Groups that supported Democratic candidates raised five times as much money as groups that support Republicans in Wisconsin during the first half of 2019, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reports.
Of the nearly $3.2 million raised by 527 groups–nonprofit organizations that, under IRS rules, can raise and spend unlimited, unregulated money on election activities–a whopping $2.7 million, or 84% went to Democrats.
The total money raised from January to June set a new record for the first six months of an odd-numbered year.
Among the possible explanations for the big cash haul this year are a Democratic base that has been activated by opposition to President Donald Trump, and anger over the lame-duck session in which Republican legislators seized powers from the newly-elected Democratic governor and attorney general, Matthew Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, told Wisconsin Examiner.
“I think Democrats are energized both out of disgust at the sneaky maneuvers and arrogance by [Assembly Speaker Robin] Vos and [Senate Majority Leader Scott] Fitzgerald, and energized across the board because of Trump,” says Rothschild. “Anger and disgust open the wallets faster than anything else.”
But groups with particular commercial interests also pumped up the total.
One of the top contributors to the Democratic Governors Association, was the American Transmission Company (ATC), which gave $50,000. ATC is one of three partners in a controversial proposal to run a massive power line from northeastern Iowa to southern Wisconsin, passing through the picturesque Driftless Area of the state.
The project was approved unanimously by the three-member Public Service Commission on August 20, over the objections of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the Driftless Area Land Conservancy, and other environmental and citizens’ groups.
“I support this project because I firmly believe that it will provide tangible economic and reliability benefits to Wisconsin customers, and will serve as the cornerstone to achieving a zero carbon future, ” PSC chairperson, Rebecca Cameron Valcq, who was appointed in January by Gov. Tony Evers, said in a statement.
But environmental and citizens groups pointed to flat demand for electricity in Wisconsin, and said the unsightly power line is not needed, except to ensure more profits for companies that have seen energy demand shrink because of increased efficiency and more renewables.
“Wisconsin citizens get stuck with unsightly 17-story-high transmission towers across their hilly, green Driftless area countryside, and consumers across the Midwest get billed for a project that isn’t needed for reliability,” Tia Nelson, managing director of climate at the Outrider Foundation, wrote in an oped opposing the project in the Capital Times.
Other big contributors to the Democratic Governors Association included Ho Chunk Nation, Black River Falls, at $100,000. The tribe is waiting for federal approval to build a large casino and hotel complex Beloit. If approved, the proposal would go to Gov. Evers, who, the Beloit Daily News reports, said he would support the casino when he was a candidate, but whose administration “has been less definitive in statements regarding the plan” more recently, suggesting that the project “is four years from approval.”
Ho Chunk and ATC have both made contributions over the years to both Democratic and Republican groups.
“But this big gap between Democrats and Republicans this year is unusual,” Rothschild said.
The Democratic Governors Association, for example, spent more money in Wisconsin than the previously heavy-spending Republican Governors Association. After the defeat of former Gov. Scott Walker, “It’s not clear who the candidate is going to be. A lot of donors are sitting on sidelines,” Rothschild said.
Overall, Republican groups are not getting less powerful. Nationally, the Republican Governors Association put out a press release touting its record-breaking fundraising number of $30 million across the country for the first half of 2019.
In Wisconsin, Republican legislators and their fundraising committees outraised Democratic lawmakers by a margin of 2-to-1 in the first half of 2019, according to data collected by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. And it would have been a record-breaking first half of the year for legislative fundraising except for 2011, which set an exceptionally high mark because nine state senators who were targeted for recall elections that year were able to raise unlimited contributions for a brief period, the group’s website points out.
“We do not like big money whether coming from the Democratic side or the Republican side,” Rothschild said. “We want less money in politics and more transparency.”
But spending on both sides is increasing, and will likely break new records as the presidential election nears.
“Every time we do a report we see another record being broken,” Rothschild said. “2020 is the big cloud on the horizon and more money will be coming in as Wisconsin looms more important.”