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The outsiders: Out-of-state spending making big impact on recall race

By   /   April 23, 2012  /   No Comments

By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Political groups are on the attack as the recall election nears.

The latest: a $500,000 ad about Gov. Scott Walker and jobs, or the lack thereof, according to the spot.

“ … (U)nder Governor Walker, Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state,” a narrator says. “Dead last.

“Scott Walker’s policies aren’t working.”

The Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, or GWPF, via a contribution from the independent Democratic Governors Association, paid for the ad.

The fund, which supports liberal causes, is an independent political organization known as a 527, which can engage in activities that support public issues, public officials and candidates for public office.

According to a GWPF statement, the ad is the first in a series that will run until June 5, the day of the gubernatorial recall election.

“We’re watching the race very closely,” said Mark Giangreco, spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, which is based in Washington, D.C. “We’re involved with our allies on the ground over there.”

Those allies largely include GWPF. In the 2010 election cycle, the Democratic Governors Association contributed $1.35 million to that fund.

Ben Sparks, spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, blasted the latest barrage of outside political spending from Democrats.

“It’s one of many third party groups that are going to be spending millions attacking Gov. Walker’s record,” Sparks said.“We’re anticipating the Democrats and their union allies spending millions of dollars in the state in their failed attempt to recall Governor Walker.”

Giangreco countered the DGA is committed to winning the race, and pointed back to conservative spending in support of Walker, money used to attack Democrats.

“All the outside, right-wing money in the world isn’t going to save (Walker) from the popular backlash he’s facing in the state,” he said.

Apparently, that sentiment hasn’t reached top management at the Republican Governors Association, also an independent political committee based in Washington, D.C.

In 2010, the RGA spent $5 million to help elect Walker. It released last month an attack ad on Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, Walker’s top Democratic competition.

“Under Tom Barrett … unemployment got 27 percent worse,”  the ad says. “And what about Kathleen Falk? Unemployment tripled.”


Political ads disguised as issue ads.

Mike McCabe is executive director at Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonprofit that tracks special-interest spending in Wisconsin campaigns. It’s just the beginning, he said.

Total recall ad buys is “in the neighborhood of $20 million already,” McCabe said, with much of that coming from the governor’s record-setting fundraising campaign.

Walker’s campaign so far has spent upward of $10 million on political ads, McCabe said.

While the recall campaigns were busy collecting signatures and waiting for Government Accountability Board to certify a recall election, Walker, under Wisconsin law, raised unlimited campaign cash.

The Right Direction PAC, the RGA’s political action committee, has spent more than $1 million for Walker’s campaign, McCabe said.

“Democratic groups are holding their fire until they have a nominee,” McCabe said. “It’s really going to intensify after May 8 (the day of the recall primary). The final month will be incredibly intense.”

More specific figures will be available April 30, the date the next campaign finance report is due to the GAB.

Candidate committees and PACS must disclose their spending, but 527s — named for section in IRS code — do not.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign gathers ad buys from television stations and combs campaign finance disclosures and IRS reports after the election to determine total ad spending.

“In last summer’s Senate recall elections, $44 million was spent on ads; $34 million worth of ads were sponsored by interest groups,” McCabe said. “In the last election for governor, there was $37.4 million spent.

“I’ve been saying, based on what I’ve seen, somewhere between $60 million and $80 million will be spent on recall ads.”