Shadowy political groups active in donations

The Brillion News

MADISON - About 40 "shadowy" electioneering groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts to influence state and federal elections accepted $2.7 million from Wisconsin contributors in the first half of 2020, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) review found.

The contributions were made to so-called 527 groups, which are named for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service rules that govern them.

The organizations are run by numerous special interests like business, manufacturing, transportation, health care, and liberal and conservative ideological concerns.

More than $1.8 million, or 68 percent, of the Wisconsin contributions in the first six months of 2020 went to Democratic-leaning groups.

About $777,200, or 29 percent, went to GOP-leaning groups.

The remaining contributions, about $73,550, or three percent, went to 527 groups that supported both parties or neither party.

The Wisconsin contributors included individuals, businesses, trade groups, unions, and political organizations that are frequently restricted by state or federal laws from giving directly to candidates.

Many 527 groups use these contributions on negative broadcast ads and mailings, automated phone calls, and other electioneering activities to smear or praise Democratic and Republican candidates during elections.


The 527 groups that received the largest amount of Wisconsin contributions between January and June were:


  • LGBTQ Victory Fund, about $516,125. Formerly called the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, this Washington, D.C.-based group supports gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual candidates for public office throughout the country. Nearly all of its contributions, $515,325, came from former Milwaukee County executive and millionaire philanthropist Chris Abele, who sits on the group’s board

  • Democratic Governors Association (DGA), about $454,335. This group, also based in Washington, D.C., raises and spends money to support Democratic candidates for governor across the country. The DGA’s top Wisconsin contributors in the first half of 2020 were the  Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce,  $250,000, and U.S. Venture, in Appleton, and American Transmission Co., in Waukesha, which each gave $50,000;

  • Sister District Project, $251,000. This is a relatively new Sacramento, Calif.-based organization that supports Democratic candidates for state legislatures throughout the country. The group’s top Wisconsin contributor was Sage Weil, of Madison, at $250,000. Weil is a software engineer who founded RedHat, Ceph, WebRing, DreamHost, and InkTank;

  • Forest County Potawatomi Action Fund, $250,000. This 527 group is funded and operated by the Forest County Potawatomi Community, based in Crandon. The tribe operates a casino in Milwaukee and has frequently contributed to GOP-leaning 527 groups in recent years, like the Republican Governors Association and Republican State Leadership Committee;

  • United Association, $239,596. This Maryland-based international plumbing and pipe trades union operates two 527 organizations and collects contributions from six locals in Wisconsin. The union backs federal, state, and local candidates who support pro-labor policies through get-out-the-vote and other grassroots efforts.

527 groups received about $1 million more during the first six months of 2020 than they did during the first six months in the 2016 presidential election year, but less than the $3.2 million and $3.6 million that Wisconsin contributors gave 527 groups in the first six months of 2019 and 2018, respectively.

~ Source: Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

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