Wisconsin Democrats’ Financial Woes Make Headlines

It was an eyebrow-raising amount of cash for how small it was.

First reported by Politico on Wednesday morning, by Wednesday afternoon much of the political world in Wisconsin was perplexed how one of the state’s two major political parties could be nearly broke. Yet, that’s exactly the scenario the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) finds itself in, where according to documents from the Wisconsin Elections Board, they have just $36,000 to their name. At the same time, the Republican Party of Wisconsin reported having over $1.7 million in the bank.

The Wisconsin Republican Party has nearly 50-times as much cash on hand as the state Democratic Party through the first six months of the year.


Reports filed this week with the state show Republicans ended June with more than $1.7 million in the bank. That compares with just $36,000 for Democrats.


The Republican Party reported raising nearly $2.2 million over the first six months of the year, compared with just over $600,000 for Democrats.

When asked to explain the financial situation of the party, DPW spokesman Brandon Weathersby told the press it was due to early investment in its ground game for 2018.

Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Weathersby says the party has little cash on hand because it’s been investing heavily to organize “in every city, town, and village in our state.” He says that new approach to organizing will produce a “a strong grassroots movement to secure victories in 2018.”

That take from the state Democratic Party did not sit well with a former senior official of the party; longtime Communications Director Graeme Zielinski.

A deeper dive into the party’s financial report show a party with some strange priorities and other fascinating expenditures. Here are some of the more interesting findings we were able to uncover after perusing the document.

1) State Democrats had little money to begin with.

Beginning cash on hand on March 21, 2017 was $38,292. They ended June 2017 with $36,534. This means that the party spent more than they took in via fund raising and had a burn rate (percentage of how fast they spent money coming in) of 105 percent.

2) The party’s biggest expense was to itself. 

Perfectly legal in every way, political parties are allowed to transfer between federal and state financial accounts. In the case of DPW, they transferred $307,876 to a series of federal accounts. So when you add in these federal accounts, Wisconsin Democrats aren’t “broke” per se, but have another $600,000-plus money in reserve.

Why they are sitting on such a small amount in their state account remains unclear.

3) Much of the party’s “Investment” was on its two largest county parties. 

While it’s true DPW spent over $52,000 in transfers to regional and county parties in the first half of 2017 ($52,195 to be exact). The lion’s share of that spending didn’t go to ‘every city, town, and village in our state.’ Instead it went to the county parties operating in Dane and Milwaukee counties.

In fact, over 25 percent of the “investment” funds ended up with these two county parties. Here were the top five amounts given to various county parties as listed in the finance report.

  • Dane County – $9,137.35
  • Milwaukee County – $5,919.75
  • Waukesha County – $2,834.40
  • Brown County – $1,903.80
  • Racine County – $1,496.25

4) The party spent more on its annual state convention than on it’s “Investment” to county parties.

Tucked away in the finance report are expenditures itemized as “Meeting Expenses.” This could range any where from the cost of getting copies made to the rent paid for a meeting place. In the case of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, their most recent state convention held in Middleton came with a hefty price tag.

Inside the report are three payments to the “Madison Marriott Hotel & Convention Center,” the site of this year’s convention. One payment was made in April, with two more made in June. Collectively, they add up to $59,959.41 – a figure which is over $7,000 more than “investment” figure the party is touting to the press.

That must have been some party. Did they include an open bar?

While there’s some understanding in today’s political environment that third party groups could come in and fill the gaps in the financial disparity between the two state parties, it might not be enough. Unless they have resources themselves, campaigns tend to rely heavily on their state parties to aid them in things such as voter identification, campaign outreach, and get out the vote. This is especially true in state legislative races who unlike a statewide race for governor, rely heavily on the state party for their resources.

If Democrats believe they’re ‘Just fine’ with this kind of financial situation for their state party, they could be in for another long night come November 2018.