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State Journal story overstated contributions

State Journal story overstated contributions

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A front-page story and graphic May 20 about contributions to all Wisconsin campaign committees and political groups since January 2011 overstated the amount Democratic and Republican-leaning groups received during that time by as much as $9.7 million.

The error apparently originated with data downloaded from the Government Accountability Board's website. One of the 14 files downloaded contained almost exclusively duplicate records. When that file was merged with the other files, it appeared some committees raised more than they had.

GAB staff say some duplication of records is inevitable, as committees sometimes mistakenly report the same donation twice. In other cases, the same donor may make two gifts of the same size on the same date. However, the volume of duplicate records that showed up in the one suspect file downloaded by the State Journal suggests a computer error.

The newspaper and GAB are continuing to investigate how the problem occurred. But excluding all duplicate records — including those that may have been entered intentionally — the total raised by all committees between Jan. 1, 2011, and April 23, 2012, comes to at least $77.1 million.

The newspaper's original report put that figure at $86.8 million, with the bulk of that money split almost evenly between the two parties. The amended total shows a similar split: Democratic candidates and Democratic-leaning groups raised at least $35 million over that period while Republican candidates and GOP-leaning groups raised at least $36.9 million. (The rest was raised by nonpartisan or third-party groups or the party affiliation was unknown.)

As the story noted, the analysis did not include the vast sums of money collected and spent by so-called "issue ad" groups, which run thinly disguised campaign ads that don't explicitly call for the election or defeat of any candidate. Such groups are not required to report their political activity to GAB.

Due to a misunderstanding, Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, provided the State Journal with an incorrect estimate of such spending for its May 20 report. McCabe said this week he estimates such groups spent about $22 million in support of Republican candidates over the 16 months the newspaper examined, compared to about $5 million backing Democratic candidates.


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