Spending in the last cycle’s legislative races hit $16.53 million, a drop from the 2008 and 2010 cycle but an increase from 2006, according to a report released Tuesday.
A Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis showed candidates, committees and outside groups spent $16.53 million in the last legislative election cycle. That is a 14 percent drop from the $19.25 million spent in 2010 and an 18 percent drop from the $20.25 million spent two years before that.
WDC Executive Director Mike McCabe said the drop can be attributed to last summer’s recall elections, two of which were statewide recall efforts against the governor and the lieutenant governor.
Those elections, McCabe said, came at a time when legislative campaigns began fundraising heavily.
“I think the biggest reason [for the drop] is that the recall elections earlier in the year sucked up a lot of the money,” McCabe said.
McCabe also said the drop in spending could be attributed to the latest round of redistricting that made many races less competitive.
Jay Heck, Common Cause in Wisconsin executive director, said he agreed. Heck released an analysis after last year’s elections, which found only one competitive Senate race and a “handful” of competitive races in the Assembly.
“There wasn’t a lot of money poured in because really, the elections had been decided by the primaries,” Heck said.
Because of the uncompetitive elections, Heck said people likely donated to other races, such as the presidential campaign or the U.S. Senate race.
In his report last year, the only competitive state Senate election Heck found was the one where Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, defeated incumbent Jessica King, D-Fond du Lac.
WDC’s report yesterday found both candidates topped the election spending numbers, with Gudex spending $315,032 and King spending $276,100. Most of the spending in that race, however, came from special interest groups, which spent $1.8 million, almost four times of what the candidates spent.
Outside groups spent about $5.15 million in the 2012 races, of which $3.4 million went to Republican candidates and $1.75 million went to Democrats. They spent 23 percent less than the 2010 and 2008 elections, when they spent $6.68 million and $7.1 million. However, the $5.15 million was 80 percent higher than 2006 outside spending.
A similar trend of drops in total spending from 2010 and 2008 yet an increase since 2006 was seen in the $16.53 million spent in 2012. The total amount of spending in the 2006 cycle was $13.03 million, 27 percent less than last year’s spending. McCabe attributed that to increased out-of-state election spending, especially after the Supreme Court Citizens United ruling.
“I think what we’re seeing is the nationalization of state politics,” McCabe said. “We’re seeing more and more outside money coming in here. … We never saw that a decade ago or a generation ago in Wisconsin politics.”
Since the Citizens United decision, Wisconsin election spending has tripled, McCabe said, and without the recall elections, election spending has still doubled.
That outside spending has helped Republicans more than Democrats, McCabe added. Democrats spent slightly more during the 2011 recall elections, but in the 2012 recalls and legislative elections, Republicans “vastly outspent” Democrats, he said.