Spending in August’s state Senate recalls broke records. Mike McCabe with the Madison-based Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said the $44 million dollars spent on the nine recalls by the campaigns and special interest groups set all sorts of records. “One of the amazing things to me was that, if you look at what outside interest groups spent on the nine recall elections, it was more than what interest groups spent in the ’98, 2002, 2006 and 2010 governors races combined,” said McCabe. Those outside interest groups spent $34.5 million, which dwarfed eight million dollars spent by the candidates themselves, and which was five times the amount spent when the entire legislature — 115 Senate and Assembly seats — was up for reelection in 2008. “We saw record amounts of money being raised and spent by candidates, and yet the candidates were outspent on the order of four to one, by the outside interest groups,” McCabe noted.

The two biggest outside groups were the union-backed We Are Wisconsin PAC which pumped $10.75 million into supporting the Democrats, followed by Club for Growth Wisconsin which spent some $9 million dollars in support of Republicans. Even McCabe admitted to being surprised by the level of spending. “I remember saying that I thought it was going to pass $20 million, and I heard some people even throw out the $30 million figure, and I didn’t think it could get there,” he said. “The political economy seems to be the one sector of the economy that’s entirely recession-proof. They’ve got a bottomless well to pull from.”

McCabe said the decade-old record for spending on a single state Senate race, six million dollars, was broken – and not by a little. “We saw six of these nine Senate elections go over that old mark. A couple of them more than double the old record, one of them more than three times the old record. That’s just jaw dropping.” That was in the northern Wisconsin suburban Milwaukee 8th District, where groups on either side of the ideological divide, and the candidates, combined to spend nearly $10 million.

McCabe said the big spending outside special interest groups raised most of that money outside Wisconsin. “This is a tiny cross-section of the population,” he said. “It’s national money, it’s coming from outside the state of Wisconsin. They see the stakes as very high. They want to win here in Wisconsin because they really did see this as a national referendum, and they’re willing to spare no expense.”

As for whether or not any of these spending records will be broken, McCabe won’t be making any bets. “I’m done saying any of these are like Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak,” he said. “If you look at these records and you say that they’re records that can never be broken, I think you’re naive, because every election cycle we seem to see new records being set.”

AUDIO: Mike McCabe interview (8:00)

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