Wisconsin residents, businesses and unions contributed $2.49 million in 2005-06 to unregulated electioneering groups, most of whom use negative broadcast advertising and mailings to influence state and national elections, a WDC analysis shows.
The total is about $81,000 shy of the record $2.57 million Wisconsin contributors gave to so-called 527 groups in the 2001-02 election cycle.
These 527 organizations, which are tax-exempt political nonprofit groups named after the U.S. Internal Revenue Service code that governs them, include the well-known Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, GOPAC, America Coming Together and MoveOn.org. The groups can accept and spend unlimited amounts of money, including corporate contributions that are illegal to make directly to candidates in Wisconsin, to pay for negative ads, mailings, auto calls and other outside electioneering activities.
The leading recipient of special interest cash from Wisconsin was the Democratic Governors Association, which received nearly $528,000. That money was among nearly $1.1 million the group gave to the Greater Wisconsin Committee, an unregulated issue ad group that spent more than $4 million on mostly negative broadcast ads in the November 2006 elections to benefit Democratic candidates, particularly Governor Jim Doyle.
The Republican Governors Association, which directly spent more than $2 million on negative ads and mailings attacking Doyle, accepted $341,825 from Wisconsin contributors in 2005-06.
Six other 527 groups each received more than $100,000 in Wisconsin contributions, including the Progressive Majority, $274,300; Club for Growth, $169,390; Democratic Attorneys General Association, $167,000; GOPAC, $157,541; Emily's List, $147,380; and the Laborers Political League Education Fund, $107,937.
Democratic-leaning 527s received substantially more than Republican-leaning groups from Wisconsin contributors in 2005-06. Democratic 527s got $1.68 million and Republican 527s got $785,968.
Leading the list of Wisconsin contributors to 527s was Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein, an heir to the Schlitz Brewing and Allen-Bradley family fortunes and a longtime supporter of Democratic and women's causes. She contributed $563,000 to 527 groups in 2005-06, followed by Johnson Controls which gave $145,500 and the Wisconsin Laborers District Council which gave $107,937.
Following those contributors were three who each gave $100,000 to 527s including the Wisconsin Builders Association; Daniel Bader with the Helen Bader Foundation in Milwaukee; and Kenosha millionaire Dennis Troha. Troha, Doyle's biggest contributor and a long time backer of an $808 million tribal casino in Kenosha, was charged in federal court earlier this year with illegally funneling campaign contributions through family members to Doyle and other political committees, and then lying to the FBI about it.