Political Party/527

Greater Wisconsin Committee

Location:

MADISON, WI

Tax ID:

20-0938084

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Budget (2016):

Revenue: $1,792,525
Expenses: $2,057,775
Assets: $101,048

Executive Director:

Richard Judge

The Greater Wisconsin Committee is a liberal and Democratic Party-aligned advocacy organization that focuses on supporting left-progressive candidates in Wisconsin elections, in which it is consistently one of the largest spenders. The group is funded by various left-leaning organizations, most prominently labor unions, and is best known for funding attack ads and political mailings targeting conservative and Republican candidates. The committee is affiliated with several other left-leaning groups, labor unions, and advocacy organizations in Wisconsin. [1]

The committee is associated with a state political action committee called the Greater Wisconsin Political Action Committee and a super PAC called the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund. The committee and affiliated groups represent one of the largest outside spending groups in Wisconsin politics, having spent at least $32 million in support of Democratic and liberal candidates from 2010 to 2018. [2]

Background

The Greater Wisconsin Committee was founded in 2004 as a left-progressive “social welfare” advocacy group headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin. The Greater Wisconsin committee states that it accepts donations from “individuals, businesses, labor organizations, trade associations, or other groups that share its views on public policy issues.” [3] The committee further states that it does not disclose donors to the committee, leading news outlets in Wisconsin to classify the organization as a “dark-money” group. [4]

The organization operates two separate PACs. The Greater Wisconsin Political Action Committee is a state-level PAC that is registered with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission and supports and opposes candidates for public office in Wisconsin through independent expenditures and issue campaigns while being prohibited from coordinating with candidate or campaigns. The other PAC operated by the Greater Wisconsin Committee is the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, a 527 “super PAC” that also conducts independent expenditure campaigns but is not subject to the fundraising limitations imposed on registered state PACs such as the Greater Wisconsin PAC. [5]

Activity

The Greater Wisconsin Committee is consistently the top political spending organization in Wisconsin spending millions during each election cycle in a variety of races ranging from state house and senate, Gubernatorial and other statewide races, local races and even non-partisan local races. During the 2018 election cycle, the Greater Wisconsin Committee was revealed to be single largest political spender in the state, “with estimated spending for undisclosed issue ads and disclosed independent expenditures totaling $3.8 million.” [6] According to the left-leaning Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the 2018 spending by the Greater Wisconsin Committee represented over 10% of total political spending in the state of Wisconsin during the 2018 election cycle, which had increased by 17 percent to $36 million from the $28 million spent in 2016, and was about double the $17 million spent in 2014. [7]

In total, the Greater Wisconsin Committee has out spent any other political spender in Wisconsin significantly dating back to its founding. Aggregating all political spending from the 2010 to 2018 election cycles, the committee has spent an estimated $32 million on electioneering activities with an emphasis on tv ads, radio ads, and direct mail. All of the funds have gone to support Democratic or liberal candidates or to attack Republican and conservative candidates. The committee is often described as a “dark money” group and accused of using a “shell game” due to the fact that many of the disclosed contributors to the organization’s 527 political committee, the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, “include some of its other entities, which shows they use them as a shell game to mask their fundraising and spending.” [8]

From 2010 to 2017, the Greater Wisconsin Committee had gifted its 527 arm $2.25 million. Other large donors within that same time frame included the “Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the state’s largest teacher’s union, $1.2 million; We Are Wisconsin Political Fund, a group of state and national labor unions mostly active during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, $893,500; Lynde B. Uihlein, of Milwaukee, director of the Brico Fund and a Milwaukee philanthropist who backs Democratic and women’s causes and candidates, $331,000.” [9] The state level PAC arm of the committee, the Greater Wisconsin PAC, also gifted the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund $273,700 from 2010 to 2017. [10]

Specific examples of the Greater Wisconsin Committee’s political expenditures include spending more than $4 million to back Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s successful reelection in 2006. The group’s spending covers all levels of Wisconsin political campaigns and includes $16.9 million in the 2010 general, 2012 recall, and 2014 general elections to oppose then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker, an estimated $1.5 million the 2006 and 2014 state attorney general races backing Democratic candidates who lost, and more than $6.1 million in seven Wisconsin Supreme Court races between 2007 and 2018. [11]

In legislative elections, Greater Wisconsin Committee spent “an estimated $8.5 million between 2006 and 2016, but both the Assembly and Senate have been controlled by Republicans most of that time, except for the 2009-10 legislative session and a portion of the 2011-12 legislative session.” [12]

The Greater Wisconsin Committee is also connected to left-leaning umbrella funding group Wisconsin Acts Together, a group that distributes funding to other left-leaning political organizations in the state including Citizen Action, Emerge Wisconsin, High Ground, One Wisconsin Now, Planned Parenthood, We Are Wisconsin, and the Greater Wisconsin Committee. The Greater Wisconsin committee received half of all disbursements from Wisconsin Acts Together in 2016 and contributed $100,000 of that funding to its Supreme Court Project . [13]

Greater Wisconsin Political Fund

While much of the spending through the Greater Wisconsin Committee is not disclosed, the spending of the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund is required to be filed with the Federal Election Commission and open to public review. The Political Fund has spent millions in each election cycle since 2006, but spending spiked to an all-time high of over $11 million spent in the 2012 cycle, which included not only the general elections but also an ultimately unsuccessful effort to recall then-Governor Scott Walker (R). The group spent $5.3 million in the 2014 cycle, $1.5 million in the 2016 cycle, and over $3.6 million in the 2018 cycle. [14]

Many left-leaning organizations have contributed to the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund including We Are Wisconsin, America Votes, the Democratic Governors Association, the National Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees all donating over $1 million solely during the 2012 gubernatorial recall election. The Political Fund consistently enjoys support from left-leaning labor unions and particularly did so during the 2012 recall, which was partly inspired by Governor Scott Walker’s successful attempt to pass government-worker collective-bargaining reform legislation in Wisconsin. [15]

Other organizations giving to the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund Include:[16]

Independent Expenditures and Political Advertising

The Greater Wisconsin Committee spends hundreds of thousands of dollars during each election cycle funding television and radio advertisements supportive of Democratic candidates in Wisconsin and attacking republicans. In 2019, the committee funded several ads supporting liberal Wisconsin State Supreme Court candidate Judge Lisa Neubauer and attacking her opponent, then-Judge (now Justice) Brian Hagedorn. [17]

The committee was also active in attacking former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) throughout his career and attacked former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a conservative Democrat. The committee has ran attack ads targeting Republicans for various salacious charges including that various Republican state legislative candidates. The committee also helped bolster the career of now-Governor Tony Evers (D), supporting his previous campaign for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. [18]

Wisconsin Supreme Court

Wisconsin Supreme Court elections are technically nonpartisan races, the Greater Wisconsin Committee has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to support left-leaning candidates in those races and oppose right-leaning candidates. In 2016, the Greater Wisconsin Committee spent at least $265,000 on ads supporting the left-leaning and attacking the right-leaning candidate. Susan Liss, the executive director of Justice at Stake, a left-leaning advocacy group that tracks judicial race spending,  stated that “The Greater Wisconsin Committee is a familiar player in the state’s long-running judicial election battles,” and adding that “With two outside spenders now ratcheting up the TV ad wars, this election is going into the history books as another costly, attack-heavy contest that drags both the Court and the candidates through the mud.” [19]

The left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice further noted the high level of spending and attack ads from the Greater Wisconsin Committee, stating that “The GWC has spent heavily in court-related elections in past years, most notably in 2011, when Judge [JoAnne] Kloppenburg unsuccessfully ran for the Supreme Court against incumbent Justice David Prosser. In that race, the GWC spent nearly $1.4 million and ran hard-hitting ads targeting Prosser. In 2008, the GWC spent more than $1.1 million on TV ads opposing Judge Mike Gableman, who defeated incumbent Justice Louis Butler. In 2009, the organization spent more than $300,000 opposing Judge Randy Koschnick in his challenge to incumbent Justice Shirley Abrahamson. And in 2007, GWC spent an estimated $260,000 opposing current Justice Annette Ziegler in her successful run for the Supreme Court against attorney Linda Clifford.” [20]

Voting Records Mailing

During the 2012 Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election, the Greater Wisconsin Committee drew criticism for a controversial voter mailing that it sent to thousands of voters revealing the voting records of those voters’ neighbors. The mailers were paid for by the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund and contained a United Steelworkers logo. [21]

Many voters were outraged by the stunt and saw it as an intimidation tactic to pressure people into voting or otherwise suffering embarrassment and judgement from neighbors, with the “The group’s website says after the June 5th election, public records will tell everyone who voted and who didn’t. The site urges people to vote.” The ACLU defended the mailing as protected political speech and public record, yet the mailing continued to draw significant criticism. [22]

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, a state agency, responded in a statement that “The Government Accountability Board has received a large number of complaints from around the state in the last few days regarding a direct-mail flier from the Greater Wisconsin Committee. This flier did not come from the Government Accountability Board.” The Government Accountability Board defended the fact that “Voter records (including voting history) are public records, and have been since the days they were kept in handwritten books in the municipal clerk’s office. State voter registration records have been all-digital since 2006” and noted further that “This is the first time to our knowledge that a group has used information in voter lists this way. There is no state law that prohibits such practices, since the information is public.” [23]

References

  1. “Greater Wisconsin Committee Spends Big”. Urban Milwaukee. May 1, 2018. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2018/05/01/campaign-cash-greater-wisconsin-committee-spends-big/ ^
  2. “Greater Wisconsin Committee Spends Big”. Urban Milwaukee. May 1, 2018. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2018/05/01/campaign-cash-greater-wisconsin-committee-spends-big/ ^
  3. “About Us”. Greater Wisconsin Committee. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://www.greaterwisconsin.org/aboutus.htm ^
  4. Craver, Jack. “Dark money: How Wisconsin’s most politically influential organizations avoid disclosing their donors”. The Capital Times. January 15, 2014. Accessed July 16, 2020. https://madison.com/ct/news/local/writers/jack_craver/dark-money-how-wisconsins-most-politically-influential-organizations-avoid-disclosing-their-donors/article_8ddf078f-1112-5f44-9268-cb9e5f2d3fd2.html ^
  5. “About Us”. Greater Wisconsin Committee. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://www.greaterwisconsin.org/aboutus.htm ^
  6. Dolby, Nuha. “As spending increases in Wisconsin Senate, Assembly races, questions on gerrymandering, campaign donations rise”. Badger Herald. April 2, 2019. Accessed May 19, 2020.  https://badgerherald.com/news/2019/04/02/as-spending-increases-in-wisconsin-senate-assembly-races-questions-on-gerrymandering-campaign-donations-rise/ ^
  7. Dolby, Nuha. “As spending increases in Wisconsin Senate, Assembly races, questions on gerrymandering, campaign donations rise”. Badger Herald. April 2, 2019. Accessed May 19, 2020.  https://badgerherald.com/news/2019/04/02/as-spending-increases-in-wisconsin-senate-assembly-races-questions-on-gerrymandering-campaign-donations-rise/ ^
  8. “Greater Wisconsin Committee Spends Big”. Urban Milwaukee. May 1, 2018. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2018/05/01/campaign-cash-greater-wisconsin-committee-spends-big/ ^
  9. “Greater Wisconsin Committee Spends Big”. Urban Milwaukee. May 1, 2018. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2018/05/01/campaign-cash-greater-wisconsin-committee-spends-big/ ^
  10. “Greater Wisconsin Committee Spends Big”. Urban Milwaukee. May 1, 2018. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2018/05/01/campaign-cash-greater-wisconsin-committee-spends-big/ ^
  11. “Greater Wisconsin Committee Spends Big”. Urban Milwaukee. May 1, 2018. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2018/05/01/campaign-cash-greater-wisconsin-committee-spends-big/ ^
  12. “Greater Wisconsin Committee Spends Big”. Urban Milwaukee. May 1, 2018. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2018/05/01/campaign-cash-greater-wisconsin-committee-spends-big/ ^
  13. “Out-Of-State Spending Groups In Wisconsin To Stay”. MacIver Institute. March 27, 2019. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://www.maciverinstitute.com/2019/03/out-of-state-spending-groups-in-wisconsin-to-stay/ ^
  14. “Greater Wisconsin political Fund”. Center for Responsive Politics. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/527s/527cmtedetail_contribs.php?cycle=2018&ein=204668584 ^
  15. “Greater Wisconsin political Fund”. Center for Responsive Politics. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/527s/527cmtedetail_contribs.php?cycle=2018&ein=204668584 ^
  16. “Greater Wisconsin political Fund”. Center for Responsive Politics. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://www.opensecrets.org/527s/527cmtedetail_contribs.php?cycle=2018&ein=204668584 ^
  17. “Media Center”. Greater Wisconsin Committee. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://www.greaterwisconsin.org/media-center.htm ^
  18. “Media Center”. Greater Wisconsin Committee. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://www.greaterwisconsin.org/media-center.htm ^
  19. “Greater Wisconsin Committee Books Ads in Supreme Court Race”. Brennan Center for Justice. March 24, 2016. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/greater-wisconsin-committee-books-ads-supreme-court-race ^
  20. “Greater Wisconsin Committee Books Ads in Supreme Court Race”. Brennan Center for Justice. March 24, 2016. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/greater-wisconsin-committee-books-ads-supreme-court-race ^
  21. Sanchick, Myra. “Political mailing causes outrage among many Wisconsin voters”. Fox 6 Now. June 4, 2012. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://fox6now.com/2012/06/04/political-mailing-causes-outrage-among-voters/ ^
  22. Sanchick, Myra. “Political mailing causes outrage among many Wisconsin voters”. Fox 6 Now. June 4, 2012. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://fox6now.com/2012/06/04/political-mailing-causes-outrage-among-voters/ ^
  23. Sanchick, Myra. “Political mailing causes outrage among many Wisconsin voters”. Fox 6 Now. June 4, 2012. Accessed May 19, 2020. https://fox6now.com/2012/06/04/political-mailing-causes-outrage-among-voters/ ^
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: November 1, 2004

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2016 Dec Form 990 $1,792,525 $2,057,775 $101,048 $44,000 N $1,763,828 $0 $0 $141,342
    2015 Dec Form 990 $677,742 $962,798 $322,197 $0 N $624,509 $0 $0 $138,427 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $5,564,342 $5,220,737 $607,253 $0 N $5,561,221 $763 $0 $180,404 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $284,240 $581,228 $263,748 $0 N $264,000 $0 $0 $198,271 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $1,645,146 $1,391,724 $560,736 $0 N $1,408,174 $0 $0 $147,939 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $5,876,350 $5,849,588 $307,314 $0 N $5,863,890 $0 $0 $163,661 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Greater Wisconsin Committee

    PO BOX 861
    MADISON, WI 53701-0861