Contributions to special interest groups in Wisconsin in 2009 far exceeded the previous record for the amount of donations in a non-election year, according to a report released Monday from The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Contributions totaled $1.53 million in 2009, breaking the previous 2007 record by $414,019.
The report contains data compiled by the IRS and finds that 12 special interest groups received $25,000 or more from contributors. Those who received the largest contributions included the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund with $400,000, the Republican Governors Association with $186,150 and America Votes 2006 with $150,000.
During election years, the special interest groups receiving such contributions use the money for “negative advertising, mailings and other outside electioneering activities,” the report said.
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Commission case in January allows corporations and unions to give unlimited contributions to elections, which permits “trade associations, nonprofit groups and 527 attack groups to ramp up their political activity,” the report said.
Mike Buelow, research director for WDC, thinks the increase in donations means the special interests groups are gearing up to heavily influence elections this year.
“The money came from 452 contributors, and about two-thirds of the money went to democratic-leaning 527 groups,” Buelow said. “The money goes into a lot of negative broadcast advertising and mailings.”
However, Buelow said he does not think the extra spending will have an effect on how legislators vote or how the public interprets their votes. “Their purpose is strictly to influence elections,”Buelow said.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, found the data published in the report to be alarming.
“It is disturbing because there is more and more money being spent in elections,” Heck said. “There will probably be even more spent this year because of the recent Supreme Court decision which sets no limits [on spending] whatsoever.”
Heck said he thinks the spending increase will have an indirect affect on legislators.
“This will strike fear in the heart of certain legislators to openly oppose something these groups support,” Heck said.
Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Women Voters, said she thinks it is important to follow the money from these contributors and there needs to be safeguards in place to reduce the role money plays in elections.
Kaminski also said it is troubling to see such large amounts of money being spent to influence the government. Citizens are the ones who are supposed to influence officials and are the ones officials should be accountable to.
“If people don’t believe they can make a difference,” Kaminski said, “they are not going to try, and they won’t trust the government.”