Money talks: Campaign finances influence elections in Wisconsin

LA CROSSE (WKBT) — As the Wisconsin primary election approaches Tuesday, races are heating up with dollar signs. Campaign funds and endorsements play a large factor to winning a race, political observers say.

Under the Supreme Court case Citizens United vs. the FEC, campaign finances are considered a form of free speech. The 2010 decision has given candidates in the 3rd Congressional District the ability to raise nearly $6.4 million.

Endorsements can be a cheat sheet for voters.

“If you’re looking for advice on something, like you’re not sure who to vote for, endorsements can make a difference,” said political analyst Joe Heim.

While an endorsement isn’t enough to win an entire race, La Crosse County GOP Chairman Bill Feehan said, “It lets people know who members of the Republican Party support.”

The Democratic Party generally does not endorse candidates before primaries.

“We trust the voters to determine who is going to be the best candidate,” said William Garcia, La Crosse County Democratic Party chairman.

This year, the party endorsed Senate hopeful Mandela Barnes after multiple candidates, including Alex Lasry and Sarah Godlewski, pulled out.

“By endorsing Mandela Barnes a little early, we were able to get a jump on spending money on behalf of his campaign,” Garcia said.

Spending money goes further than endorsements.

“Raising enough money and spending enough money has a lot to do with whether or not a candidate is going to be viable and has a chance to win,” Feehan said.

The 3rd Congressional District has an open seat this year after Congressmen Ron Kind of La Crosse announced his retirement. According to the FEC’s website, Democratic candidate Brad Pfaff, who has Kind’s endorsement, has raised less than $1 million. Republican candidate Derrick Van Orden raised $4.5 million.

The amount of money candidates raise can have a direct impact on whether they will win, Heim said.

“Big money has become more and more a factor in American politics,” he said.

While millions of dollars may seem like a large amount of money, some say it’s a necessary expense.

“It’s about power,” Feehan said. “It’s about who’s going to control our state government.”

Garcia said, “If you don’t raise a lot of money, you will lose.”