Who Are State’s Dark Money Leaders?
MMAC, Chris Abele, liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee lead the way in 2017.
About 230 Wisconsin contributors gave $2.1 million during the first six months of 2017 to dark money groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence state and federal elections.
These so-called 527 groups, which are named for the IRS rules that govern them, are run by a host of powerful special interests, like business, health care, manufacturing, energy, transportation, and conservative and liberal ideological concerns. The groups may raise money from any source and many of them spend it on broadcast ads, mailings, automated phone calls and other electioneering activities to praise or smear Democratic and Republican candidates at election time.
The Wisconsin contributions to these groups came from individuals, unions, businesses, trade organizations and political committees that state and federal campaign finance laws frequently restrict or prohibit from giving directly to candidates.
About a fourth of the Wisconsin contributors to 527s during the first half of 2017 were non-individuals, but they accounted for $1.7 million, or 81 percent, of the $2.1 million in total contributions. The amounts given by the businesses, trade and ideological groups, political committees, and unions ranged from $200 to $364,000.
Nineteen contributors gave $10,000 or more and six of those contributors gave $200,000 or more to 527 groups during the first six months of 2017. The top contributors were:
Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $364,000. The organization, which claims 1,800 southeastern Wisconsin members, gave to 527 groups that back Republican legislative and statewide candidates. The group made three contributions totaling $362,500 to the Republican Governors Association and a $1,500 contribution to the Republican State Leadership Committee. The Republican Governors Association, which helps elect GOP candidates for governor nationwide, spent $18.4 million in Wisconsin to help elect Gov. Scott Walker in 2010, 2012 and 2014. The Republican State Leadership Committee, which helps elect GOP legislative candidates nationwide, has spent more than $2.7 million since January 2010 to help elect Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, $300,000. Abele, who was first elected county executive in 2011, is also a businessman and philanthropist who traditionally supports Democratic candidates and groups. Abele’s 527 contributions went to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington D.C.-based group that wants to increase the number of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender public officials nationwide.
Shannon 2006 Revocable Trust, $250,000. The trust, which is controlled by Republican mega-donors Mike and Mary Sue Shannon, of Brookfield, made its contribution to the Republican Governors Association. Mike Shannon is a managing partner with KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests in travel and leisure businesses, and Mary Sue is a homemaker. Between January 2010 and December 2016, the couple contributed $120,000 directly to Walker’s campaign.
American Transmission Co., Waukesha, $210,000. The company owns and operates high- voltage electric transmission lines throughout the Upper Midwest. The company contributed $150,000 to the Republican Governors Association, $50,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee and $10,000 to the Democratic Governors Association. Since January 2010, company employees have directly contributed about $230,800 to Wisconsin legislative and statewide candidates, including about $165,900, or 72 percent, to Republicans.
Forest County Potawatomi Community, Crandon, $200,000. The tribe made two contributions totaling $150,000 to the Republican Governors Association and a $50,000 contribution to its own 527 group, the Forest County Potawatomi Action Fund. The Potawatomi tribe operates a casino in Milwaukee and was one of the big winners from a decision by Walker in 2015 to reject a proposed $800 million casino that the Menominee tribe wanted to build in Kenosha.