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Incumbents Way Ahead in Money Race

August 14, 2008

Madison, WI – It pays to be an incumbent if you're running for office in Wisconsin. A study of fundraising by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign finds those running for re-election out-raised their challengers by four-to-one during the first half of the year. As a result, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign director Mike McCabe says, running for office has become a "green paper chase."

"Politicians in Wisconsin are trapped in a campaign arms race. We're seeing more money raised by state legislative candidates than we've ever seen raised before--by a wide margin."

McCabe explains that while no amount of money can rescue a really bad candidate, those dollars do help hopefuls speak with a big megaphone.

"It puts incumbents in a position of being able to do most of the talking. Challengers can't really get a word in edgewise, because they don't have the money for the TV ads and the other campaign advertising. Campaign funding, sadly, is the single best predictor of the outcome of elections. Money unquestionably matters."

McCabe says candidates and committees raised 17 percent more through June than during the same period a year ago, and an amount over 100 percent more than in the first six months of 2002. Wisconsin can have either "voter-owned" or "donor-owned" elections, he adds, and it makes a difference who's calling the shots.

"Right now, we've got elections owned by big, wealthy donors. If we had publicly-financed elections, that would put voters back in the driver's seat. It would free candidates from the money chase, and enable campaigns to be about ideas and not just about who has the most money. It would get us enforceable spending limits. It would really liberate our political process from the problems that we've got today."

He says candidates and fundraising committees brought in a record $3.4 million in the first half of the year. One reason for the strong flow of dollars, McCabe notes, is that there's a lot at stake: With both the House and Senate "up for grabs," a seat or two could determine who holds the gavel in either chamber.

Jim Wishner/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - WI