Nearly $44 million was spent on recall elections targeting nine Wisconsin state lawmakers after a clash over collective bargaining rights, and unions and conservative special interest groups led the way, according to estimates being released Tuesday.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign based its estimates on reports filed with the state and assumptions on how much was spent by groups that don't have to report.
Democrats beat two Republican incumbents in the recalls, falling one seat short of what they needed to win majority control in the state Senate. Democrats spun the results as a victory and promised to forge ahead with a recall of Gov. Scott Walker next year. There's also talk of more recalls targeting Republican state senators.
The recall efforts were fueled by the highly publicized debate over Walker's proposal that would strip collective bargaining rights for most public workers. Wisconsin's 14 Democratic state senators fled the state to avoid a vote, and the controversy generated national attention and widespread protests at the state Capitol in Madison.
The report found Democrats and their backers outspent Republicans $23.4 million to $20.5 million in this summer's recalls.
Outside groups outspent the candidates themselves $34.5 million to $8 million. The advantage for Democrats also was seen in outside spending, as they generated $18.6 million compared to $15.9 million for Republicans.
The spending shattered previous norms for Wisconsin as the recalls targeting three Democrats and six Republicans attracted spending from national groups at levels never seen before in the state.
It was more than double the previous high for spending in legislative races, which was just over $20 million for 115 seats in the 2008 election. That comes out to $176,000 per seat, compared with $4.9 million spent per seat in the recalls.
We Are Wisconsin, a political action committee composed of national and Wisconsin unions, spent the most on the recalls at $10.75 million. The group paid for more than 20 television ads and spent the most in support of Democrat Sandy Pasch in her race against Republican Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills. Darling won.
The estimated $10 million spent on that race was more than any of the others. The second highest, at $7.2 million, was in the race won by Republican Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon over Democrat Fred Clark.
Club for Growth Wisconsin, the state arm of the national conservative group, was the second highest spender at an estimated $9 million.
Because of the type of campaigning it does, Club for Growth Wisconsin is not required to file the same reports as We Are Wisconsin, and its spending was estimated by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. It estimated the spending by looking at television ad buys and the cost of comparable activity like mailings, automated phone calls and consulting that is disclosed by others.
The Democratic-backing Greater Wisconsin Committee was third with an estimated $4 million in spending.