What Happened: Fundraising Part 2 – Wisconsin

Guest post by Sophie Futrovsky

Wisconsin was a bright spot in the state legislative landscape, where Democrats flipped two seats in the 2020 election without ceding any ground to Republicans. Crucially, this ensured Republicans were not able to win a supermajority that could override Democratic Governor Tony Evers’s veto power.

Despite this, there were troubling trends underlying these victories and Joe Biden’s statewide win. As we discussed in detail in our What Happened: Wisconsin blog post, Democrats’ shrinking geographic coalition in the state could lead to future difficulties in flipping additional state legislative seats, without a change in strategy.

Like other states that we profiled in our first look at state legislative fundraising, Wisconsin candidates saw a crush of last-minute money. In this analysis, we look at fundraising numbers for 19 Democratic Assembly candidates running in GOP-held districts that our analysis identified as competitive (15 of whom were endorsed by EveryDistrict).

A Timeline of Fundraising

The average candidate in Wisconsin raised roughly $379,000, surpassing our 2019 fundraising goals. The graph below shows the average accumulative amount of money raised by Wisconsin Democratic State Assembly candidates throughout the 2020 election cycle.

The above graph illustrates acutely just how much of that average budget was raised in the last couple of months leading up to Election Day. Looking at individual fundraising among these candidates, there were no out-liars and this pattern was present in each of their campaigns.

The below chart shows the average cumulative amount raised by Wisconsin State Assembly candidates at different times throughout 2020.

PartyJanuary 1, 2020End of JuneMid-JulyEnd of SeptemberMid-OctoberTotal Raised

While the overall numbers are great, it’s hard to change voters’ minds in the weeks prior to the election. Illustrating just how much money came in late, in the final filing period covering the two weeks before Election Day, eight candidates raised over $75,000, with four of those candidates raising over $175,000.

The below chart highlights 11 of the most competitive districts that Joe Biden either won or lost by less than 3.5%. The importance of steady fundraising is clear with these numbers – only three candidates raised above six figures before September. Two of those candidates would be able to ride Biden’s coattails to victory. The third candidate running in a Biden-won district did not raise enough by September to really do the necessary work to lay the groundwork for success. Similarly, the low September fundraising totals among other candidates made it impossible for them to run the kind of competitive campaign that could overperform Biden’s margins.

Legislative District2020 Biden Margin2020 Legislative MarginPost-8/31 RaiseRaise (12/31)Raise (10/19)Raise (8/31)Raise (7/27)Raise (6/30)January 1, 2020

To be clear – none of the candidates are to blame. In April 2020, EveryDistrict laid out a strategy to invest in a broad map in Wisconsin – including all but one of these districts. But we, too, struggled to find donors willing to give to Wisconsin state legislative candidates given the broader national narrative about how the gerrymandered map would stymie further legislative gains.

Moving Forward

A major success of 2020 was that legislative candidates were able to raise this much – we certainly did not see these types of raises in Wisconsin in 2018. But as we’ll describe in much more detail in our 2040 Project soon, our next challenge is that we have to do much more to get resources to districts and candidates earlier.

In 2022, a statewide strategy that can re-elect Governor Tony Evers and defeat Senator Ron Johnson will not necessarily align with investing in where we need to win to win Assembly districts. That will take a focused strategy tailored to the unique geography of each of these districts – a strategy that EveryDistrict will be ready to implement following redistricting later this year. Chip in here to help make it happen.