Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Campaign Cash

Democrats Get More Unregulated Donations

68% of $2.7 million from outside special interests in 2020 went to Democrats. Abele the biggest donor.

By - Aug 31st, 2020 11:06 am
Chris Abele. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Chris Abele. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

About 300 Wisconsin contributors gave $2.7 million during the first six months of 2020 to unregulated outside electioneering groups, and more than two-thirds of it went to Democratic-leaning groups.

The Wisconsin contributions went to so-called  527 groups, which are named for the IRS rules that govern them, and are run by a host of powerful special interests, including business, health care, manufacturing, energy, transportation, and conservative and liberal ideological concerns.

More than $1.8 million, or 68 percent, of the Wisconsin contributions went to Democratic-leaning groups compared to about $777,200, or 29 percent, which went to Republican-leaning groups. Three percent, or about $73,550, went to 527 groups that supported both parties or neither party.

The Wisconsin contributors include individuals, unions, businesses, trade organizations and political committees that state and federal campaign finance laws frequently restrict or prohibit from giving directly to candidates.

527 groups may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from any source. Much of their fundraising pays for broadcast ads, mailings, automated phone calls and other activities to praise or smear Democratic and Republican candidates during elections.

Sixteen contributors gave $50,000 or more and six of those contributors gave $100,000 or more to 527 groups during the first six months of 2020.

Here’s a look at the top donors:

Chris Abele, a millionaire philanthropist and former Milwaukee County executive, $565,325. Abele, a longtime backer of Democratic candidates, gave $515,325 to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Washington, D.C., which supports gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual candidates for public office throughout the country. He also gave $50,000 to Emerge Wisconsin, a Milwaukee-based group that helps elect women Democratic candidates;

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $350,000. The business group, which usually supports Republican legislative and statewide candidates, doled out $250,000 to the Democratic Governors Association and $100,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association. Both groups help elect Democratic candidates for governor and attorney general across the country;

Sage Weil, of Madison, $250,000. Weil is a software engineer who has founded RedHat, Ceph, WebRing, DreamHost, and InkTank. Weil’s entire contribution went to the Sister District Project, a Sacramento, Calif.-based group that supports Democratic legislative candidates nationwide;

Forest County Potawatomi Community, of Crandon, $250,000. The tribe, which operates a casino in Milwaukee, contributed the money to its own 527 group – the Forest County Potawatomi Action Fund. In recent years, this tribe’s 527 group has in turn contributed $335,000 to Republican-leaning 527 groups and $135,000 to Democratic-leaning 527 groups;

United Association Local 601, of Milwaukee, $117,522. This local’s contribution went to its national union, the United Association, a Maryland-based international union that represents plumbers, welders, fitters, and service technicians;

Alliant Energy Corp., of Madison, $100,000. This electric and natural gas utility’s contribution went to the Republican Governors Association.

Wisconsin contributions during the first six months of 2020 were about $1 million higher than during the last comparable six-month period – the first half of the 2016 presidential election year, but lagged behind the $3.2 million and $3.6 million that Wisconsin contributors gave 527 groups in the first six months of 2019 and 2018, respectively.

To learn more about the 527 groups that received the largest amount of Wisconsin contributions in the first half of 2020, check this out.

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