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In his bid to unseat Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Pat Roggensack, challenger Ed Fallone is embracing the underdog role.
That, he said, shows up in his campaign contributions.
"We don’t have deep pockets," Fallone told Journal Sentinel reporters and editors March 6, 2013. "I am very proud of the fact that, through my first campaign finance report, the majority of my contributions have been from private individuals, not from PACs, not from groups."
Fallone, a Marquette University law professor making his first bid for office, said "the average size of my contributions to date has been $125."
Roggensack, considered part of the court’s conservative wing, did dominate the fundraising game before the Feb. 19, 2013, primary. She raised nearly three times Fallone’s total from Jan. 1 to Feb. 4 of 2013, though the amounts were modest for a statewide race, the Journal Sentinel reported.
The two face off in the April 2, 2013, election.
Let’s examine Fallone’s assertion that "the majority of my contributions have been from private individuals" giving $125 on average, "not from PACs, not from groups."
The money trail
Fallone reported raising about $75,000 for the period. His two largest campaign gifts came from political action committees (PACs) organized by unions representing Madison teachers (the maximum $8,625 donation) and other public employees ($8,500). The third biggest, an individual donation from Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, was $5,000.
In all, Fallone’s four PAC contributions made up about 24 percent of his receipts, roughly $18,000. Donors who gave as individuals made up more than three-fourths of his cash gifts.
Looked at another way, by the number of donors, all but a handful of his 500 givers were individuals, not PACs.
So the guts of Fallone’s claim is on target.
To be sure, Roggensack can make the same claim; less than 5 percent of her pre-primary donations came from PACs that included two county-level Republican Party units, the Milwaukee Police union, bankers, builders and utilities. She raised about $202,000 in 2013 before the primary.
In his claim, Fallone said "PACs" and "groups." And there is a nuance here that alters the picture a bit.
About one-sixth of Fallone’s money was given by individuals, but bundled up by special-interest groups and sent to the candidate in one check from the group. These are known as "conduit" donations. The approach allows corporations, unions and other groups to present larger checks to candidates than they could under the rules for PACs.
By state law, the donors are publicly disclosed and listed as individual donors on campaign finance reports. And in media accounts they are typically counted as individual donors. So Fallone has cause to count them that way.
But they are not just individual donors.
In Fallone’s case, Wisconsin trial lawyers banded together as the "Justice Fund" conduit, and education union employees in the United Staff Union, combined to make up 71 of his slightly more than 500 donors.
When those are combined with PAC contributions, they represent 41 percent of his total contributions. That’s a far bigger amount than PACs alone.
However, even if you count the conduit bucks as group gifts, individuals still make up almost 60 percent of Fallone’s donations. And his claim was simply they made up a majority.
For her part, Roggensack received a small number of conduit donations, most notably from the Fund for Parent Choice, whose backers support the school voucher program.
As for the average size of the donations from individuals, Fallone said it was $125. Our calculation came up with $114.
So he’s a bit high, but on the right side considering his point is the modest amounts of his typical gifts.
Of course, third-party interest groups are allowed to spend independently on behalf of the Supreme Court candidates. Those amounts are reported separately from the candidate’s campaign funds and they are not supposed to coordinate their campaign efforts with the candidates.
Before the primary, two union-funded groups spent modestly on campaign literature in support of Fallone. The Wisconsin Club for Growth spent on behalf of Roggensack’s campaign.
Fallone said "the majority of my contributions have been from private individuals" giving $125 on average, "not from PACs, not from groups."
Not all private individuals are created equal, we found, but Fallone’s analysis is reasonable, his numbers are on target and his claim about average gift size is slightly off but in his favor.
His statement is accurate with those clarifications. We rate it Mostly True.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Video: Supreme Court candidate interviews,"March 6, 2013
Brad Wojciechowski, spokesman, Fallone for Justice campaign, March 6, 2013
Interview with James Blank, administrator, United Staff Union conduit, March 7, 2013
Interview with Nathan Judnic, campaign finance auditor / ethics specialist, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, March 7, 2013
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,"Roggensack dominates state Supreme Court fundraising, Feb. 11, 2013
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