By Bill Lueders
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
By now, it’s well known that massive sums were poured into Wisconsin’s recall elections, from the candidates, parties and outside groups. But little attention has been paid to where this money went.
Television commercials, you say? That’s a big part of it. But perhaps not as big as dazed viewers suspect.
The state Government Accountability Board tracks expenditures by payer, filing period and purpose. For the two filing periods this year, covering from Jan. 1 to May 21, various players spent a total of $63.7 million on the six recall races that culminated in the June 5 election. This includes about $20 million in reported independent expenditures from outside groups.
Some caveats: There may be omissions and duplications in the data, and not every expenditure is itemized. This analysis is a snapshot, not a panorama. It doesn’t include, for instance, the $8.4 million that Gov. Scott Walker spent in 2011, before most recall race candidates even left the starting block, or spending after May 21, for which detailed breakdowns have not been reported.
Total spending on the governor’s race alone could reach $80 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog.
These caveats noted, here are some observations on how the $63.7 million in reported spending breaks down:
Television advertising was the largest spending category, at $26.1 million. But this was only 41 percent of the total. Radio ads cost nearly $1.1 million (1.7 percent), with $1 million going for online ads.
Meanwhile, advertising in newspapers — arguably the most thorough and authoritative source of political campaign coverage — totaled $46,310, or less than one-tenth of 1 percent. Ouch.
The various players spent $10.4 million on mailing lists and service during these two reporting periods, or about 16 percent. Walker spent $6.8 million on mailings; his Democratic challenger, Tom Barrett, spent $95,318.
Printing of all kinds — brochures, copies, yard signs, buttons and bumper stickers — cost $1.3 million, or 2 percent of the total under review. Spending on fundraisers, including donated auction items, totaled $227,445. Phone banks and robo calls cost $841,076.
Nearly $2.4 million went for consulting fees, and another $1.3 million for research and polls. Legal fees totaled $523,425, with Walker’s campaign paying nearly two-thirds of this amount.
Campaign staff wages and employment taxes cost $5.1 million, or 8 percent of the total. Staff expenses including benefits, travel, lodging, gas, mileage and parking, came to just $293,651.
The various players also reported spending just over $1 million on administrative expenses, $534,776 on office rent, furniture and supplies, $350,253 on postage, $146,828 on meeting expenses, $82,693 on utilities including Internet and phones, and $9,858 on meals for volunteers.
Some available GAB spending categories showed little or no activity. There were no reported gifts or forfeitures. No legal fees were spent on “Plaintiff Libel Suits” or “Campaign MisInformation,” and no money reportedly went for “Capitol Office Expenses” or “Wages – Capitol Office Staff.”
A total of $319,295 was earmarked as “Charitable Donation.” Of this, $306,200 was charity bestowed on May 18 by the Greater Wisconsin Political Independent Expenditure Fund, a pro-Democrat group, to the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin Political Fund.
Finally, there was a single outlay for “Candidate Expense – Clothing.” The campaign for Arthur Kohl-Riggs, a young Madison man who challenged Walker in the GOP primary, spent $104.45 at the Jazzman on State Street. He says he bought a shirt and tie for a public appearance.
Overall, Kohl-Riggs spent $1,933 and snared 19,939 votes (3 percent of the primary total), an economical 10 cents per vote. In all, about 3,830,000 votes were cast for governor in the primary and general elections. If $80 million was spent, that’s more than $20 per vote.
Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.
The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.