Report: Early outside money leans heavily for GOP candidates in legislative races

    "Sold!" Photo by Sara via Flickr 2011 CC BY-ND 2.0

    Republicans are benefiting from nearly two-thirds of the political spending by groups outside of the campaigns or the political parties so far this fall, according to the campaign financing watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

    In a preliminary report released Tuesday, the Democracy Campaign calculated that of $613,000 spent so far ahead of the November elections, 63% — $388,685 — has been spent by four groups backing Republican candidates.

    Another 10 outside organizations spent $224,261, or 37%, on behalf of Democratic candidates, the Democracy Campaign stated.

    “All but 19 of the 115 legislative races on the Nov. 3 ballot have seen outside spending by special interest groups,” the organization said.

    The spending tracked in the Democracy Campaign’s report consists of independent expenditures for express advocacy — urging people to vote for or against a candidate. That spending has to be reported under state law, but funders have increasingly been able to use loopholes to mask the people behind the money. 

    In 2018, outside spenders accounted for about one-third of all the money spent to elect state lawmakers.

    The biggest spender so far has been Americans for Prosperity, which has spent about $152,800 in behalf of Republicans in four races. AFP is one several rightwing organizations supported by a network of funders developed by Charles Koch and his late brother, David. Others include the Wisconsin Realtors Political Fund, which has spent $145,500 so far, and Make Liberty Win, which is based in Alexandria, Va., and is a newcomer to Wisconsin politics, spending $70,700 so far this year, according to the Democracy campaign. Both groups back Republicans.

    The most money spent so far has been on the race for the state’s 10th Senate District, where freshman Sen. Patty Schachtner (D-Somerset) is defending the seat from a challenge by Rep. Rob Stafsholt (R-New Richmond). The three GOP-supporting outside funders have collectively spent about $252,250 to support Stafsholt.

    So far, three Democratic groups — Citizen Action of Wisconsin, the NEA Advocacy Fund, and A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund — have spent $8,340 backing Schachtner. “That means the Republican outside groups spent about 30 times more than their Democratic counterparts in this race so far,” the Democracy Campaign states.

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    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with 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.