RACINE — Running for public office is not cheap. Those yard signs, campaign flyers and ads on television and the internet, even gas to drive to different events, cost thousands of dollars which means campaigns spend a lot of time raising money.
But in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, is money going to play a factor in the 2018 midterm election?
At the time he dropped out of the race in April, House Speaker Paul Ryan had raised more than $11 million for his re-election campaign, a total that no one remaining in the race has reached.
As the campaigns head down the final stretch to the election on Nov. 6, it’s now or never to sway voters to cast their ballot for them.
As of Friday, Democratic candidate Randy Bryce had raised more than $7.4 million and Republican candidate Bryan Steil had raised nearly $2 million. A financial report for independent candidate Ken Yorgan, a chiropractor from Racine, was not available as of Friday.
Jeffrey Roberg, department chair and professor of political science at Carthage College, said both campaigns have adequately done the job to raise the money needed to purchase airtime and other campaign materials.
“Money won’t decide an election on its own, but you have to have enough,” Roberg said. “Since we’re only a week and a half out from the election, their burn rates are going to be very high for the next week and a half.
“In terms of money, that wouldn’t be my concern at this point for either of the campaigns,” Roberg said. “Certainly they both have gotten out the message that they wanted to get out.”
According to records from the Federal Election Commission, Bryce has raised that money with a significant amount coming from outside of Wisconsin.
“We are a people-powered campaign,” said Julia Savel, campaign spokesman. “Unlike Bryan Steil and his Republican buddies, we don’t have an unlimited war chest to fight back against these negative smears. We rely on hard-working people across the country who believe it is time to see a working person in office.”
Bryce campaign officials are quick to say their campaign received more money from donors within the district than Ryan had when he was in the race and also have more individual contributions than Steil.
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The Hollywood donors
Some voters might recognize the work of some of Bryce’s donors.
Hollywood director Steven Spielberg and his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, each donated $2,700, which for the director of “Jaws,” “Saving Private Ryan” and most recently “The Post,” is nearly the equivalent of placing spare change in a Salvation Army red kettle.
Actresses Susan Sarandon and Charlize Theron contributed $5,400 and $5,000, respectively, to the Bryce campaign.
Jann Wenner, co-founder and longtime publisher and editor of Rolling Stone magazine, donated $3,250. Cynthia Nixon, known for her role as Miranda on the HBO show “Sex and the City” and more recently an unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial candidate in New York, contributed $2,000.
Bryce, a union iron worker and labor activist from Caledonia, has also raised money from teachers to nurses, ironworkers to economist and attorneys.
“Randy is proud to have a broad range of support from people with all different occupations,” Savel said. “Unlike Bryan Steil, we don’t take money from the fossil fuel industry, the NRA, the pharmaceutical industry, or any corporate PACs. People all across the country are inspired by Randy and want to send someone to Washington who will be a check on Donald Trump.”
Roberg said Bryce used the money he raised to win the Democratic primary against Janvesille School Board member Cathy Myers.
“He did what he was supposed to do which was, given the money he had at the time, he essentially drowned her out of the picture using the airwaves and made himself prominent and well known,” Roberg said.
Bryce got into the campaign a year ago, thus giving him the advantage of having more time to raise money than his Republican opponent.
However, the district has been in Republican hands since January 1995, and for the majority of that time it was represented by Ryan, which can be an advantage for Steil, a corporate attorney and member of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents.
Ryan has endorsed Steil, a fellow Janesville resident, and his campaign committee has donated $4,000 to the Steil campaign.
Back in 2012, Ryan ran for vice president with Mitt Romney. The Romney for President committee apparently still has some money left in its bank accounts and donated $4,000 to the Steil campaign.
Romney is currently a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Utah.
“Conservatives are committed to defeat Randy Bryce and his far-left agenda,” said Andrew Iverson, Steil campaign communications director. “Sixty-seven percent of our donors give $100 or less and 76 percent of our donors are from Wisconsin. Southeast Wisconsin’s economy is beginning to boom and thousands of supporters are backing Bryan and his pro-growth agenda.”
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Prominent Republican donors
The Steil campaign has also received donations from wealthy individuals with a history of donating money to Republican campaigns.
The Koch PAC, which represents the interests of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in America, has donated $10,000. Koch Industries has been synonymous with its owners, brothers Charles and David Koch of Kansas, who have been longtime Republican backers.
Elizabeth Uihlien, who is the wife of Uline founder Richard Uihlein and has donated significant money to Republican campaigns, donated $5,400.
Rock County resident and billionaire Diane Hendricks, owner of Beloit-based ABC Supply, donated $5,000 to the Steil campaign. Hendricks also donated $250,000 to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC associated with Ryan.
The Congressional Leadership Fund has stated it plans to spend $1.5 million on the race and has been the funding source for several ads attacking Bryce.
When asked to give a response to the support given to the Steil campaign by the Congressional Leadership Fund, Iverson said: “Our campaign is running a positive campaign focused on Bryan’s background working in manufacturing and education and the issues facing Southeast Wisconsin, while Randy Bryce has run seven straight weeks of attack ads.”
Can it make a difference?
Roberg said the 1st Congressional District — which includes Racine, Kenosha, all but the City of Whitewater in Walworth County, the southern parts of Milwaukee and Waukesha counties and the eastern half of Rock County — “definitely leans conservative.” But it also includes the heavily Democratic cities of Racine, Kenosha and Janesville.
“The district has changed; in many ways, it’ll be interesting to see if this race is just another one of many before it,” Roberg said. “It’ll be interesting to see, in this case, all the money that was raised by Bryce is some that could overcome the basic demographics of the district.”
Other factors in this race could be how voters view President Donald Trump, Roberg said, adding money is just one aspect of the race.
“I can give you $10 million, but if you don’t use it well, then all bets are off,” Roberg said. “If you don’t have a refined message, one that appeals to the folks in this district, again, all bets are off. Candidates in general like to have more money than not, but money on its own is not going to be the deciding factor.”
“If you don’t have a refined message, one that appeals to the folks in this district, again, all bets are off. Candidates in general like to have more money than not, but money on its own is not going to be the deciding factor.” Jeffrey Roberg, Carthage College political science professor