Nearly 30 registered special interest groups report spending more than $12.5 million to influence Wisconsin Senate recall elections. And, when factoring in money being spent by unregistered groups not reporting campaign advertising, a government watchdog says the total is nearly twice the amount.

“I think overall campaign spending by outside interest groups is in the vicinity of $25 million. The candidates, on the other hand, have spent about $5 million so far. So they’re being outspent by a 5-1 margin and they’ve raised record amounts of money.”

Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says much of the money comes from national groups trying to influence Wisconsin’s elections. “These elections have been taken out of the hands of people in our state, and folks from interest groups and corporations and unions from outside of our state are doing all the talking.”

Research shows, although people claim to hate the negative commercials, such advertising actually works, and people use that information as talking points. McCabe says voters need to tune out in order to send a strong message to special interest groups to change their negative ways.

The big winner is the media. McCabe says television is a huge beneficiary of all that campaign money spent on advertising. By way of comparison, registered groups have already reported spending more than three times as much on the nine senate recall elections than they spent on all the 2010 legislative elections.

McCabe has long been an advocate for Campaign Finance Reform. He says the cause has been badly wounded, explaining the need for a ‘small donor revolution.’ “If there’s going to be money in politics, it’s got to come from people making small donations and with the Internet, it’s now practical to raise huge sums of money in small amounts from a tremendously large number of people.”

McCabe says there needs to be public policy, like tax credits, to incentivize small-donor fundraising to counter the impact of the big donors, without limiting the campaign spending of the candidates.

Democrats are trying to retake control of the state Senate while Republicans fight to keep it. Six Republicans face recalls this Tuesday; two Democrats face recalls a week later.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 2:50

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