Data: Wisconsin residents contribute modest totals to ‘super PACs’

Contact Kate Golden at kgolden@wisconsinwatch.org. The Center’s Money & Politics Project, a partnership with MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.

The nonprofit and nonpartisan Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio, 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.

By Kate Golden
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Eighteen people with Wisconsin ties are among the donors to so-called “super PACs,” a new breed of campaign fundraising machine. But compared to Texas, New York and California, where super PACs raised upwards of $10 million, those Wisconsin donors contributed a whole lot less.

Itemized super PAC contributions with Wisconsin addresses totaled $428,301 in 2011, according to Federal Election Commission filings released last week.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has posted a searchable database of nearly $93 million in super PAC contributions below.

Just three donors with Wisconsin addresses contributed major sums.

Richard Uihlein, CEO and owner of Uline Inc., donated $250,000 to Freedomworks for America and $100,000 to the Club for Growth Action.

The New York Times reports that Freedomworks has no known ties to presidential candidates, and is a wing of the nonprofit FreedomWorks that’s led by former Republican House majority leader Dick Armey. Club for Growth Action is a conservative super PAC.

Uihlein and his wife, Elizabeth, also gave more than $200,000 to Gov. Scott Walker in 2011. They are listed in Wisconsin campaign finance records with a Lake Forest, Ill., address, but the big Freedomworks gift appears with Uline’s Pleasant Prairie, Wis., corporate headquarters.

Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions, associations and people. And they can spend unlimited sums to advocate for or against candidates, though unlike regular political action committees, they can’t donate directly to them.

Watchdogs have worried that the super PACs would filter money from 501(c)4 nonprofits known as “c4s”, which don’t have to disclose their donors, or from shell companies with murky ownership. But ProPublica reported that the most recent filings showed few such donations.

Fred Young, former owner of Young Radiator Co., also donated $100,000 to the Club for Growth Action. The state’s campaign finance database shows the Racine resident donated $10,500 last year to Wisconsin politics.

Grant Abert of Hillpoint, Wis., retired philanthropist associated with the Kailo Fund, donated $61,000 to America Votes Action Fund. America Votes is a liberal advocacy group.

Abert’s gift was just part of $109,050 he gave in Wisconsin last year. He also got one of the biggest ethics fines in the past several years: The Government Accountability Board fined him $7,500 for exceeding the state’s $10,000 annual political contribution limit in 2008 and 2009.

The smallest Wisconsin contribution listed, $1, came from one presumably specious Frumunda Mabalz of Fitchburg, no employer or occupation listed. Mabalz donated to Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, the super PAC founded by the comedian Stephen Colbert.

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