Watchdog group: State corporate political donations double since 2020

Three times as much money goes to Republicans as Democrats

By: - August 12, 2022 6:30 am
Dollar bills

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Corporate donors have given Wisconsin Republican Party groups more than three times as much money as they have to Democratic Party groups so far this year, according to a campaign finance watchdog group, and they are spending twice as much on political contributions as they did two years ago.

Through June 2022, corporations gave $633,393 to the state Republican Party, Republican Assembly Campaign Committee and the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported Thursday after reviewing campaign finance reports. 

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee and the State Senate Democratic Committee have received $188,500 in corporate contributions over the same period, the Democracy Campaign found. That translates to $3.65 given to the GOP groups for every dollar given to the Democratic groups.

The donors include business, unions and trade groups representing health care, agriculture, construction, insurance, banking, manufacturing, tourism, energy, real estate and other sectors.

Wisconsin banned corporate or union political donations for more than a century until 2015, when then-Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation repealing the ban. The 2015 law allows corporate contributions of up to $12,000 a year to each political party and each legislative campaign committee.

The party organizations aren’t allowed to spend that money directly on candidates or for campaign advertising, but they can use it to pay the salaries of party and committee officials, rent and other such expenses.

Matthew Rothschild

That distinction is all but meaningless, however, says Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

“It’s a joke that this money is sequestered in some separate account,” Rothschild says. Earmarked for overhead costs, the corporate money frees up other money coming in. “That’s more money that they have available to spend on political advertising. The money is essentially fungible.”

Wisconsin corporate donations to the two parties and four legislative campaign committees totaled $821,893 for the first six months of 2022. For the same period in 2020, the total was $403,635, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported.

“Every time we look in every category, fundraising records are being broken,” Rothschild says. 

One trend he has seen, though, is corporate donors directing less of their money to the parties themselves. Instead, they’re giving more directly to the Assembly and Senate campaign groups, perhaps out of the belief that “they get more bang for the buck by giving to the legislative committees than the parties,” he says.

Among the top spenders, many organizations sent money to both political parties, while tending to favor one over the other. 

“It’s a brilliant tactic — they’re greasing the wheels of both parties, so whoever is in power they win,” Rothschild says. “When they come knocking on the door on either side of the aisle, their knock gets answered.”

WEC Energy Group, of Milwaukee, which owns electric power and natural gas utilities, gave $24,000 to GOP groups, split between the Republican Assembly and Senate campaign committees. It also gave $12,000 to the Democratic Party.

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), however, spent $36,000 entirely on Democrats: $12,000 each to the party and the two legislative campaign committees. 

Other big donors:

  • Wisconsin Association of Health Plans (insurance trade group): $33,500 total — $12,000 each to the Republican Assembly and Senate campaign committees and $2,500 to the Republican Party; $5,000 to the Democratic Party and $1,000 each to the Democratic Assembly and Senate campaign committees.
  • Forest County Potawatomi Community: $30,000 total — $12,000 to the Democratic Party and $3,000 each to the Democratic Assembly and Senate committees; $6,000 each to Republican Assembly and Senate committees.
  • Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association: $28,000 total — $12,000 each to the Republican Assembly and Senate committees; $4,000 to the Democratic Assembly committee.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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