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Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Wisconsin voters have shown time and time again that they are not extremists. Voters in largely Republican areas of the state sent a message in recent days that the actions of those in charge of state government have been too extreme by voting for greater moderation.
In unprecedented state senate recall elections, the number of legislators removed from office in this manner over the 163-year history of Wisconsin was doubled in a single summer. A third of Republican senators targeted for recall were ousted, while two others narrowly survived election-day scares. All three of the targeted Democratic senators were returned to office by comfortable margins.
Republicans maintained control of the senate, but saw their majority whittled down to 17-16.
The real winners of these elections were the TV stations, which reaped a massive windfall as candidates and interest groups poured tens of millions of dollars into television advertising.
Campaign spending was off the charts and will end up in the neighborhood of $40 million once final tallies are made. To put that mammoth figure in perspective, consider:
Overall spending in the nine recall elections was more than twice as much as candidates and outside interest groups spent in all 116 legislative races combined in 2010.
Six of the nine contests broke the previous record of $3 million for total spending in a state senate race. Milwaukee’s 8th district race topped $9 million, while the 14th district north of Madison saw close to $6.5 million in spending. Northwestern Wisconsin’s 10th district and the 12th district in the northeastern part of the state both were in the $5.5 million range. The Fond du Lac area’s 18th district will approach $4 million and the 32nd district in the La Crosse area will be close to $3.5 million.
Outside groups spent more than $31 million sponsoring their own advertising, swamping candidate spending by nearly a 6-to-1 margin despite the fact that two candidates – Milwaukee’s Alberta Darling and La Crosse’s Dan Kapanke – easily broke the previous record for spending by an individual senate candidate.
Registered interest groups reported spending $15.6 million in the nine races, which compares to $3.75 million such groups spent in all 116 legislative elections in 2010. Unregistered groups that do not report their spending are estimated to have spent over five times as much as they did in 2010 legislative races across the state.
All this money was spent on elections in less than a third of the state's senate districts. The mind reels when you think about how much might be spent in a likely statewide recall election targeting highly unpopular Governor Scott Walker.