August 30, 2014

Report shows use of political conduits growing

A new report shows donations through political conduits has risen dramatically in Wisconsin.

Conduits are check-bundling committees that combine donations from several people and send a single contribution to a candidate. Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe says they are becoming more common in Legislative races, with a more than 300 percent increase in conduit giving in the state over the past two decades. McCabe says that includes $3.7 million directed at Legislative candidates during the last election cycle, compared to just $900,000 during the 1993-1994 cycle.

While McCabe admits the recent jump was partially due to last year’s recall elections, he says the numbers have been going up for some time. During the 2009 and 2011 cycles, conduit contributions totaled $2.8 million and $2.4 million.

AUDIO: Mike McCabe, WDC (:09)

McCabe says the rapid increase is largely because conduits have become an effective way to bypass contribution limits, since there are no restrictions on how big of a check a person can write to those committees. He says it’s also easier for candidates to shield money coming from conduits, since they don’t show up as a single entry on candidate campaign finance reports. Instead, they are reported as smaller donations from several individuals.

According to the WDC report, four of the top five recipients of conduit money during the last election cycle were party campaign committees in each chamber of the Legislature, although several individual lawmakers also had totals above the $100,000 mark. While Democrats have seen conduit money steadily increasing in the past few cycles, Republican candidates have still received a majority of the contributions.