Democrats Spend Big in Efforts to Take Back Wisconsin's Statehouse

More than 56 groups have taken to the airwaves this summer telling Wisconsin citizens how to vote, and now it's down to the wire. The first recall election is Tuesday, where six Republicans senators will have their positions challenged.

The recall elections are a result of a movement of state citizens upset with what many have called Governor Scott Walker's radical efforts to limit the rights of workers in the state and the recently signed GOP budget, which included severe cuts to public education and safety-net programs. Citizens have pushed to have the Republican senators who voted for these measures removed from office. Two Democratic senators will also face recall on August 16th. The Democrats will have to win at least three Republican seats next week to take back control of the State Senate.

Spending in five of the nine recall elections has already broken records for what has previously been spent in a state senate race. Some 42 "political action committees" (PACS) and 14 "issue" ad groups have contributed to the election. PACS are required to disclose their campaign spending to the Government Accountability Board, while "issue" ad groups use tactics like avoiding the word "vote" in their ads to evade disclosure, even though the ads are run during the days and weeks before an election and often portray candidates in a negative way. The majority of the PACS who are players in the recall election are groups in support of Democrats, while the majority of "issue" ad groups are in support of Republicans.

Groups fighting to swing the state senate to the Wisconsin Democrats have spent significant amounts in these elections, in order to protect the rights of workers in the state and put a check on the policies of Walker. Many see the state as a battleground in a national fight to protect the middle class from suffering all the consequences of the nation's economic collapse.

"We Are Wisconsin" Leads in PAC Spending

The biggest single spender among PACS is We Are Wisconsin, a coalition of unions, which has spent over $9 million so far. Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the State AFL-CIO, is the committee's treasurer.

Kelly Steele of We Are Wisconsin, in an interview with CMD, said his group's decision to maintain transparency by registering as a PAC has disadvantaged them in some ways because their spending has been compared with undisclosed spending that is very difficult to track. A full total of the undisclosed spending by right-wing groups in the race may never be known.

One of the themes in the We Are Wisconsin ads is the idea that Wisconsin Republican legislators have "changed," attributing this transformation to Walker's extremism. A series of ads describe incumbent Republicans with phrases like "Alberta Darling used to be independent but now she is one of Scott Walker's closest allies" and "Sheila Harsdorf is just not on our side, not anymore."

"Progressive Change Campaign Committee" Uses Personal Narrative To Sway Voters

Progressives have also frequently cited the nearly $800 million cuts to public education included in Walker's bill. Many of the ads are montages of children on jungle gyms, or in public school classrooms. Some focus on telling Wisconsin voters what the cuts mean for their future and their children's future, like a 60-second ad by Progressive Change Campaign Committee PAC (PCCC), and Democracy for America, a new Wisconsin PAC formed by the Vermont-based national organization founded by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.

The PCCC Recall Committee and PCCC Recall Fund IE combined have spent nearly $148,000 on the states recalls.

The ad is narrated by a Poy Sippi, Wisconsin resident. He criticizes incumbent Republican Senator Luther Olsen's vote for the enormous cuts to education pushed through by Walker, saying the consequence could be that the public elementary school his two children attend closes in the future. The man says Sen. Olsen "has consistently put big-money interests ahead of the middle class."

The group also sticks with the personal narrative strategy in a new ad featuring Eric Christiansen of Whitefish Bay and his family. Christiansen says that he has voted Republican in the past, including for incumbent Republican Senator Alberta Darling, but the tipping point for him to crossover to the Democrats was the cuts to education.

"EMILY's List" and "Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin" Take Different Approaches

Another key point the Democrats want Wisconsin voters to remember at the polls is that the Republican senators up for recall voted for $200 million in tax breaks for the super rich and corporations, while raising taxes on middle class families. One group highlighting the cozy relationships between the Republican candidates and corporations is EMILY's List, a national PAC devoted to campaigning for pro-choice Democratic women. Wisconsin WOMEN VOTE!, the state's independent expenditure arm of the national organization, has spent nearly $265,000 on the elections so far. The group has steered clear of a woman's right to choose in its recall advertising, focusing instead on the impact of the GOP's budget cuts on Wisconsin families.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, the advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, the state's largest reproductive health care provider, makes women's health the focus of its ads.

This ad targets Sen. Darling for voting to eliminate Planned Parenthood in the state -- ultimately closing down health centers and cutting access to life saving birth control, health exams and cancer screenings for Wisconsin women and their families, particularly those who have the least income.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin and the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin Political Fund together have spent nearly $146,000.

"Greater Wisconsin Committee" Targets Polluters in "Issue" Ad

The Greater Wisconsin Committee PAC and Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund together have spent some $1.72 million so far on the Wisconsin recalls. Their "issue" ad group, The Greater Wisconsin Committee, is not required to disclose its spending. Most of the funding reportedly comes from labor-related groups and other "Democratic ideological groups," according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The group sponsored mailings in mid-July targeting incumbent Republican senators Robert Cowles and Dan Kapanke.

In their new ad, the group targets Sen. Olsen for voting against tightening regulations on water pollutants like cyanide and mercury.

State in "Uncharted Territory" with Campaign Spending

This unprecedented spending both for and against candidates facing recall is expected to hike as the candidates and special interest groups pull into the final stretch before Tuesday's election and the August 16th recall election for two Democratic senators that follows.

"We are off in the stratosphere," said Mike McCabe, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group that monitors campaign financing, told Reuters. "This is totally uncharted territory for us."

For our report on spending by "conservative" outside groups, click here.


*This data is based on figures compiled by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. (figures rounded to the nearest dollar).

America Votes Action Fund: No independent expenditures found.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin: $62,966

CREDO: No independent expenditures found.

DFA-Wisconsin: $222,361

DLCC Wisconsin PAC: $249,491

Friends of the Committee to Recall Alberta Darling: No independent expenditures found.

Greater Wisconsin Committee PAC: $7,139

Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund: $1,712,969

Irreverent Contingent: $1,150 Political Action Recall Committee: No independent expenditures found. Political Action WI IE Committtee: $44,584

NAACP National Voter Fund: $11,242

Of the People: No independent expenditures found.

PCCC Recall Committee: $7,490

PCCC Recall Fund IE: $140,094

People for the American Way: $167,119

PFFW Defense Fund: $3,654

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, Inc.: $58,791

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin Political Fund: $87,127

Playground Legends PAC: No independent expenditures found.

Progressive Kick Wisconsin IE Committee: No independent expenditures found.

Sheet Metal Workers International Association Political Action League: No independent expenditures found.

Voces de La Frontera Action Committee: $10,018

We Are Wisconsin PAC: $9,089,949

WEAC PAC: $499,391

Winnebagoland Uniserv PAC: $15,010

Wisconsin Lawyers for Justice: No independent expenditures found.

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters: $56,168

Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters IE Committee: $25,331

Wisconsin Recall Initiative: $150

Wisconsin Sierra Club Education Committee: $31,328

Wisconsin WOMEN VOTE!: $264,84

Working America: $18,358


Greater Wisconsin Committee: unknown

Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America: unknown