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Busy 2022 political year in Wisconsin and Milwaukee could mean record spending - and even more campaign ads

Tom Barrett
Posted at 4:52 PM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 19:40:52-04

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin was already poised to have a red hot 2022 campaign season, and it just got busier. There was already a closely watched U.S. Senate and Gubernatorial race underway, and now there is likely to be a Milwaukee mayoral race as well. That means people will be seeing a flood of campaign ads and money coming into the state.

That is on top of 2020 being the most expensive campaign year in history. According to AdImpact, a company that tracks ad spending, candidates and special interest groups - an estimated $8.5 billion was spent in TV, radio and digital media during the 2019-2020 election cycle. Nationally, people saw nearly 10 million TV ads.

ron johnson
FILE - In this March 3, 2021 file photo, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., speaks during a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Senate Committee on Rules and Administration joint hearing examining the January 6, attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Critics of Johnson are calling him racist after he told an interviewer on Thursday, March 11, that he wasn’t worried about the supporters of former President Donald Trump who stormed the U.S. Capitol in January, but might have been concerned if they had been Black Lives Matter protesters. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

“From where I sit looking at the money, I think we are going to break more records,” said Matt Rothschild, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

It is a non-profit and non-partisan group that tracks money spent in Wisconsin politics. Rothschild says a lot of cash is out there.

Tony Evers
FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers speaks with reporters at an event in Madison, Wis. Evers plans to announce four pardons on Monday, the first issued by a Wisconsin governor in nearly nine years. Evers revived the Pardons Board this summer after his predecessor, Scott Walker, refused to issue any pardons during his eight years as governor. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

The 2018 governor’s race between Scott Walker and Tony Evers broke spending records. The two camps along with outside money meant $93 million was spent in that campaign. That is compared to $82 million in 2014.

Gov. Scott Walker

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 30: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks at the American Action Forum January 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. Earlier in the week Walker announced the formation of "Our American Revival", a new committee designed to explore the option of a presidential bid in 2016. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In the legislative races, candidates and special interest groups spent $15 million in 2018. By 2020, that amount had more than doubled to $32.2 million in spending. And public affairs adviser Evan Zeppos expects 2022 to be even bigger.

“Every race today in America is big,” said Zeppos. “It’s very close in the Senate and in the House of Representatives, and there is a lot of pent up anger and angst out there.”

A potential mayoral race in Milwaukee could be added to the list. Zeppos says with it being a non-partisan race, that could mean less money coming in from outside Wisconsin. But candidates should still expect to spend a good amount to get their message out.

Tom Barrett
(Photo by Andy Manis/Getty Images)

“I think you are going to need an excess of a half a million dollars to run. I think when you get into the general election, you are talking a million dollars if not more,” said Zeppos.

Rothschild warns no matter how flashy the ads are on TV, or how often you see them, do you own research to determine who should get your vote.

"Go to the website to the candidates, figure out where they stand on the issues, and make up your own mind. Don't get swayed by whoever got the most money or the most clever commercial. That's not how we should decide our elections,” said Rothschild.

What is unclear is when a Milwaukee mayoral race could happen. Mayor Tom Barrett has been nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg. He is expected to resign if he gets the appointment. If that happens, that would trigger a timeline for a special election to occur.

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