The $31 Million Bust

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.

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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