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Majority of outside Wisconsin recall money flows to organizations, not candidates

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July 21, 2011

By Geoff Pallay and Greg Janetka

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2011 Wisconsin Senate Recalls

Senators Facing Recall
Robert CowlesAlberta DarlingSheila HarsdorfDave HansenJim HolperinRandy HopperDan KapankeLuther OlsenRobert Wirch

Other Recall Information
Recalls by YearRecall Law in WisconsinRecall laws in other statesRecalls in Wisconsin2011 Scott Walker Budget Repair BillProtests over Budget Repair BillWisconsin Government Accountability BoardRecall timelineElection Results

MADISON, Wisconsin: A report in Wisconsin Watch today chronicles the fact that out-of-state donations are flowing "quietly" to the recalls. The article details several $500 or $1,000 donations given by out-of-state individuals from to both Democratic and Republican candidates. In particular, the article highlights four NEA officials who contributed to Shelly Moore and five individual donors who contributed to five Republican incumbents.

The article states:

All five are listed as giving substantial contributions to Republican recall targets on the same dates — $500 to Cowles on April 25, $500 to Harsdorf on May 2, $500 to Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, on May 17, and $1,000 to Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, on May 23. And all except Sharp gave $1,000 to Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, on April 23.[1]

But what the article overlooks is the massive sums of money that are flowing into the third-party organizations and independent entities who have fewer limitations on contribution levels. As we chronicled earlier, but is once again worth listing, there have been more than a handful of 5-figure sums contributed to recall efforts in Wisconsin from out-of-state individuals and organizations.

  • AFL-CIO - $3,000,000+
  • AFSCME - $800,000
  • America Votes Action Fund - $210,000
  • SEIU - $160,000+
  • League of Conservation Voters - $60,000

The majority of contributions to Democratic efforts have been reported to GAB via the We Are Wisconsin PAC. Groups like Wisconsin Club For Growth[2] have not explicitly detailed how much money it is spending, but reports are that the sums are likely along similar levels to the efforts from the left.[3]

The focus of monetary giving in these recalls is not about the small, grassroots donations given to candidates. It is the millions that will funnel through the labor unions, c4 organizations, PACs and other creative political entities.

Ad spending

One area where outside groups are outspending the candidates is in TV ads. As it gets deeper into the recall season, spending for the ads has greatly increased, with efforts supporting Democrats outspending Republican efforts by nearly 2-to-1. According to CMAG, a national firm that tracks campaign ads, the 10th District has already seen roughly three-quarters of a million dollars spent on broadcast TV. CMAG president Ken Goldstein referred to the current situation “uncharted territory,” - just how much will eventually be spent is anyone’s guess.[4]

While the recalls began on a single issue - the budget repair bill - the ads have branched out to include the history of candidates, legal issues, as well as federal issues. THe bulk of the ads have been negative and several have stirred controversy. Arguably, the most controversial was aimed as Republican David VanderLeest, addressing his past personnel and legal issues. At a press conference held July 18, VanderLeest announced he intends to file a slander lawsuit against a number of organizations for the ad, including his opponent’s campaign, Friends of Dave Hansen.[5] Hansen defeated VanderLeest in the recall election this past Tuesday.

Another recent controversial ad targets Democrat Fred Clark’s driving record, citing speeding tickets, driving on a suspended license, and two rear-end crashes.[6] The ad was paid for by Wisconsin Family Action, a right-leaning organization which states its mission as “advancing Judeo-Christian principles and values in Wisconsin by strengthening and preserving marriage, family, life and liberty.”[7]

On the other side of the political spectrum, it was reported yesterday that the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the Wisconsin chapter of Democracy for America are spending $100,000 on an ad supporting Clark and attacking Luther Olsen.[8]

Pasch vs. Darling

Accusing Sandy Pasch of breaking campaign finance laws, the tea party group Wisconsin GrandSons of Liberty filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board for a Pasch ad that did not include a mandatory “Paid for by” disclosure statement.[9] The ad, which reminded citizens to vote in the July 12 Democratic primary, ran on the cover of the Shepherd Express. On June 30 the Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed a similar complaint against Kim Simac for a mailing that did not have the disclosure. In that case a staffer took responsibility for the oversight.[10]

Pasch announced yesterday that she accepted debate invitations from six organization, but Darling has only accepted one, which is not a true debate. Calling out her opponent, Pasch said,” it appears Senator Darling is doing everything she can to avoid talking about her support for historic cuts to education and women's healthcare to pay for tax breaks for big corporations and special interests.”[11]

The “debate” agreed to by Darling is being put on by the Milwaukee Press Club and will take place on two separate days, with Pasch answering questions from journalists and the audience on August 1, and Darling facing the same panel August 2. A statement from the Press Club explained the format, saying they “attempted to present a debate between the two candidates at one setting. Pasch accepted the debate proposal. Darling declined. Thus, the candidates will be presented as Newsmakers on consecutive days.”[12]

Voter turnout clarification

Yesterday we reported on voter turnout in the recall primary elections, but did not properly clarify the difference between eligible and registered voters, which appeared to inflate our voter turnout percentages. The past voter turnout numbers cited were based on the number of eligible voters, while we looked at the number of registered voters who turned out for the primaries. According to GAB spokesman Reid Magney, across the state, the number of eligible voters is approximately 25 percent higher than the number of registered voters.[13]

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did a story on the same figures based on the number of voting age adults in the 2010 Census. Their calculations found turnout ranged from 7 percent up to 27.1 percent. Experts quoted in that article agreed -- when it comes to special elections, turnout in Wisconsin for the recalls has been significantly higher.[14]

See also


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