Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Campaign Cash

Shadowy Groups Got $4.8 Million in 2019

Abele was top contributor to unregulated 527 groups that often smear candidates.

By - Mar 30th, 2020 04:07 pm
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Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele speaking at the press conference unveiling the plan for the museum to acquire O'Donnell Park. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele speaking at the press conference unveiling the plan for the museum to acquire O’Donnell Park. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Wisconsin contributors gave about $4.8 million in 2019 to unregulated electioneering groups that frequently smear state and federal candidates. About $4 of every $5 went to Democratic-leaning groups.

The contributions went to so-called 527 groups, which are named after the IRS rules that govern them. The groups, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts from any sources, are run by powerful special interests, like manufacturing, business, health care, and conservative and liberal ideological outfits.

The 2019 Wisconsin contributions fell about $6,000 short of the record for an off-election year set in 2017.

Of the $4.8 million contributions last year, $3.5 million, or 78 percent, went to Democratic 527 groups and about $954,900, or 21 percent, went to Republican groups. About $15,300, or 1 percent, went to groups that were bipartisan or didn’t support either party.

Twenty-one Wisconsin contributors gave $50,000 or more, including nine who gave $100,000 or more, in 2019. Wealthy Wisconsin contributors, including individuals, businesses, unions, and trade organizations, among others, often find 527 groups attractive because state and federal campaign finance laws frequently restrict or prohibit them from making the same exorbitant contributions directly to candidates.

The top Wisconsin contributors to 527 groups in 2019 were:

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, $853,575. Abele is also a businessman and philanthropist with a track record of supporting Democratic candidates and groups;

High Ground Action Fund, $665,000. This is a Milwaukee group that backs Democratic and progressive causes and candidates in legislative and statewide elections;

Greater Wisconsin Committee (GWC) and its political action committee, about $600,900. This is a Madison group that uses four electioneering arms to sponsor disclosed and undisclosed electioneering activities to support Democratic legislative and statewide candidates. GWC has been the largest spender on outside electioneering activities in Wisconsin since 2010.

The top 527 groups that received Wisconsin contributions in 2019 were:

Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, about $1.3 million. This the GWC’s 527 electioneering arm;

Democratic Governors Association (DGA), about $798,900. This is a Washington, D.C.-based group that raises and spends money to support Democratic candidates for governor across the country;

LGBTQ Victory Fund, former called the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, $781,125. This is a Washington, D.C.-based group that supports gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual candidates for public office throughout the country;

Republican Governors Association, $336,800. This is the DGA’s counterpart, which supports GOP candidates for governor across the country, including Wisconsin where it is one of the largest outside group spenders in state elections;

Republican State Leadership Committee, about $266,530. This Arlington, Va.-based group supports Republican and conservative candidates for legislative and statewide offices around the country.

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