Few can deny that spending by often-shadowy outside groups plays a huge role in elections.
But much of the cash lavished on elections still flows directly to and from the candidates’ campaigns, which must make detailed public disclosures.
Mike McCabe of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign predicted that in the state’s race for governor, the candidates will account for about two-thirds of the $55 million to $60 million he expects to be spent overall. That’s the same ratio as for the 2010 governor’s race, in which an estimated $37 million was spent.
Pre-election campaign finance reports filed Oct. 27 show that Republican Gov. Scott Walker has raised $19.9 million so far this year, compared with Democratic challenger Mary Burke’s $13.5 million, including $5 million of her own money.
Walker spent $21.6 million in 2014 and had $3 million cash on hand. Burke spent $11.9 million and also had about $3 million on hand.
But those numbers tell only part of the story.
Members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, using data reported to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, looked at receipts and spending by both candidates from Oct. 4, 2013, the date of Burke’s first contributions, through Oct. 26, 2014, including some late contributions past the filing cutoff for the final report.
The findings include:
- During the roughly 13-month period in which he had a declared opponent, Walker raised $24.5 million, compared to Burke’s $15.5 million.
- Walker received about $10.8 million from other states, or 44 percent of his total. Burke attracted $3.2 million in out-of-state donations, or 21 percent of her total.
- Walker’s campaign had 232 individual donations of $10,000, the maximum, compared to Burke’s 69. Walker also had more donations of $1,000 or more, 4,526 to Burke’s 1,439.
- In all, Burke received about 130,000 individual donations, averaging $74. Walker had about 150,000 individual donations, averaging $140.
Despite his sizable edge in raising money, Walker has complained that his side is being outspent in terms of TV ads. He’s correct: As of Oct. 20, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s State Ad Wars Tracker, Burke and her supporters had aired about $8.2 million in commercials, compared to $7.4 million from Walker and his supporters.
Since Burke entered the race through Oct. 20, the cutoff date for reporting expenditures to the state, Walker has spent $23 million to Burke’s $12.6 million.
The largest expense category for both candidates was TV ads, including ads not counted by the CPI tracker because they had not yet run. Walker’s campaign had invested $10 million in that cause, 44 percent of his total. Burke’s campaign bought $7.7 million in TV ads, or 61 percent of her total.
Federal Communications Commission filings tracked by the Sunlight Foundation show that Walker and Burke have made multiple additional ad buys since the expenditure reporting cutoff.
TV viewers, brace yourselves.
The reports show that Walker has topped Burke in other key categories, including direct mail appeals to potential donors and supporters. His campaign has invested more than $4 million in that cause, compared to Burke’s $819,000.
Wisconsin’s other major statewide contest, for attorney general, is a relatively modest affair. Since entering the race in fall 2013, Republican Brad Schimel has raised about $1.2 million, including reported late contributions. Democrat Susan Happ, who entered the race in February, raised just more than $900,000.
Once upon a time in Wisconsin politics, sums like that were considered a lot of money.