By Bill Lueders
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
The battle between Republican Tommy Thompson and Democrat Tammy Baldwin is emerging as one of the most important — and costly — races in the country. It has drawn tens of millions of dollars from outside groups who see it as a race that could go either way and possibly determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
Already, these outside expenditures, coupled with prodigious spending by the candidates, make this the most expensive U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin history.
The Federal Election Commission requires outside groups to promptly report independent expenditures; that means the database listing this spending is being continually updated. As of midday on Friday, Oct. 26, data compiled by the FEC and analyzed by the Center for Responsive politics on its Open Secrets website reveal:
• Outside groups have spent more than $33.4 million on Wisconsin’s Senate race, more than for any other federal race nationally besides the one for president and a Senate race in Virginia. This total is reported, and may be updated, on the Open Secrets site.
Of this amount, all but about $2.6 million was spent either for or against Thompson or Baldwin, the two candidates who emerged from the Aug. 14 primary.
The biggest outside spenders on Baldwin’s side, to date, are the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which spent $5.7 million, Women Vote!, a super PAC run by Emily’s List, which has spent $2.2 million, and Majority PAC, which has spent $3.2 million. Thompson’s biggest outside backers were Crossroads GPS, which has spent $4.7 million on his behalf and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has spent $4.1 million.
• Spending by the two sides is almost evenly divided. Of the $30.8 million spent by outside groups on the two main candidates so far, $16 million has been spent for Baldwin or against Thompson, and $14.8 million has been spent for Thompson or against Baldwin. Most of this money has come in the form of independent expenditures made by political action committees, super PACs and nonprofit organizations. A small share was reported as “electioneering communications,” as federal law requires for “issue ad” outlays within 60 days of an election.
• Almost all of the money coming into the race from outside groups is for negative messages. Of the $30.8 million spent for or against Thompson and Baldwin so far, all but about $2.6 million was spent to oppose one or the other candidate. In other words, more than 90 percent of the money poured into this race by outside groups has gone toward negative messaging, primarily TV ads.
• Already, this is the most expensive U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin history, shattering the record set in 2010. Back then, Russ Feingold and Ron Johnson spent nearly $33 million (according to the FEC; see http://www.fec.gov/disclosurehs/hsnational.do), with outside groups spending about $5 million (according to Open Secrets, see: http://www.opensecrets.org/races/indexp.php?cycle=2010&id=WIS2).
Through the end of September, Tammy Baldwin had spent $8.5 million and Tommy Thompson had spent $3.8 million. Add in spending by Thompson’s unsuccessful rivals in the primary (Eric Hovde, $6,277,420), Mark Neumann ($3,774,265) and Jeff Fitzgerald ($211,044) and the spending total reaches $22.6 million. Add that to the amount spent by outside groups and the total tops $50 million, well more than the $38 million spent in 2010.
And it will almost certainly go even higher. Through the Sept. 30 filing deadline, Baldwin reported having $3.5 million cash on hand and Thompson, who has contributed more than $800,000 to his own campaign, said he has $2 million on hand.
This report is part a collaborative project with WISC-TV in Madison.
The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) 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.