WISCONSINREPORT.COM (10/28/08) - A Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows that Wisconsin contributors have donated a record $3.27 million to unregulated special interest groups that spend much of their money on negative broadcast advertising, mailings and other electioneering activities to muffle what the candidates in federal and state races have to say on issues that really matter to voters. The contributions to 527 groups occurred between January 2007 and October 15, 2008. More than $1 million was contributed by a Milwaukee philanthropist.
The contributions come despite pleas by both presidential candidates that donors give their money directly to the candidates rather than these so-called 527 groups.
Fundraising and spending reports filed by the 527 groups, which are mostly out-of-state trade, union and ideological groups named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service code that loosely governs them, also show where some phony issue ad groups in Wisconsin are getting some of their money to pay for negative mailings and broadcast advertising in numerous legislative races.
With more than two months left in the 2007-08 election cycle, the $3.27 million already smashes the previous record for Wisconsin contributions to 527 groups for an entire two-year election cycle – $2.57 million in 2001-02.
Nearly one-third of Wisconsin’s total contributions came from one person, the first Wisconsin donor to ever give $1 million to 527 groups in one election cycle. Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein, a longtime backer of women’s and Democratic causes and an heir to the Schlitz Brewing and Allen Bradley family fortunes, contributed $1,008,000 to four 527 groups from 2007 through mid-October 2008 including $370,000 to the Progressive Majority, $250,000 each to the League of Conservation Voters and America Votes 2006 and $138,000 to the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund.
Uihlein was followed by Terry and Mary Kohler of Sheboygan, longtime supporters of Republican candidates and conservative causes. The couple and their Windway Capital Corporation contributed $467,000 to six 527 groups including $110,000 to All Children Matter, $105,000 each to America’s PAC and American Solutions for Winning the Future, $85,000 to GOPAC, $37,000 to the Club for Growth and $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association.
Rounding out the top five Wisconsin contributors were the Wisconsin Laborers District Council which contributed $206,561 to the Laborers Political League Education Fund, a Washington D.C. 527 group connected to labor; Allergan, an Oshkosh pharmaceutical company which gave $200,625 to the Democratic Governors Association; and the Progressive Wisconsin Political Fund in Madison which gave $200,000 to America Votes.
Five Wisconsin political groups – two of them phony issue ad groups – have gotten nearly $1.9 million from mostly out-of-state 527 organizations to fund their activities.
Like 527 groups, phony issue ad groups are exempt from having to report how much they raise, who they get it from and how much they spend on their activities because they do not explicitly tell people who to vote for or against, but the sometimes lurid and often demeaning tone of their message clearly tells voters who they should support or oppose. These groups can accept money that is illegal to give to candidates, such as unlimited contributions from individuals and donations from corporate and union treasuries.
The Greater Wisconsin Committee’s 527 group – the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund – raised $895,621, including $505,000 in the third quarter of 2008. The fund’s money came from Washington D.C.-based unions like the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Democratic ideological groups and a few wealthy individuals including Uihlein.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign organization says the Greater Wisconsin Committee in Madison is a liberal phony issue ad group that has spent an estimated $6.5 million on negative broadcast ads, mailings and other activities since 2006 to support Democratic candidates for statewide office and the legislature.
Club for Growth Wisconsin, a conservative phony issue ad group that has run negative ads since 2007 in the past two Wisconsin Supreme Court races and some current legislative races, has received $100,000 since July from the Alexandria, Virginia-based Republican State Leadership Committee.
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says Club For Growth is a 527 group that raises money to help elect GOP candidates to state offices and gets most of its contributions from large corporations and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which gave it $2 million in the third quarter of 2008.
Advancing Wisconsin, a new pro-Democratic grassroots group that has been campaigning on behalf of presidential candidate Barack Obama and about two dozen Democratic legislative candidates, received $718,393 through mid-October from America Votes and America Votes 2006, two Washington D.C.-based pro-Democratic 527 groups.
Progressive Majority Wisconsin, a Madison group that recruits, trains and helps elect Democrats, received $76,077 in the third quarter from the national Progressive Majority to fund its activities, and the Progressive Wisconsin Political Fund got a $70,885 contribution from the Washington D.C.-based Fund for America, a 527 that also backs Democrats.
Wisconsin contributions to Democratic 527 groups far surpass contributions to Republican 527s. Democratic 527s have collected $2.29 million or 70 percent of the contributions from Wisconsin between January 2007 and mid-October. GOP 527s have received $956,962 or 29 percent and groups that are neutral or support both major parties have received $17,983.
Leading the pack was the Progressive Majority, a Democratic-leaning 527 that backs Democrats. It received 49 Wisconsin contributions totaling $441,865 including $370,000 from Uihlein and about $22,000 from various labor unions. Progressive Majority was followed by the Democratic Governors Association which received $431,010 including $200,625 from Allergan, $52,250 from Johnson Controls and $50,000 from Daniel Bader, a longtime supporter of Democratic candidates from Milwaukee.
The Republican Governors Association rounded out the top three with $261,600 in contributions from Wisconsin, including three $50,000 contributions from Johnson Controls, HNTB Corporation and Verax Identity Fusion Center in Madison which provides identity theft and fraud protection services.
Two Wisconsin Indian tribes have contributed $98,900 to three 527 groups. The Forest County Potawatomi Community, which owns a casino in Milwaukee and opposes the construction of an $800 million mega-casino in Kenosha by another tribe, contributed $83,900 to the Democratic Governors Association and the Indigenous Democratic Network, a group that helps elect Democratic Native Americans to public office. The Oneida Nation of Wisconsin contributed $15,000 to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.