Campaign spending to elect Wisconsin's top cop increased five-fold in 2006, according to a report released Thursday by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
The four candidates for attorney general and special interest groups spent $8.32 million total, five times more than the $1.62 million spent in 2002.
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, who defeated incumbent Peg Lautenschlager in the Democratic primary, spent the most money at $1.72 million. Republican candidate J.B. Van Hollen, who defeated Falk in the Nov. 7 general election, spent $1.68 million.
Like the governor's race — which set a $32.3 million record this past election cycle, according to the WDC — the largest increase in campaign spending involved outside interest groups that used issue advertising to negatively target candidates.
According to the WDC report, interest groups spent $3.4 million in the 2006 election compared to $2,263 in 2002, when "there was no known issue ad spending in the race."
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's largest business group, spent $2.5 million on mostly negative advertising against Falk, the report said.
"Where the spending was really driven up was by special interest groups," said Mike McCabe, executive director of the WDC, in an interview with The Badger Herald. "This is the first time we've seen it explode in the attorney general race."
McCabe said while the campaign spending is not significantly different from the governor's race, the effort to influence law enforcement should scare voters.
"They wouldn't be spending this money if they didn't expect to get something out of it," McCabe added. "Justice is supposed to be blind … only accountable to the laws and constitution."
In a Jan. 30 statement responding to Gov. Jim Doyle's State of the State Address, Falk praised the governor's call for campaign-finance reform to restrict phony attack ads.
"Special interests spent $3 million to buy the attorney general's election in November," Falk said in the statement. "That's not right."
Van Hollen declined comment Thursday and his campaign committee did not return a message from The Badger Herald seeking comment as of press time.