Donations to special interest groups on the rise

Wisconsin contributors doled out a record $1.53 million in 2009 to political special interest groups that create negative advertising, mailings and other outside electioneering activities, according to a new analysis by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The contributions are the most ever in a non-election year, smashing the previous record of $1.12 million set in 2007 by $414,019, or 37 percent.

527 groups are named for the section of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service code that governs them, but the IRS does not regulate where they can get their contributions and how much they can accept and spend. These groups include the more popularly known GOPAC, Club for Growth, Democratic Governors Association and Progressive Majority.
Last year’s record Wisconsin contributions to 527 groups were made before a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that now allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts in elections.
Look for contributions to the 527 groups to further escalate this year, resulting in unprecedented phony “issue ads,” in which groups ask voters to do things such as “tell candidate XX that enough is enough,” without expressly asking the voters to support a different candidate.
By contributing to 527 groups, donors bypass the legal limitations of how much they can give to individual candidates.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign refers to the 527 groups as “shadow groups.”
Democratic 527 groups received substantially more contributions in 2009 than Republican 527 groups, continuing a trend that started in 2006. It remains to be seen if the political tide will turn in 2010.
Democratic 527 groups received $1.03 million or 67 percent of the total contributions from Wisconsin contributors, and Republican 527 groups received $484,445 or 32 percent of Wisconsin contributions in 2009. The remaining $21,310 in contributions went to 527s that supported Democrats and Republicans, or neither party;
A dozen 527 groups received $25,000 or more from Wisconsin contributors in 2009. Leading the list was the liberal Greater Wisconsin Political Fund at $400,000 followed by the Republican Governors Association at $186,150 and America Votes 2006 at $150,000.
There were 452 Wisconsin contributors to 527 groups in 2009 and the top two gave more than half of the $1.53 million that came from the Badger State.
The 20 largest Wisconsin contributors to 527 groups in 2009 were: Lynde Uihlein, Milwaukee, Brico Fund, $492,000; Greater Wisconsin Committee, Madison, $300,000; Terry and Mary Kohler, Sheboygan, Windway Capital $115,800; Johnson Controls Inc., Glendale, $51,585; ABC Supply, Beloit, $50,000; American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, Madison, $35,000; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Locals 158, 494 and 2150 in Green Bay, Milwaukee and Menomonee Falls; $32,206; Alliant Energy, Madison, $25,000; Badger Investments, Green Bay, $25,000; Menard’s, Eau Claire, $25,000; American Family Mutual Insurance, Madison, $20,618; Grant Abert Hillpoint, retired, $20,000; Miller Brewing, Milwaukee, $15,000; Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, Oneida, $15,000; Capitol Navigators, Madison, $15,000; Ironworkers Locals 8 and 383, Milwaukee and Madison, $14,283; Joseph E Richardson II, Oostburg, Richardson Industries, $10,338; Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, Merrill, $10,000; Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, Milwaukee, $10,000; and Michael Grebe, Milwaukee, Bradley Foundation, $10,000.

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