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Democratic front groups lead in Wisconsin donations

Wisconsinites are giving more money to Democratic political advocacy groups called 527s than to similar Republican groups, according to the political watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The two aren't even close, according to a report by the group.

The report covers contributions from January 2007 through March 2008 and it found that Democratic 527s got $1.06 million or 71 percent of all Wisconsin contributions compared to just 28 percent or $426,466 given to Republican groups.

In total, 527 groups have raised a total of $1.5 million since January 2007 - shattering previous records, according to the group.

Mike McCabe, WDC executive director, said 527 groups are named after a section of the U.S. Internal Revenue code. He referred to most of the groups as shadowy front groups that collect money and send it to political operatives

"Corporations and labor unions can't directly contribute to campaigns from their treasuries. These groups allow wealthy donors to get around the law," McCabe said.

McCabe said unfortunately, most of the money will be spent on negative advertising.

"With almost no exception it is overwhelmingly negative," McCabe said.

"It is some of the most raunchy and vile advertising we see," he added.

The top 527 money getter in the state is the Democratic Governor's Association which received $241,885 in contributions.

McCabe said that the DGA is a key supporter of the Greater Wisconsin Committee which ran ads in support of Gov. Jim Doyle during the last gubernatorial election.

The Greater Wisconsin Political Fund was next, getting $230,620 in donations, followed by the liberal group Progressive Majority, which got $203,000.

Further down the list was the Republican Governor's Association, which received $135,600 in donations.

The biggest individual donor in the state was Lynde Uihlein, a Milwaukee philanthropist and supporter of women and Democratic candidates and causes.

She donated $458,000, according to the WDC.

Next top donor was the Wisconsin Laborers District Council, which donated $157,039.

McCabe said that because 527 groups follow a loophole in the IRS code there is little the state Legislature can do to stop them.

However, he did say the state could require full disclosure by groups who advertise and electioneer in the state. This disclosure would include who contributes to the groups and how they spend their money.

McCabe noted that legislation was introduced in the state Legislature by Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, and Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, but that the legislation went nowhere.

"Candidates come to rely on these groups to do their dirty work," McCabe said.

To McCabe, limiting these groups isn't limiting the freedom of speech.

"What these groups are doing is a desecration of the First Amendment and freedom of speech," he said.

"What these groups have done is turned free speech into a commodity which only the wealthy can afford," McCabe said.

More information is available on the WDC Web site at

Contact Brady Bautch at