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Spending by special interest groups in this fall’s legislative races in Wisconsin and for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and treasurer shattered the old record by 50 percent, a preliminary review by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign found.
The $93.01 million spent in 2022 by outside groups crushed the previous record $61.86 million set in 2018 for mid-term fall races that also featured both legislative and statewide contests in Wisconsin. And the 2022 spending figure was 154 percent higher than the $36.63 million spent by outside groups in 2014 and nearly five times higher than the $18.9 million spent on Wisconsin legislative and statewide races in 2010. (See chart below.)
None of these spending figures includes outside group spending in federal races for the U.S. House or U.S. Senate.
The lion’s share of the outside money in 2022 – $78.9 million – was spent on the governor’s race.
Six dozen special interest groups threw their money around to praise or smear candidates.
Thirty-five groups spent $48.25 million to benefit Republicans, 36 groups spent $44.06 million to benefit Democrats, and one group spent $686,660 to bolster the independent candidate for governor.
These electioneering groups fall into two categories – express advocacy groups and phony issue ad groups. Express advocacy groups, which make independent expenditures, must report their spending to the state. That’s because their broadcast and online advertising, mailings and other electioneering activities use the magic words “vote for” or “vote against” or their equivalents.
Phony issue ad groups, which can also raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, do not have to report their spending because of federal court decisions and lax campaign finance laws. These groups smear or praise candidates but without explicitly telling viewers who to vote for or against.
The top-spending groups, which doled out all or most of their money in the governor’s race, were:
Democratic Governors Association spent an estimated $20.1 million using a phony issue ad group called the Alliance for Common Sense which blanketed the airwaves with television ads attacking GOP candidate for governor Tim Michels on education, abortion, guns, and media reports about sexual harassment complaints filed by female employees of his construction company;
Republican Governors Association spent an estimated $15.3 million using three entities – Right Direction Wisconsin PAC, ACC Wisconsin 2022 PAC, and State Solutions – mostly on television ads throughout the state that attacked Evers on crime and tax issues from July until Election Day;
A Better Wisconsin Together spent an estimated $6.8 million using an express advocacy group and an issue ad group with nearly the same name, making it particularly difficult to track spending by the issue ad group because it can keep its spending secret. All told, A Better Wisconsin Together spent money on television and digital advertising in 23 legislative races to support Democratic candidates, as well as the contests for governor to back Evers and attorney general to support incumbent Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul;
Americans for Prosperity spent $6.53 million on a host of electioneering activities, including canvassing, mailings, door hangers, and digital and radio ads to support Michels, GOP attorney general candidate Adam Jarchow, and Republican candidates in 19 legislative races;
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) spent an estimated $4.52 million using an issue ad group and an express advocacy group . Most of WMC’s issue ad spending was for television advertising that backed Republicans and smeared Democrats in the race for governor and two legislative contests. The group’s ads in the governor’s race attacked Evers on education, crime, and tax issues, and also blamed the incumbent for inflation. Early in the year, WMC spent about $25,000 on a digital ad to support GOP candidate for governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who lost to Michels in the August primary.
To see how much was spent by all of the outside groups involved in Wisconsin’s 2022 fall legislative and statewide races, please see the table below. For more information about the groups and their electioneering activities, please visit our Hijacking Campaign 2022 feature and click on their names.
A final report on the total cost of this year’s legislative and statewide elections will be issued early next year after the groups and candidates file amendments and year-end fundraising and spending reports.
Spending by Electioneering Groups in the 2022 Fall Elections
|Alliance for Common Sense (Democratic Governors Association)*||$20,150,000|
|Right Direction Wisconsin PAC (Republican Governors Association)||$9,293,038|
|A Better Wisconsin Together**||$6,794,866|
|Americans for Prosperity||$6,531,490|
|Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce**||$4,524,998|
|Fighting for Wisconsin||$4,378,114|
|ACC Wisconsin 2022 PAC (Republican Governors Association)||$4,025,754|
|Wisconsin Conservation Voters IE Committee||$3,818,779|
|Club for Growth Action||$3,552,571|
|Future Forward USA Action*||$3,400,000|
|Wisconsin Freedom PAC (Republican Attorneys General Association)||$3,114,213|
|Freedom Wisconsin PAC||$2,564,000|
|State Solutions (Republican Governors Association)*||$2,000,000|
|DAGA People’s Lawyer Project (Democratic Attorneys General Association)||$1,899,564|
|Sunrise in America Political Fund||$1,866,844|
|The Wisconsin Initiative*||$1,700,000|
|Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin Political Fund||$1,316,721|
|Republican Accountability PAC||$992,584|
|Wisconsin RINO Hunters||$686,660|
|American Federation for Children IE Committee||$678,995|
|Wisconsin Alliance for Reform*||$600,000|
|Jobs First Coalition Political Fund||$529,201|
|Voces de la Frontera Action||$463,892|
|National Rifle Association (NRA) Political Victory Fund||$423,653|
|Badger Values PAC||$407,483|
|Wisconsinites for Liberty Fund||$407,279|
|For Our Future||$390,595|
|Power to the Polls Wisconsin||$389,443|
|Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Wisconsin State Council||$379,647|
|WFP National PAC (Work Families Party)||$334,575|
|Women Speak Out PAC||$322,872|
|Wisconsin Realtors Political Fund||$320,000|
|Family Friendly Action PAC||$290,412|
|Republican State Leadership Committee||$284,192|
|The Lincoln Project||$254,450|
|American Principles Project PAC||$227,428|
|Wisconsin Family Action||$225,875|
|Election Integrity PAC||$208,344|
|Speak Free or Die||$155,000|
|Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) PAC||$141,688|
|Make Liberty Win||$135,491|
|New Prosperity Foundation||$111,964|
|American Majority Action||$94,736|
|Human Rights Campaign Equality Votes PAC||$93,626|
|American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Working Families Fund||$92,585|
|New Prosperity Foundation IE Committee||$85,500|
|Volunteers for Agriculture (Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation)||$84,058|
|National Nurses United for Patient Protection||$69,427|
|Free and Fair Elections USA||$67,740|
|Blue Sky Waukesha||$61,215|
|Community Change Voters||$61,149|
|NextGen Climate Action Committee||$60,228|
|Leaders Igniting Transformation Action Fund||$56,167|
|Patriots for Wisconsin||$49,983|
|SEIU Committee on Political Education||$49,606|
|Citizens Action of Wisconsin||$45,691|
|AFT-Wisconsin (American Federation of Teachers)||$18,612|
|Organizing Empowerment PAC||$14,000|
|Rising Leaders PAC||$10,000|
|Democratic Party of Wisconsin||$5,560|
|Gun Rights America||$4,701|
|Wisconsin Right to Life PAC||$1,360|