Liberal Groups Spend Big to Target Once Safe GOP Legislators

Liberal groups, including a shadowy dark money organization tied to labor unions, have dumped a massive amount of cash into legislative races in Wisconsin, targeting Republicans, some incumbents, in what were historically safe districts.

In part, the money is funding a major digital campaign effort, including a slew of negative Facebook ads, in races throughout the state, including many in the suburban areas ringing Milwaukee. Locally, Reps. Scott Allen of Waukesha and Barbara Dittrich of Oconomowoc are among the targets.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has been hit with some of the largest spending from the liberal groups, including at least a $100,000 television ad buy and more than $67,000 in digital ads opposing him.

What’s the goal? Boosting local voter turnout to help Joe Biden defeat Donald Trump, who narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016. It also appears to be a pushback from labor unions upset about Act 10 and liberals upset about redistricting.

“I believe that there is an unprecedented effort to try to roll back what has happened in Wisconsin,” Vos told Wisconsin Right Now. He said special interest dollars flowed into Wisconsin after liberals “barely beat Scott Walker and then began to go around the country to say Wisconsin was the tipping point to beat President Trump.”

He believes Democrats are targeting local races “to help them take over the federal government because state legislatures draw the districts.”

He said Democrats who decry outside political spending in elections are “hypocrites,” adding, “It is unbridled anger. There’s a level of anger I’ve never seen. It’s unhinged.” He said the Democrats want to make sure they have a “boat in every port” during the election. “They are putting money into the ring around Milwaukee and going further. Suburban seats.”

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin – which has received money from many people outside of Wisconsin, including perennial conservative bogeyman George Soros – is also funneling money into legislative races; for example the party gave Dittrich’s Democratic challenger Melissa Winker $75,000 in the waning days of the race.

In 2019, Intercept reported on the major new Democratic effort to organize in Wisconsin, which the party felt it had taken for granted in 2016; the goal: Boost voter turnout, in part for the presidential election. Stopping President Donald Trump was a stated Democratic Party goal in that story and local grassroots organizing tactics were a focus. Labor unions reorganizing to strike back after Act 10 was another goal, and, in fact, labor unions are among donors to the shadowy group attacking Dittrich, according to Transparency USA.

On Oct. 23, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported that spending by outside Democratic groups on Wisconsin legislative races was “swamping GOP groups,” with nearly $4 million spent by Democratic groups and $2.1 million by GOP express advocacy groups.

a better wisconsin together
Some of the Better Wisconsin Together spending in fall 2020.

“Liberals from Hollywood to the east coast are pouring money into Wisconsin because they know it’s the tipping point in this election,” said WisGOP Executive Director Mark Jefferson. “Even the far-left governor of Illinois is spending millions to prop up legislative Democrats. It’s no surprise that they’re now targeting safe Republican seats, likely in an attempt to prop up a weak, unenthusiastic candidate like Joe Biden at the top of the ticket. It’s incredibly important that conservatives see through this gimmick and show up to vote between now and Nov. 3rd.”

The shadowy group – A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund – has pumped more than $1.87 million into Wisconsin legislative races against Republicans this fall in multiple Assembly and Senate races, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund was the highest spending express advocacy group this fall, according to WDC.

The group said these races have seen the highest outside spending:

The 30th Senate District, an open seat in Green Bay, $841,707. Nine groups backing Democrat Jonathon Hansen have doled out $536,053 and four groups backing Republican candidate Eric Wimberger have spent $305,654;

The 32nd Senate District, an open seat in the La Crosse area, $570,345. Seven groups supporting Democrat Brad Pfaff have spent $465,729 and two groups supporting Republican Dan Kapanke have spent $104,616;

The 10th Senate District in northwestern Wisconsin, $481,690. Five groups backing Republican candidate Rob Stafsholt have spent $434,768 and six groups backing incumbent Democratic Sen. Patty Schachtner, of Somerset, have spent $46,922.

In 2016, Democratic groups also outspend Republicans but by a smaller margin, WDC reported. Overall comparisons won’t be possible until the election.

In addition to its involvement in the Dittrich race, the A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund group, in one of its latest reports, is funding a massive $100,000 television advertising buy opposing Vos; $44,444 against Michael Karl Rohrkaste in Assembly District 55; $33,333 against Scott Allen in Assembly District 97; $50,000 against Alberta Darling in Senate District 8; another $67,500 in digital ads opposing Vos; and $67,500 against August Schutz. And that’s just part of it.

“It’s a sad day in Wisconsin when people think they can buy a legislative seat with vast sums of outside dollars,” Oconomowoc Rep. Barbara Dittrich told Wisconsin Right Now. Campaign finance reports show the Democratic Party and liberal groups outside the area have funneled more than $148,000 to help her Democratic opponent Melissa Winker. “People don’t want dark money coming from outside areas that don’t align with their values dictating who will represent them in the statehouse.” Winker did not return a request for comment.

In a press release, the fund’s partner org, A Better Wisconsin Together, slammed Republicans for their response to COVID-19 and “a historic movement for racial justice.” They’re demanding the GOP “get to work” in the digital campaign. The group lists its executive director as Nicole Safar. According to her LinkedIn page, she was an official for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and assistant deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in the Tony Evers’ administration. The group’s political fund also created a progressive voters’ guide endorsed by groups including Planned Parenthood and various unions, including the teachers’ union.

A Better Wisconsin Together Political Fund gives its address as 6516 Monona Drive Box 244 in Monona, Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign calls the fund a “new outside electioneering group created to back Democratic and liberal candidates” that is affiliated with “One Wisconsin Now, a liberal advocacy group.” Among its leaders: Michelle McGrorty, Greater Wisconsin Committee’s once executive director. In an article titled “hijacking campaign 2020,” the non-profit Wisconsin Democracy Campaign wrote that the group successfully spent more than $1.6 million last spring to get conservative Dan Kelly ousted from the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

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Jim Piwowarczyk

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