MADISON — Union dollars are flowing into campaigns for three Democratic state senators facing recall elections this summer, a largely unsurprising development in a political battle spurred mostly by the passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining legislation.
For the six Republicans bracing for recalls, union donations are drastically smaller.
“What you find, long-term, is that corporations split their contributions almost evenly between the two political parties, whereas unions give their political donations — 95 percent and up — to the Democratic Party,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.
So far in Wisconsin, union political action committees have donated $62,625 to recall candidates, according to a campaign contribution analysis by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan watchdog group that tracks contributions greater than $100.
All but $1,475 of that — or 97.7 percent — went to Democrats.
Gillian Morris, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said it’s difficult to gauge if that percentage is higher than normal, because fundraising varies between regions and election cycles. But donations, in general, are likely to be higher than normal for the recall battles, she said.
“It hasn’t just been unions by any stretch,” Morris said. “The start to all of this was the collective bargaining bill, but it’s picked up speed since then.”
Union contributions are drastically smaller for five of the six Republican senators who also face recall elections, according to the latest campaign finance reports from April.
State Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, got a $1,000 boost from Operating Engineers 139 Political Action Committee, the largest influx of labor organization money for any Republican. But that donation still comprises less than 1 percent of Kapanke’s reported total of $180,310.
Still, Jen Harrington, Kapanke’s recall campaign manager, said the senator is pleased with the support, particularly given the union-centric nature of the recall battle.
“Obviously, there are government employees who are unhappy with the votes that have been taken. But we still have teachers who support Dan, and there are still government employees that support Dan,” she said. “Obviously as a campaign, you always want to be able to do more and to reach more voters, but we feel like we’re in a good place.”
Numbers showing up in campaign disclosures often don’t tell the whole story.
“You are dealing with the realm of the seen and the unseen,” said Steve Baas, vice president of government affairs for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “PACs can give money directly, or they can weigh in indirectly by giving to another group that is involved with a particular campaign or issue.”
And because candidates can’t budget normally for unexpected recall elections, fundraising regulations are different for those battles, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, the state’s election agency.
“During the period when the recall petitions were being circulated, there was no limit on donations,” Magney said. “This was obviously a decision the Legislature made, but I think the idea behind it was that recall elections are not something that can be planned for.”