Right-Wing Media Erase Conservative Cash In WI Recall Elections


Right-wing media have falsely claimed that "unions and left-wing groups" spent roughly $30 million, or have otherwise ignored money spent by conservative groups, to influence the recent Wisconsin recall elections. In fact, about $30 million was reportedly spent by right-wing and left-wing groups combined, "with a slight edge possible to Republicans overall."

Right-Wing Media Focus On WI Recall Spending By "Unions And Left-Wing Groups" ...

NRO: "National Unions Dumped Tens Of Millions Of Dollars In Wisconsin." In an August 10 post on National Review Online, Christian Schneider wrote:

In what might have been the most costly abstinence program in history, national unions dumped tens of millions of dollars in Wisconsin -- yet their only notable accomplishment was to recall Republican state senator Randy Hopper, whose priapic misadventures sunk his campaign from the start. Polling leading up to the recall election showed voters were just fine with Hopper's vote to scale back public-sector collective bargaining; they just weren't so fine with his alleged affair with a then-25-year-old capitol staffer. [National Review Online, 8/10/11]

Hannity: "$31 Million, A Lot Of Union Money Spent To Get Rid Of The Republican Senator That Supported Scott Walker's Reforms, They Didn't Win." On the August 11 edition of Fox News' Hannity, host Sean Hannity claimed that despite "$31 million, a lot of union money spent to get rid of these Republican senators that supported Scott Walker's reforms, they didn't win -- $31 million, plus." [Fox News, Hannity, 8/11/11]

Kelly: "Union And Left-Wing Groups Spent Millions In An Effort To Recall Six Republican State Senators." On the August 11 edition of Fox News' America Live, host Megyn Kelly claimed that "union and left-wing groups spent millions" in the Wisconsin recall elections. From America Live:

KELLY: Got another alert coming in for you. Just hours now after a multimillion dollar effort to break Republican control in Wisconsin falls short, Democrats there vowing a new challenge to the governor in that state. Upset over the Republican governor's efforts to curb union rights, unions and left-wing groups spent millions in an effort to recall six Republican state senators and gain control of the state Senate. That effort, however, failed. Four Republicans held their seats, and now the Democrats will not take control of the Senate in Wisconsin. [Fox News, America Live, 8/11/11]

Bozell: "The Left Spent $30 Million On Those Campaigns" And "It Completely Fizzled." On the August 12 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Media Research Council president Brent Bozell claimed that "the left spent $30 million on these recall campaigns. They threw -- the unions threw everything they had. ... Guess what? It all completely fizzled, and it might even backfire, because there are two more recalls against Democrats next week. So let's see what happens there. But this was a huge Republican victory that nobody heard about." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/12/11]

Krauthammer: "Despite Millions Of Union Dollars, The Republicans Hold The Senate." In an August 12 Washington Post column, Charles Krauthammer wrote:

[L]ast Tuesday, recall elections for six Republican state senators, three being needed to return the Senate to Democratic control and restore balance to the universe. Yet despite millions of union dollars, the Republicans hold the Senate. The unions/Democrats lose again.

The people spoke; the process worked. Yes, it was raucous and divisive, but change this fundamental should not be enacted quietly. This is not midnight basketball or school uniforms. This is the future of government-worker power and the solvency of the states. It deserves big, serious, animated public debate. [The Washington Post, 8/12/11]

... While Ignoring Reportedly Equal Spending By Right-Wing Groups

Mother Jones: "The $31 Million Spent On The Recalls ... Splits Evenly Between Left- And Right-Leaning Groups." From an August 5 Mother Jones article:

The $31 million spent on the recalls -- the six August 9 elections and two more targeting Democratic state senators on August 16 -- splits evenly between left- and right-leaning groups. Where the spending is lopsided, [Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Executive Director Mike] McCabe says, is between the candidates and outside spending groups. In-state and out-of-state independent advocacy groups have dropped five times more than the candidates. Not that the candidates are struggling: GOP state Sens. Alberta Darling and Dan Kapanke have both smashed the state senate spending record of $722,000 in their recall races; so far, Darling has spent more than $1 million and Kapanke more than $800,000. (For comparison, the average winning congressional campaign in 2010 cost $1.4 million, a figure Darling could exceed.)


While the spending is more or less even, here's the big difference between the two sides: The left-leaning groups usually disclose their donors, while the right-leaning groups mostly don't. For McCabe, the geyser of dark money is the big story of the recalls. He says two-thirds of the recall spending derives from undisclosed sources, and he blames the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision for allowing so much anonymous spending. [Mother Jones, 8/5/11]

Reuters: "Among Interest Groups ... Spending Has Been About Even With A Slight Edge Possible To Republicans Overall." From an August 4 Reuters article:

Spending on recall election campaigns for Wisconsin's Senate, seen as a potential gauge of public sentiment, has reached about $30 million, largely by outside interest groups, a nonpartisan watchdog said on Thursday.


Last year, registered special interests spent what was a then stunning $3.75 million on Wisconsin state Senate and Assembly races combined, a year in which both sides of the legislature shifted to Republican control, McCabe said.

Among interest groups, McCabe said, spending has been about even with a slight edge possible to Republicans overall. The Democratic We Are Wisconsin has been the biggest single spender this year at $7.9 million, while Republican spending was divided more among multiple groups. [Reuters, 8/4/11]

ABC News: "Spending Through Monday Was Estimated At About $28 Million From Outside Groups On Both Sides." An August 9 ABC News article reported:

The level of campaign spending has been unprecedented, especially considering it is a recall effort. Spending through Monday was estimated at about $28 million from outside groups on both sides of the aisle and about $5 million spent by the candidates themselves, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

That number was expected to increase by today. Wisconsin Democracy Campaign officials "estimate at this point it's about even," research director Mike Buelow said of spending on both sides.

The group will do a full accounting of spending after the election and will have a clearer picture of whether the spending totals are even. [ABC News, 8/9/11]

Media Matters for America intern Jessica Torres contributed to this item.

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