A Wisconsin-based group of realtors have spent nearly $170,000 on nine different alder elections across Madison. The group, an advocacy arm of the Realtors Association of South Central Wisconsin, or RASCW, has spent around $18,000 each for nine different alder candidates, mostly going towards mailers and robocalls in support of the candidates.
The money is not being given to the candidates directly as campaign contributions, and they have no control over how the money is spent.
The RASCW is a trade association of realtors in south central Wisconsin, and supports the Realtors Political Action Committee.
The RASCW is not legally allowed to coordinate their campaign activities with the candidates, meaning that many of those they supported were completely unaware of the thousands of dollars spent in support of their campaigns until this week.
While the RASCW did not respond to WORT’s request for comment today, they told Isthmus that they decided to dip into Madison’s alder races to quote “support policies and candidates that will help solve Madison’s housing crisis,” end quote.
The deadline for candidates to file campaign finance paperwork is next Monday, so the exact amount each candidate has spent on the race themselves is not known.
Brad Hinkfuss is running for alder in District 15. While he says that he himself has spent around $4,000 in the race, the RASCW has spent $20,000 supporting his campaign through mailers and robocalls to potential voters.
Hinkfuss says that it’s troubling that this amount of money is being sunk into a local election without any input from the candidates themselves.
“I realized that someone out there is broadcasting a message that I have no control over, that I never authorized, and I never had anything to do with,” Hinkfuss says. “So you have this sinking and, frankly, creepy feeling that you are no longer in control of your campaign. It’s very alarming to me.”
Julia Matthews, running in District 12, has been supported by the RASCW with over $20,000. Matthews says that, while she has been calling for an increase in affordable housing in Madison, she never asked to be supported by the group, and that she fears the money will end up doing more harm than good.
“This situation is frustrating because I didn’t know about it, I didn’t ask for it, but it’s going to put a mark on my campaign regardless of what happens on April 4,” Matthews says.
Davy Mayer is running for alder in District 6. While the RASCW spent $20,000 supporting his campaign, he says that he first heard about their support when he received a mailer himself.
“I want to say that I strongly oppose these sorts of outside spending,” Mayer says. “Not only should we attempt to limit the activity of these groups, but it’s just another reason why we should have publicly financed political campaigns.”
Mayer says that, while he has not yet filed his final campaign finance report, he estimates that he’s spent around $4,000 on the race thus far.
The RASCW spent big money on incumbent alders as well. District 16 Alder Jael Currie had nearly $22,000 spent on her behalf. She tells WORT that she was surprised to learn that the group had spent so much money to support her campaign, and that she strongly supports changes to state and federal laws to take excessive money out of campaigns.
District 9 Alder Nikki Conklin had the smallest amount of monetary support at just under $9,000. Conklin told WORT that she does not support special interest groups funneling money into local politics, and she is not beholden to this or any group.
Two other alders, Charles Myadze and Mike Verveer, were also supported by the RASCW, but didn’t not respond to WORT’s request for comment by airtime.
Some of the information on the mailers is even flat out wrong. John Guequierre, who is running in District 19, told WORT that his name was misspelled. The RASCW spent exactly $20,000 on mailers, robo calls, and online advertising for Guequierre’s campaign.
Derek Field, who is running in District 3 and who the RASCW has spent over $18,000 to support, had mailers sent out saying he was running in the wrong district.
Guequierre told WORT in a statement that he is not a fan of large amounts of money being pumped into local races, and that he first learned of the RASCW’s efforts to get him elected through a local neighborhood listserv.
Field too says that he was surprised by the level of outside spending in the race, and that he supports reasonable campaign finance reform to balance the power of outside groups.
The large influx in spending on local elections has caused concerns from both Madison residents and city alders. In a post on his official alder blog yesterday, District 6 Alder Brian Benford called the spending quote “sickening.”
“Essentially, it’s stripping the veneer or illusion that they’re buying a race,” Benford says. “When they spend in a district more than both candidates organically raised, then that changes the whole dynamics of our local elections.”
But Benford also inaccurately described the funding as being given directly to the candidates. Benford took down the post yesterday, after being informed that it was in violation of a city policy barring the use of city platforms for political purposes. Benford says that he recognized the error, and posted his thoughts on social media instead.
It’s not the first time outside advocacy groups poured money into local elections. Isthmus reports that, in the 2021 spring election for Common Council, the nonprofit organization A Better Dane County spent nearly $30,000 on campaign mailers for four candidates.
That election also saw the Save Madison PAC buy billboards across the city attacking four sitting alders for supposedly wanting to defund the police.
Photo courtesy: Chali Pittman / WORT News Team
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include photos of two mailers sent to voters with inaccurate information about the candidates