Attorneys General Group Spent Big On Schimel
National Republican group spent $2.4 million on ads battering Democrat Josh Kaul, but he won anyway.
This Washington, D.C.-based group, which raises unlimited amounts from special interests to help elect state GOP attorneys general throughout the country, was the biggest spender in the 2018 Wisconsin attorney general’s race.
The Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) made reported independent expenditures through the Wisconsin Freedom Political Action Committee (PAC), which had doled out nearly $2.4 million by the end of October to support GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel’s reelection bid.
Most of RAGA’s spending was for three television ads which attacked Schimel’s Democratic opponent, Josh Kaul. The ads claimed Kaul had not prosecuted serious crimes in Wisconsin and had plea bargained for light sentences for drug dealers as a federal prosecutor in Maryland.
RAGA operates as a 527 group, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from any source. During Schimel’s current term in office, from January 2015 through September 2018, RAGA’s 527 group raised about $452,000 from about two dozen Wisconsin contributors, which were mostly businesses, trade groups, a tribe, and factory farms. Topping the list were:
$125,000 from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce
$95,400 from Miller Coors Brewing, of Milwaukee
$54,560 from the Foley & Lardner law firm, of Milwaukee
$50,000 from the Wisconsin Realtors Association, of Madison
$25,000 from Kwik Trip, of La Crosse
$25,000 from the Forest County Potawatomi, of Crandon
$20,000 from Klondike Properties, of Monroe
RAGA had not received any contributions from Wisconsin’s agriculture industry until August and September of this year. About a dozen contributors including Klondike Properties, which is owned by a family of cheesemakers, the Dairy Business Association, and factory farms gave the group a total of $37,450.
Schimel issued a legal opinion in 2016 favorable to factory farms and other agricultural interests. The opinion severely restricted the state from regulating and even monitoring controversial high capacity wells. The wells, which can pump at least 100,000 gallons of water a day, are used by factory farms and food processors. Environmentalists and other opponents say the wells sharply deplete groundwater, rivers, lakes, and streams, especially in summer.
527 groups, which are frequently used by ideological, trade, labor, and other special interest groups and number in the hundreds, are named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service rules that regulate them. These entities can raise and spend unlimited amounts from any source on electioneering activities like broadcast ads and mailings to smear or praise Democratic and Republican candidates in state and federal elections.
The 527 and other outside electioneering groups are attractive to wealthy special interests because they allow contributors to skirt state and federal campaign finance laws. In many cases, the source and size of the contributions to the RAGA and other 527 groups would be illegal if they were direct contributions to state and federal candidates and committees.