One month before voters have the final say in the governor's recall election, outside groups fueled by out of state money are making their voices heard.
"We're seeing amounts of money from outside Wisconsin that we've never seen before," said Mike McCabe from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a group that monitors campaign spending.
"Liberal to conservative, business interest to union interest, extraordinary wealthy individuals, millionaires and billionaires are pouring money into this state that are trying to tip the scales, trying to make sure the election goes their way," he added.
Groups on both sides are filling the air waves with political ads.
One on the right is Right Direction Wisconsin, which is part of the Republican Governor's Association. The group, which spent $5 million to help get Gov. Scott Walker elected in 2010, is already running a huge campaign in 2012.
While some Wisconsin businesses like Wisconsin Public Service and Kohler Company donated money to the Republican Governor's Association, much of the group's money comes from elsewhere, including a $1 million donation from David Koch of Koch Industries. That's just a part of the more than $12 million the Republican Governor's Association has brought this year.
Koch industries never responded to my email asking for comment. I also emailed the Republican Governor's Association and left a message for the group's communications director but he never even responded.
One group on the left is the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund. The group's executive director told me in an email, "I'm really not interested in doing interviews." She also wrote, "We are not an out of state group by any means."
While the group is based in Wisconsin and it received $1 million from the state teacher's union, much of its funding does come from out of state. The Greater Wisconsin Political Fund recently received a $500,000 from the Democratic Governor's Association. The group also received $1,744,950 from a national liberal-advocacy group called America Votes.
There several other outside groups active in the recall, including Wisconsin for Falk, a group heavily funded by national unions that is supporting Kathleen Falk. The group brought in $4.5 million in recent months, the overwhelming majority of it came from unions.
"It's a classic situation of the wealthy and corporations on one side against working people on the other side," said Mike Browne from One Wisconsin Now, a liberal group based in Madison. He's quick to criticize spending on the Republican side.
FOX 11 On Special Assignment pointed out that Democratic groups are doing the same thing.
"Clearly there is spending on the Democratic side," he replied. "But if you want to talk about union spending in this race, what are unions? Unions are collections of workers. It's not a billionaire or millionaire on Wall Street or in Texas."
It's not just outside groups bringing in outside money. So are some of the candidates.
Since January of 2011, Walker's campaign has raised $25 million, including huge donations from out of state.
According to his latest campaign finance reports, eight of Walker's top 12 donors since mid-January are from places other than Wisconsin.
That includes $250,000 from Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino CEO from Las Vegas who spent millions on Newt Gingrich's failed presidential bid; and another $250,000 from Amway co-founder Richard DeVos of Florida.
Walker had six $100,000 donors, two from Wisconsin and one from Arkansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York.
Walker's biggest donor in the report was from Wisconsin. Diane Hendricks, who owns ABC Supply in Beloit, gave Walker $500,000.
As the target of the recall, Walker was able to raise unlimited funds from the time the recall petitions were taken out until the election was ordered. His opponents had to abide by normal campaign finance laws and had to rely on smaller donations.
"An overwhelming majority of the contributions that have come into Governor Walker's campaign are from people who are giving small dollar donations," said Ciara Matthews, a spokesperson for Walker's campaign. "These are people that recognize the bold leadership that Governor Walker has shown since coming into office and really want to support his agenda and keep him in office."
When asked about those who have donated large sums of money, Matthews replied, "And there's certainly an unfair media attention to a very small group of people."
Walker’s main rivals on the Democratic side also brought in out of state money.
Barrett received several $10,000 donations from out of state donors, two from Illinois and one from Nevada.
Falk received one $10,000 donation from a donor in New York. She also received big money from national unions. Falk received $43,128 from the National Education Association and $31,128 from the United Food and Commercial Workers.
The other two Democratic candidates didn't receive any $10,000 contributions and only received a few small ones from out of state donors.
- Click here to see a summary of Doug La Follette's latest campaign finance report
- Click here to see a summary of Kathleen Vinehout's latest campaign finance report
So what's the bottom line with all the big money? McCabe says since Wisconsin is so sharply divided, most of the money will ultimately be wasted.
"People love him or hate him and there's very little in between," he said. "So I don't think these ads are going to have the impact that they normally would have. So, I think millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars, are really going to go down a big rat hole and a lot of money is going to be wasted. And ultimately is going to come down to an election that looks pretty much like it's 50-50."
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