RACINE — With the 2023 Spring Election slightly more than two weeks away, campaign messages about the City of Racine’s mayoral election are cramming residents’ mailboxes, popping up on websites and filling local airwaves.
The incumbent, Cory Mason, and the challenger, Henry Perez face off in the Spring Election on Tuesday, April 4.
Television ads for both candidates appeared on Milwaukee television stations earlier this week while recent filings with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission indicate that a Washington D.C.-based political action committee (PAC) has spent more than $43,000 to produce and mail campaign literature. Mason told WTMJ-TV (channel 4) this week that he expects his reelection campaign to spend $420,000.
What’s being spent – and why
According to the Ethics Commission’s website, Open Democracy PAC of Washington D.C. reported spending $43,143.13 in support of Mason for Racine, the mayor’s campaign organization. The expenditures, which included mailing service, mailing lists, postage and online advertising, occurred between March 9 and March 22.
Open Democracy PAC also reported spending $129.73 this month on mailing list expenses in opposition to Friends of Henry Perez, which is Perez’ campaign committee.
OpenSecrets.org, a national organization that tracks elections and political spending, reports that Open Democracy is a political action committee (PAC) established in 2022.
It is considered a “hybrid PAC” that maintains one bank account to contribute funds to individual candidate campaign committees and another account to make independent expenditures of the type being made in the Racine election.
Open Democracy PAC describes itself as an organization that invests “in candidates that will champion voting rights where these battles are being waged — in state houses, municipal elections and elections offices across the country,” its website states.
In Wisconsin, Open Democracy PAC has endorsed Mason and Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich, who is also seeking re-election in April.
Another political action committee, Next Wisconsin Inc. of Madison has produced a digital ad supporting Mason’s re-election bid. That ad has appeared on the organization’s website and social media outlets.
In addition to Mason, Next Wisconsin has endorsed Green Bay’s Genrich and Mike Wiza, mayor of Stevens Point, who is on the April ballot.
Closer to home, Concerned Citizens for Safer Streets LLC, an independent expenditure committee, reported spending $1,675 on a TV ad criticizing Mason for increases in violent crime and staffing shortages at the Racine Police Department. The ad was carried on two Milwaukee TV stations.
That organization’s treasurer told the Racine County Eye this week that other election-related spending was in the works.
Racine is reflective of trend
A Wisconsin elections expert said that spending by outside groups in local elections has been on the upswing.
“Local elections around Wisconsin have seen substantially higher levels of campaign spending in recent years. Some of the additional funds have come from PACs, some of which are based outside the state,” said Barry C. Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor and director of the Elections Research Center.
Burden noted that a PAC is spending “six figures” on Madison City Council races this spring.
“One reason for this might be the stalemate in state government. Republican control of the state legislature is all but guaranteed with the current districts, so there is little reason for groups to spend in the more than 100 state legislative races that occur every two years,” he said. “Because the governor and state legislature are not doing much regular lawmaking, a lot of the interesting policy activity has shifted to county and municipal governments.
“Organized groups can spend relatively small sums relative to their budgets to influence what happens in communities,” Burden added.
Spending totals – so far
The Mason campaign out-raised and outspent the Perez campaign prior to the Feb. 21 primary election, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Racine City Clerk on Feb. 13. Those reports covered the period from Jan. 1 through Feb. 6.
Mason for Racine started the period with $33,673.89 and received $13,058.26 in donations. The campaign spent $19,813.66 which left it with $26,918.49 cash on hand.
Friends of Henry Perez started the period with $492 and received $4,722.50 in donations. The campaign spent $5,116.26 leaving it with $97.96 cash on hand.
Next reports coming March 27
The next local campaign spending reports are due to be filed with the City Clerk on Monday, March 27. That reporting period is from Feb. 7 through March 20.
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