Spending on AG, secretary of state races skyrocketed in 2022, finance watchdog reports

By: - January 27, 2023 6:15 am

Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, left, defeated Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney in the race for Wisconsin Attorney General in November. (Official candidate photos)

Both the 2022 race for Wisconsin attorney general and the usually low-key contest for secretary of state broke campaign spending records, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported this week, with outside funding driving much of that spending surge.

“This is how it’s going in Wisconsin these days,” said Matt Rothschild, the campaign finance watchdog group’s executive director. “Just about every race for every position is breaking a record in campaign spending.”

More than half of the $14 million spent in last year’s attorney general race was spent by outside special interest groups, according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Democratic incumbent Josh Kaul won the race in November, defeating Republican Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney.

Altogether, 19 organizations spent $7.58 million in either the primary or general election. The leading outside groups were political action campaigns organized by the Republican Attorneys General Association ($3.11 million) and the Democratic Attorneys General Association ($1.9 million).

The third biggest spender was Americans for Prosperity, which spent $550,000 to support former state Rep. Adam Jarchow, who lost to Toney in the August GOP primary.

Kaul and the four Republicans vying to challenge him spent $6.42 million. Kaul, who had no primary opposition, spent $4.8 million, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported.

Toney spent $963,884. Three other Republicans spent $661,013 challenging Toney in the Republican primary Aug. 9.

The total spent on the race exceeded the last record, set in 2018 when Kaul was first elected, by less than $1,000, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported.

In the race for secretary of state, total spending in 2022 skyrocketed to $1.16 million, more than eight times the previous record set in 2014, and it was 38 times more than the last race for the office in 2018.

Seven candidates in all took part — three Republicans and two Democrats in the primary elections, and two minor party candidates. The seven collectively spent $872,324, according to the Democracy Campaign.

The single biggest spender was Republican Amy Loudenbeck, with $501,356. Democratic incumbent Doug La Follette, who won the November race, spent less than half that, $229,689.

Outside groups spent $288,824. A political action committee supporting one of Loudbeck’s challengers in the August primary accounted for half that, $192,868, according to the Democracy Campaign. Four other groups spent a combined $95,956 on La Follette or his Democratic primary opponent.

Two U.S. Supreme Court rulings opening up political spending to corporations (Citizens United PAC vs. FEC in 2012) and erasing limits on aggregate federal campaign contributions (McCutcheon vs. FEC in 2014) along with a 2015 Wisconsin law that raised contribution limits dramatically are among the drivers of the campaign spending boom, Rothschild said — along with “the nationalization of our politics by hyper-partisan super-rich folks on both sides.”


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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.