Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Campaign Cash

Democratic Governors Association Spends Big

One of biggest spenders on elections in state, nearly $13.5 million since 2012.

By - Jul 4th, 2021 12:58 pm
Cash. (CC0 Creative Commons).

Cash. (CC0 Creative Commons).

The Democratic Governors Association is a Washington, D.C.-based group that raises and spends tens of millions of dollars a year to help elect Democratic governors nationwide.

In Wisconsin, the group is one of the biggest spenders on outside electioneering activities in state elections. The DGA has directly spent nearly $13.5 million in the Badger State since 2012, and all but $36,000 of that outlay was spent in the 2018 election.

The DGA created a phony issue ad group – A Stronger Wisconsin – that peppered the airwaves with broadcast ads in the final two months of the 2018 governor’s race where Democratic Gov. Tony Evers defeated former GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s bid for a third, four-year term. The DGA ads – here here herehere, and here  – mostly accused Walker of letting the state’s roads, education, and health care systems languish since he was first elected in 2010.

The 2018 Wisconsin governor’s race was among a handful of governors’ races that were successfully targeted by the DGA and other state and national Democratic and Republican groups to reduce the GOP’s grip on statehouses. At that time, Republicans held 33 governorships compared to 16 by Democrats and one by an Independent. Today, there are 23 Democratic governors and 27 Republican governors.

By comparison, the DGA’s counterpart, the Republican Governors Association, has spent about $29.5 million on Wisconsin governor’s races in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2018 – more than double the amount by the DGA.

In addition to direct election spending in Wisconsin by the DGA, the group funneled more than $4.4 million mostly to the Greater Wisconsin Committee to spend in the 2006 and 2010 general elections for governor and the 2012 recall race for governor.

Hundreds of ideological, trade, labor, business, and other outside special interest groups, including the DGA, operate as 527 organizations, which 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.

Between January 2010 and December 2020, about 340 Wisconsin individuals, businesses, Indian tribes, and trade groups contributed about $2.6 million to the DGA.

Contributors of $50,000 or more to the group since January 2010 were:

Johnson Controls, of Milwaukee, $606,410

Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, $507,500

American Transmission Co., of Waukesha, $240,700

Forest County Potawatomi Community, of Crandon, $200,000

Ho-Chunk Nation, of Black River Falls, $100,000

Mobility for Our Future, of Madison, $100,000

US Venture, of Appleton, $100,000

Fincantieri Marine Group, of Marinette, $55,000

Alliant Energy, of Madison, $50,350

EMM Holdings LLC, of Milwaukee, $50,000

Alliance of Health Insurers, of Madison, $50,000

Direct Supply PAC, of Milwaukee, $50,000

Laura Peracchio, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor, $50,000

Outside electioneering groups, including 527s, 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 DGA and other 527 groups would be illegal if they were direct contributions to state and federal candidates and committees.

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