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Wisconsin Democrats raise 4 times more than Republicans in first half of year
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WISCONSIN POLITICS | PARTY FUNDRAISING

Wisconsin Democrats raise 4 times more than Republicans in first half of year

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Dem Convention

Wisconsin Democratic Party chairperson Ben Wikler at the 2021 virtual DPW convention. 

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin raised more than four times what the state Republican Party raised in the first half of the year, hauling in more than $4.2 million across its two major state accounts.

The Democratic Party’s multimillion-dollar fundraising haul — about $4 million of which was raised to support candidates and about $200,000 was for administrative costs — compares to about $835,000 raised by Republicans over the same time period, including about $95,000 for administrative costs, rather than to support candidates.

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The Democratic Party closed out the month of June with about $1.8 million in its main account, while Republicans ended the month with about $165,000.

It’s yet another fundraising report that has reflected the increasing strength of the Democrats in the fundraising arena as Wisconsin’s status as a swing state continues to garner national attention. Last year, the Democratic Party raised more than the Republican Party for the first time in 12 years, by more than $14 million, buoyed by a presidential election in which Wisconsin was pivotal to President Joe Biden’s victory over incumbent Donald Trump.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a group that tracks campaign spending, reported the Democratic Party of Wisconsin raised more than $23.6 million in 2020, nearly two-and-a-half times more than the $9.8 million raised by the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Campaign finance laws written by Legislative Republicans and signed in late 2015 by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker allow political parties to receive unlimited donations and make unlimited transfers of funds to candidates.

Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesperson Anna Kelly said the latest fundraising reports show the state GOP heading in the right direction.

“Our fundraising operation fueled the grassroots effort that resulted in a highly successful local elections program in the spring and dominating victories in special elections throughout 2021,” Kelly said. “As we build on this momentum, the Republican Party of Wisconsin is in stronger financial condition than at this point in the previous cycle, field staff are being hired throughout Wisconsin even earlier than in the past, and we will have the resources necessary to win in 2022.”

Fundraising figures are just one component of a successful campaign or political party, but they can offer a glimpse into the campaign’s or party’s organization, donor base and overall support. They also provide one indication of the success of each party in a post-Trump political environment.

They can also be simple reflections of the political realities on the ground. For instance, state political parties tend to have an easier time raising money when their candidate is the governor, a benefit Democrats currently enjoy.

Political strategists say the Democratic Party’s fundraising success is an indication the party is able to nurture a donor base and sustain participation, which has been a problem for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin over the past decade.

“I think it shows a continuing engagement among Democrats even after Trump,” said Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki.

As for Republicans, Zepecki said he believes the state GOP will have no trouble raising money moving into 2022, but that the GOP’s smaller fundraising haul might underscore the challenges for the party of navigating a post-Trump world.

Republican strategist Brandon Scholz cautioned not to put too much stock in the fundraising figures. He said while the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s fundraising strength presents a challenge to the GOP, it doesn’t indicate the Republican Party is lost in the wilderness.

“Politics is cyclical,” Scholz said. “You can’t sit back on your laurels because you raised a ton of money one year. You’ve got to stay with it.”

One of the largest recipients of the Democratic Party’s contributions has been Gov. Tony Evers, who is seeking a second term in office and sits with $7.3 million in campaign funds after raising $5 million in the first half of this year.

Of the more than $1.9 million in committee contributions to Evers’ campaign in the first six months of the year, more than half — or just over $1 million — came from the state party.

Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws allow unlimited contributions to political parties, which can in turn transfer that money to political candidate committees in order to circumvent contribution limits imposed on candidate committees.

Other major contributions to Evers’ campaign include: $86,000 from the Democratic Governors Association; $43,000 from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee; and $86,000 each from the Engineers Political Education Committee, the Laborers International Union of North America and the American Federation of Teachers COPE.

The remaining $3 million in funds raised by Evers came from individual donors, with the largest donation amount from individuals coming in at $10,000.

Congressional fundraising

Candidates for Congress continue to raise funds. U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, raised about $620,000 in the second quarter of the year. If U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, doesn’t run for reelection, Gallagher is rumored to be a potential candidate in the GOP primary.

In the race to represent Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, covering much of western Wisconsin, Republican challenger Derrick Van Orden raised about $754,000 between April and June and ended the reporting period with just over $600,000 in the bank.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, raised about $408,000 during the reporting period, and ended it with about $1.4 million in the bank.

State Journal reporter Mitchell Schmidt contributed to this report.

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