Outside spending on elections hits horrifying new high

By: - October 31, 2022 12:56 pm
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Outside groups that explicitly tell people who to vote for have spent more than $52.3 million in Wisconsin, a new record. Groups backing Republican candidates have spent more than three times more than Democratic groups with a week to go before the Nov. 8 elections.

As of Monday morning, express advocacy groups supporting Republicans have spent $39.65 million compared to $12.07 million doled out by groups supporting Democratic candidates. (A group supporting the independent candidate for governor, who has since dropped out, has spent $619,541.)

This spending has occurred in races for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, and the legislature. It does not include outside spending in federal races for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

The $52.33 million spent on independent expenditures to date far surpasses the previous record $36.57 million spent by express advocacy groups during the 2018 fall elections.

These independent expenditure groups, also known as “express advocacy” groups, use the magic words “vote for” or “vote against” or their equivalents in their broadcast and online advertising, mailings and other activities.

Twelve groups have spent more than $1 million. The top-spending groups are:

Right Direction Wisconsin PAC, $9.29 million. This political action committee (PAC) is run by the Republican Governors Association . The PAC has spent most of its money on broadcast and digital ads attacking incumbent Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on tax and crime issues. Evers faces Republican businessman Tim Michels.

Americans for Prosperity, $6.36 million. This rightwing group created by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch has used broadcast and digital advertising, canvassing, and mailings to back Michels and other GOP candidates in races for attorney general and the legislature.

Fighting for Wisconsin, $4.38 million. This Super PAC was created to support GOP candidate for governor Kevin Nicholson. It spent all of its money before the Aug. 9 primary mostly on television ads. Nicholson dropped out the GOP primary for governor in early July.

ACC Wisconsin 2022 PAC, $3.97 million. This is a second electioneering PAC run by the Republican Governors Association. The PAC has spent the bulk of its money on television ads attacking Evers, including claims that hundreds of violent offenders have been released by the state parole commission since Evers was elected in 2018.

Club for Growth Action, $3.55 million. This Super PAC is run by the national Club for Growth. The PAC spent all of its money mostly on television ads before the Aug. 9 primary to oppose GOP candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch. The conservative group has a track record of opposing Democrats in general elections and Republicans in primaries who it does not feel are conservative enough.

For more information about all of the express advocacy groups, please visit the independent expenditure page  in our Hijacking Campaign 2022  feature.

This tally does not include several million dollars in spending by phony issue ad groups, which can also raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. But, unlike express advocacy groups, phony issue ad outfits do not have to report their spending because of federal court decisions and lax campaign finance laws. These groups smear or praise candidates but without explicitly telling viewers who to vote for or against.

Those phony issue ad groups are the  Alliance for Common Sense, WMC Issues Mobilization Council, State Solutions, Inc., Wisconsin Initiative, Future Forward USA Action, Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, A Better Wisconsin Together, and  Empower Wisconsin.


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Matt Rothschild
Matt Rothschild

Prior to joining the Democracy Campaign at the start of 2015, Matt worked at The Progressive magazine for 32 years. For most of those, he was the editor and publisher of The Progressive.