By Jonathan D. Salant
Republican and Democratic groups are pouring money into Wisconsin with eight legislative recalls scheduled this month and control of the state Senate hanging in the balance.
The Republican State Leadership Committee, based in Alexandria, Virginia, has spent about $370,000 on the special elections, while the Washington-based Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has spent about $250,000, according to documents filed with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board in Madison.
Wellpoint Inc. (WLP), an Indianapolis-based health insurer that has been critical of the new federal health-care law, is among the top donors to Republican organizations active in the contests, including $450,000 to the RSLC and $250,000 to theRepublican Governors Association.
Wellpoint gave $842,000 to the RSLC for the 2010 elections. State officials are playing a key role in implementing -- or fighting -- the new health law. Kristin Binns, a Wellpoint spokeswoman, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
“Big Labor has made Wisconsin their Waterloo,” the RSLC states on its Website, seeking donations to help the Republican lawmakers facing recall elections following their support of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s legislation to take away bargaining rights of state workers. Walker said the law was necessary to trim spending and balance the state budget.
Republican Cash AdvantageOverall, the national groups trying to elect Republican governors, legislators and other state officials almost doubled Democratic fundraising, new Internal Revenue Service records show.
The Republican groups reported raising $28 million between Jan. 1 and June 30, compared with $15 million for their Democratic counterparts. Unlike the national political parties, these committees can accept contributions from corporate and union treasuries, and unlimited donations from individuals.
The RSLC’s chairman, Ed Gillespie, is a former aide to President George W. Bush. Gillespie worked with former Bush political strategist Karl Rove in 2010 to create American Crossroads. American Crossroads and its related organization Crossroads GPS spent $38 million last year in support of Republican congressional candidates. In March, Crossroads GPS spent $750,000 in ads supporting Walker’s new anti-labor law, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.
“Wisconsin is a huge priority,” said Carolyn Fiddler, a DLCC spokeswoman.
Eight August RecallsThe Republican and Democratic state legislative groups are just two of more than two dozen outside groups active in the special elections.
The Democrats need to capture three Republican-held seats to secure a majority in the state Senate. The first Wisconsin recall, on July 19, saw the Democratic incumbent hold his seat. On Aug. 9, six Republican senators who supported Walker’s labor bill will face recalls. Two more Democratic incumbents will face recall elections on Aug. 16.
“A lot of Republicans have looked to Wisconsin to see what they’re getting away with and what Republicans elsewhere can get away with without incurring too much backlash,” Fiddler said.
Among the national groups that focus on state races, the most prolific fundraiser was the RGA, which raised $22.2 million in the first six months of this year. Of that sum, $1 million came from David Koch, the executive vice president of Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries Inc. Another $500,000 was given byKenneth Griffin, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based hedge fund Citadel Investment Group LLC.
Record FundraisingThe head of the RGA, Texas Governor Rick Perry, is mulling a run for the White House in 2012. In a statement, the RGA said its fundraising was a record for the first half of a year before a presidential election, and was more than it collected in all of 2007.
Koch also gave $1 million last year to the RGA, which helped elect Republicans such as Walker. His anti-union legislation had the support of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity advocacy group. Melissa Cohlmia, a spokeswoman for Koch Industries, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Other RGA contributors included Texas businessmen Trevor Rees-Jones, who donated $257,300, and homebuilder Bob Perry, who provided $250,000.
The Democratic Governors Association raised $11 million, including $100,000 donations each from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
AT&T and Southern Co. (SO)
Several companies regulated by state governments contributed to both governors’ associations, including Dallas-based AT&T, which gave $255,000 to the Republican governors and $150,000 to the Democratic governors; and Atlanta-based utility Southern Co., which gave $100,000 to both.
“We’re supportive of and work constructively with the governments in our regulated states - regardless of party - in order to develop sound energy policy that protects the interest of our customers, promotes economic development and creates jobs,” said Valerie Hendrickson, a spokeswoman for Southern.
AT&T also gave $60,000 to the RSLC and $10,000 to the Democratic Attorneys General Association. An AT&T spokeswoman, Claudia Jones, declined to comment.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce contributed $125,000 to the Republican governors and $100,000 to the Democrats.
The Democratic Attorneys General Association raised $1.6 million, including $357,650 from law firms. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP donated $15,000 and Nix Patterson & Roach LLP,trial lawyers, contributed $50,000.