money has not poured in to support these senators to the same extent as for Governor Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. However, for state senate races, there have been significant direct contributions and independent expenditures reported from both inside and outside of Wisconsin. Many of the groups supporting Democrats are organized as PACs and disclose both their donors and spending. Many of the groups supporting Republicans are organized as non-profits running “issue ads” that don’t explicitly endorse a candidate but have the same effect. These groups keep their funding and spending secret, preventing the public from ever knowing who is behind the ads or the total amounts spent.
Although we focus on expenditures by special interest groups below, it is important to note that the national Republican State Leadership Committee Inc. (RSLC, registered in Wisconsin as a corporation) and the national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC, registered in Wisconsin as DLCC Wisconsin PAC) are both also spending heavily in these races. The RSLC has spent $555,700 on the races listed below, almost four times as much as the DLCC, which has spent $143,115, according to the Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD’s) analysis of figures from the the non-profit, non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC), which tracks money in state politics.
In addition, it is notable that three of the eight candidates in the Senate recall races are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate bill mill whose influence on Wisconsin politics CMD recently brought to light in the report “ALEC Exposed in Wisconsin: The Hijacking of a State.”
Independent Expenditures in Senate Recall Races
Rematch: Wanggaard vs. Lehman
Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-21) represents the Racine area. He is a member of ALEC’s Communications and Technology Task Force and Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. He has received $352,154 in direct campaign contributions from January 2011 through May 21, 2011, according to WDC.
Big third party groups spending on Sen. Wanggaard’s side include the American Federation for Children (AFC), a pro-school voucher group associated with the billionaire DeVos family that is also a member of ALEC. AFC sponsored a 30-second TV ad, but because AFC is a nonprofit engaging in “issue ads” it keeps its donors and spending a secret. AFC has spent $894,000 on TV ad buys between May 22 and June 4, according to sources that track media buys. How much of this was spent on the gubernatorial race versus the senate races is not known.
Another group is GOPAC Wisconsin, the state arm of a Washington D.C.-based PAC that supports Republican candidates for state and local offices around the country. According to WDC, it has spent $48,531 supporting Van Wanggaard.
The RSLC has spent over $34,000 attacking Wanggaard’s opponent, former Sen. John Lehman. That spending includes a full-page, full-color mailer stating “you’re not safe, thanks to John Lehman,” attacking his support for an early release program, which was criticized by the local NAACP as “meant to feed on individuals’ fear of the races.”Another mailer stated that Lehman likes to burn through money — your money . . . because that’s just how liberals like it.”
Sen. Wanggaard is being challenged by former Sen. Lehman (D-21), who held the seat that is currently Wanggaard’s from 2006 until losing to Wanggaard in the 2010 election. Polls show this race at a dead heat. Lehman has received $174,216 in direct campaign contributions from January 2011 to May 21, 2012, according to WDC.
Big third party spenders on former Sen. Lehman’s side are the Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund (organized as a corporation), which has spent $388,402; Planned Parenthood Advocates of WI Political Fund (PAC), which has spent $305,900; We Are Wisconsin Political Fund (organized as a corporation), which has spent $196,333; Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters IE Committee (organized as a corporation), which has spent $50,891; and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, Inc. (organized as a corporation), which has spent $2,659 (May 30 ad here, at left), according to WDC.
In addition, from 2008 to April 2012, Sen. Wanggaard received $12,926 in direct contributions from ALEC member corporations. His top ALEC member donors are Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Abbott Laboratories, Humana, McDonald’s, and WellPoint.
Rematch: Moulton vs. Dexter
Sen. Terry Moulton (R-23) represents the Chippewa Falls area. He is a member of ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. He received $245,118 in direct contributions from January 2011 through May 21, 2012, according to WDC.
Big third party spenders on Sen. Moulton’s side include Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state chapter of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As a nonprofit trade association, WMC uses its “Issues Mobalization Council” (WMC IMC) arm to run “issue ads” and keep its donors and spending secret. WMC IMC has sponsored pro-Moulton ads.
The RSLC has spent $409,386 in opposition to Sen. Moulton’s opponent, former Rep. Kristen Dexter (D-68), in the recall election, according to WDC.
Also supporting Moulton is “Volunteers for Agriculture,” the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s PAC, which has reported spending $29,611 on newspaper and radio ads, according to the Government Accountability Board (GAB).
Sen. Moulton is being challenged by former Rep. Dexter, who in the 2008 election beat incumbent Moulton to win his Assembly seat. She has received $186,459 in direct contributions from January 2011 through May 21, 2012, according to WDC.
Big third party spenders on Rep. Dexter’s side are the Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund, which has spent $555,737.46; We Are Wisconsin Political Fund, which has spent $191,100; and the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters (organized as both a PAC and a corporation), which has spent $37,772, according to WDC.
In addition, from 2008 to April 2012, Sen. Moulton received $9,475 in campaign donations from ALEC member corporations. His top ALEC member donors are Xcel Energy, 3M, AT&T, Eli Lilly and Company, and LoanMax.
Petrowski vs. Seidel
Petitions were filed in January 2012 sufficient to recall Sen. Pam Galloway (R-29), who represented the Wausau area, but she then stepped down from the Senate in March 2012. Rep. Jerry Petrowski (R-86) and Rep. Donna Seidel (D-85) are campaigning to fill her Senate seat.
Rep. Petrowski currently represents the Marathon area in the State Assembly. He has received $173,251 in direct contributions from January 2011 through May 21, 2012, according to WDC.
The biggest known third party spender on Rep. Petrowski’s side is the national RSLC, which has spent over $112,000 attacking his opponent.
Other big spenders in support of Petrowski are GOPAC Wisconsin, which has spent $14,789; and Corn PAC (the PAC run by the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association), which has spent $1,104 on radio and newspaper ads, according to the GAB (see Filed Report GAB7S).
Rep. Seidel currently represents the Wausau area in the State Assembly. She has received $169,120 in direct contributions from January 2011 through May 21, 2012, according to WDC.
The big third party spender on Rep. Seidel’s side is We Are Wisconsin Political Fund, which has spent $43,330, according to WDC.
Fitzgerald vs. Compas
Senate Co-Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-13) represents the Juneau area and is the former Wisconsin state chairman of the ALEC. He has received $793,770 in direct contributions from January 2011 through May 21, 2012, according to WDC.
Significant independent expenditures have not been reported in support of Sen. Fitzgerald. However, it is not known what role shadowy dark money groups that do not disclose their funding and spending may be playing in the election.
Sen. Fitzgerald is being challenged by an unlikely candidate, Wisconsin small business owner and mother of two, Lori Compas, who is trailing in the polls. Compas spearheaded the campaign to gather signatures to recall Fitzgerald when the Democratic Party of Wisconsin said it couldn’t be done and declined to lend support. When she and her group of volunteers had gathered sufficient signatures, she declared her candidacy in the campaign against Fitzgerald in March.
A political neophyte, Compas has received $197,371 in direct contributions from February 2012 through May 21, 2012, according to WDC.
In addition, Sen. Fitzgerald was a member of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force until it was disbanded in April of this year. From 2008 to April 2012, he received $14,870 in campaign contributions from ALEC member corporations. His top ALEC member donors are Alliant Energy, AT&T, Abbott Laboratories, Eli Lilly and Company, General Motors, Humana, and Wal-Mart.
This article has been updated to reflect updated figures from WDC.