Last fall, the 41 candidates vying for 17 Wisconsin state Senate seats spent just over $4 million, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
That seemed like a lot of money at the time, but it’s already been surpassed in the much smaller number of state Senate recall elections now under way.
Through Aug. 2, the 12 candidates in six recall elections on the Aug. 9 ballot have reported raising a total of $5.32 million. Reported spending through July 25 totalled $4.2 million. All six races involve Republican state Senate incumbents being challenged by Democrats.
The four candidates in the two recall elections against Democratic incumbents on the Aug. 16 ballot have another week before their next campaign finance reports are due. But as of their last filing, in early July, they had collectively raised a total of $634,978, reports filed with the state Government Accountability Board show.
An additional $331,605 was raised in the completed contest in which Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, won re-election on July 19, all but $2,000 by Hansen.
Taken all together, at least $6.28 million has been raised for the nine recalls elections so far.
Spending by outside groups, from labor unions to school choice advocates, is expected to dwarf that of candidates, with some estimates putting total spending at between $20 million and $30 million.
Among candidates, the top spenders so far are Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, at $992,360 and Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, at $843,145. Both tallies top the previous all-time record for a state Senate race, set in 2008 by Sheldon Wasserman, D-Milwaukee, who spent $722,333 and lost.
Among Democrats the fundraising champ is state Rep. Sandy Pasch of Whitefish Bay, who has raised $629,930 in her bid against Darling. That pushes total fundraising in that race to $1.75 million.
Overall, the six Democratic challengers reported raising $573,136 between July 1 and July 25, compared to $663,743 for the six GOP incumbents.
So far this year, including reported late contributions through Aug. 2, the six Republican incumbents have raised $3.15 million, compared to $2.17 million for their six Democratic challengers. (In the two recalls slated for Aug. 16, the Democratic incumbents as of June 30 led their Republican rivals $518,374 to $116,604, a more than four-to-one edge.)
The most modest campaign in terms of finances is between Robert Cowles, R-Allouez, and Democratic challenger Nancy Nusbaum, the former Brown County executive and DePere mayor. Year-to-date fundraising in that race totals just $408,605.
A significant amount of money flowing into these races is from out of state. The candidate with the most out-of-state support is Kapanke, with $125,311, 13.8 percent of his total receipts.
Several Democrats snared a higher share of their contributions from out-of-state. Leading the pack in this area is Nusbaum, who raised 37.6 percent of her money, or $90,772, from out of state. And Democrat Shelly Moore, a school teacher and union member, garnered $103,818, or 30.7 percent of her total.
In all, out-of-state donors poured $760,996 into the six races.
Despite spending more than $4 million already, the 12 candidates have significant firepower left. As of July 25, their campaigns reported a total of $1.21 million in cash on hand.