Wisconsin recall election breaks state’s political spending records

Stephen Elliott Contributor
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Wisconsin’s Tuesday gubernatorial recall election between Republican incumbent Scott Walker and his Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, has turned into the most expensive in state history, according to iWatch News, a publication of The Center for Public Integrity.

Put together, the two campaigns and independent groups have spent more than $63.5 million so far, with out-of-state contributors supplying the vast majority of the campaign funds.

Until the 2010 US Supreme Court Decision in the Citizens United case overturned it, Wisconsin had a century-old ban on campaign contributions by corporations and unions.

This development, along with a loophole in Wisconsin state law that permits the incumbent in a recall election to raise unlimited campaign contributions, helped the current campaign cycle nearly double the previous record of $37.4 million in campaign spending. That high-water mark was set in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign that put Scott Walker in office.

The country’s three largest public unions, the National Education Association, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union, have combined to contribute more than $2 million to super PACs and independent expenditure groups committed to fighting Walker and his policies against collective bargaining for public-sector employees.

Despite this big spending, unions are having a hard time keeping up with donations to the Walker campaign and related groups. Many high-dollar donations have come from anti-union billionaires including Dick DeVos, David Koch, and Sheldon Adelson. Walker’s top three contributors contributed more money to his campaign than Barrett’s campaign has collected overall.

Mike McCabe, the director of the campaign finance watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, described the spending as “outrageous and wrong, but it’s also legal.”

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