The $31 Million Bust

by Ian Tuttle

Democrats have much to lament in the aftermath of yesterday’s Wisconsin recall elections. The spending numbers offer no comfort.

While Republicans outspent Democrats more than twofold in a series of races that, combined, cost more than $114 million, their electoral victories were worth the expenditures. For Democrats, 18 months of campaigning and more than $31 million later, Wisconsin is a bust.

The governor’s race, which cost upward of $60 million, saw Democratic challenger Tom Barrett spend $4 million, on top of more than $5 million spent by independent pro-Barrett groups. Democrats spent an additional $2 million on Kathleen Falk in the run-up to the May 8 primary.

Last year’s state-senate recall elections, in 2011, due to which Republicans lost two seats (four Republicans and three Democrats retained their positions), cost $44 million total. Democratic candidates spent $4 million, and Democratic outsiders outspent Republican counterparts $18.6 million to $15.9 million. The 2012 state-senate recall elections, by contrast, cost a total of $4.4 million, and Democratic candidates spent just under $600,000. Independent left-wing supporters spent $1.1 million on the four races.

The 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court recall election was fueled almost exclusively by outside money; both candidates received $400,000 in public funding and agreed to forgo raising their own private campaign donations. Liberal groups attacked incumbent justice David Prosser with $1.5 million worth of ads.

The least expensive race was that of Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, the first lieutenant governor in American history to face a recall election. Kleefisch’s opponent, Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, spent $200,000, and outside Democratic groups spent $480,000.

In full, Democratic candidates and their backers spent more than $31 million to unseat Walker and his Republican colleagues.

That’s a lot of money wasted.