Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders | Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

It’s still several weeks before the general elections, with big bucks yet to flow, but Wisconsin’s recall-o-rama is already awash in campaign cash — and at least one record will surely fall.

From Jan. 1, 2009, to June 30, 2011, recall target state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, raised $1.04 million, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

State Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, also facing a recall challenge, raised $738,226 during the same period.

Both candidates have spent more than $600,000 already.

The spending record for a state Senate candidate in Wisconsin is $722,333, set in 2008 by Milwaukee Democrat Sheldon Wasserman. He lost — to Alberta Darling, the up-and-coming spending champ.

“It’s clear that Alberta Darling will end up setting a record for spending by a candidate in a state Senate election,” says Mike McCabe, executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

What’s makes this even more “astonishing,” he adds, is that most of the money was raised since late February and March, when the recall drives began, not in a full four-year election cycle.

In all, the six incumbent state senators facing general recall elections on Aug. 9 raised more than $2.3 million in the first six months of this year, compared to just over $1.5 million for their six post-primary Democratic challengers, according to campaign filings with the state Government Accountability Board.

And the three Democrats facing recall elections on July 19 and Aug. 16 have raised more than $900,000 overall, compared to about $150,000 for their GOP challengers.

But it is Alberta Darling who is setting the pace.

Through July 10, according to the GAB, Darling had raised $969,168 so far this year. This came from 7,789 contributions averaging $124 each.

Darling received 157 $1,000 contributions, as well as 56 contributions of more than $1,000.

Normally, $1,000 is the most individuals can give to state Senate campaigns, but this limit does not apply to money raised for recall elections. These funds beyond the regular contribution limits, says GAB spokesman Reid Magney, “can only be used for recall-related expenses,” like legal challenges, not for campaign ads.

Darling’s opponent, state Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay, has raised $437,302 as of July 10, according to the GAB.

This is less than half Darling’s total, but hardly a trifling amount.

Pasch’s contributions are extraordinary for another reason. They come from an eye-popping 11,036 individual contributions, through July 10, according to the GAB website.

Of these, 6,454 were for $10 or less, including 884 $1 contributions. Her average contribution is $39.63, less than a third that of Darling.

McCabe explains that these micro-donations to Democrats are largely from ActBlue, a Massachusetts-based online fundraising apparatus for Democratic candidates. Many of the donations come from out of state.

ActBlue’s website says it has raised more than $1 million for Democratic Senate candidates in Wisconsin, including more than $90,000 for Pasch and $93,161 for Kapanke’s challenger, Rep. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse, as of Thursday. The money comes in through fundraising campaigns by Take Back Wisconsin! and other groups.

Of course, the result of all this fundraising, and the millions of dollars that special interests toss into the mix, will be an endless stream of mailings, fliers, radio ads and, above all, TV commercials — all meant to enlighten voters as to which candidates are by far the worst.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The project, a partnership of the Center and, is supported by the Open Society Institute.


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