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KIND vs. VAN ORDEN: Record campaign cash in the only competitive congressional district in Wisconsin

Peter Cameron

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Another election year, and another easy victory for U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, right?

Not quite. It was tight this time, as campaign cash flooded Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, which hugs the Mississippi River and was won by President Donald Trump with about 52% of the vote.


Peter Cameron is the editor-in-chief of The Badger Project,
a nonpartisan, nonprofit news publication out of Madison


Kind triumphed in the district he has held for nearly a quarter century with 51% of the vote. He received a total of nearly 200,000 votes, while Republican challenger Derrick Van Orden got nearly 190,000.

The moderate Democrat has regularly won by 10 percentage points or more, and his fundraising has always dwarfed opponents.

Until last year, when he faced his best-funded opponent ever. Kind raised and spent nearly $3 million. Van Orden: nearly $2 million.

The almost $5 million in direct donations to the candidates is the biggest load of campaign cash the 3rd Congressional District has seen in at least 20 years, according to campaign finance records. And based on trends of money in politics, probably the most ever.

“Simply put, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and her allies bought Ron Kind’s congressional seat by sending him millions,” Van Orden said in an email response to The Badger Project.

Kind did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District looks like a profile of Popeye leaning against the Mississippi and flexing a bicep that bends from La Crosse to Stevens Point more than 100 miles away.

When Wisconsin Republicans drew the districts in 2011 to their heavy favor for the coming decade, they snipped the liberal college town of Stevens Point out of the 7th Congressional District in northern Wisconsin, making that district solidly Republican, and plopped Stevens Point into the 3rd Congressional District to the west. The effect of GOP gerrymandering actually meant the 3rd was made a safer Democratic seat, said Joe Heim, a political science professor emeritus at UW-La Crosse.

Wisconsin’s 3rd is one of the few congressional districts in the country that a Democrat held but Trump won. And it was the only congressional race in Wisconsin that was close. The other seven districts were decided by 18 points or more

Heim credited Kind’s reputation as a moderate for helping him hold the district. Kind voted against Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker in 2019, but for her in January of this year. He also had a “huge warchest” of campaign cash and “spent it liberally,” Heim added.

Van Orden was “all in with Trump, and that may have helped in some areas, but hurt in others,” Heim said, noting that Kind cruised to decisive victories in the district’s urban areas.

Van Orden kept open the possibility of running again in 2022.

“Nothing is off the table,” he wrote.

Citizens United’s effect felt

The well-known 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case allowed for the creation of dark money Super PACs. Federal law prohibits these organizations from coordinating with political campaigns, but they can spend unlimited amounts attacking or promoting a candidate on the airwaves or in print. And they often are able to keep their donors confidential. Super PACs spent heavily in the 3rd District in the flight to flip it red.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican-aligned Super PAC, dropped more than $1.6 million to defeat Kind, according to The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group that tracks campaign finance.

Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and prolific Republican donor who died last month, gave tens of millions to that Super PAC.

The Democrat-aligned House Majority PAC and the American Hospital Association spent nearly $600,000 and $300,000, respectively, supporting Kind.

Much of that cash goes to purchasing TV attack ads.

Like nearly all Democrats in national politics, Kind has been supportive of more disclosure requirements in campaign finance, voting in favor of the DISCLOSE Act in 2010, which passed the Democratic-controlled House, but then was filibustered and killed by Republicans in the Senate.

Kind voted again in support of the DISCLOSE Act in 2019 after it was rolled into a large government reform and voter access bill called H.R. 1. Its future in the Senate is uncertain.

Republicans have voted almost unanimously against The DISCLOSE Act, but Van Orden signaled an openness to at least some disclosure reform.

“I believe we need stronger transparency in our campaign funding,” he wrote.

Direct donations to the candidates

While Kind’s 2020 campaign haul of nearly $3 million sounds astounding, it fell far short of cracking the top 100 fundraising totals for House candidates last year.

Under federal law, the most an individual can give to a candidate is $2,800 per election. Political Action Committees can give $5,000 per election. So with a primary and a general, individuals and PACs can double that limit.

A handful of individuals gave Kind the maximum $5,600. That includes Judith Faulkner, CEO of health software behemoth Epic Systems in the Madison area, and her husband Gordon. The check was Judith Faulkner’s only donation to a politician last year. Kevin Conroy, CEO of Exact Sciences in Madison, also gave Kind the maximum $5,600.

In the House, Kind is one of 43 members who sit on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax-writing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he has a lot of support from big business.

Kind received the maximum $10,000 from the political action committees for AT&T, Boeing, Caterpillar, GE, Home Depot, Met Life, Prudential, Xcel Energy, Vanguard Group, Toyota, and many others.

Of Van Orden’s nearly $2 million in campaign donations, many individuals gave him the maximum $5,600, including the usual big spenders on the Wisconsin right: Diane Hendricks, the billionaire owner of ABC Building Supply, who lives in the Beloit area, and Dick and Liz Uihlein, owners of ULINE Shipping Supplies, who each gave the max.

The Supporting Electing American Leaders (SEAL) PAC, which backs conservative military veterans for office, gave Van Orden, himself a former Navy SEAL, the maximum $10,000. The Eye of the Tiger PAC, which supports Republican candidates and is funded by big business, gave him $7,500.


The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.

Lists of the top 100 donors to each candidate are below.

TOP 100 DONORS TO KIND IN 2020

DONORTOTAL DONATION
American Bankers Association$10,000
ABBOTT LABORATORIES$10,000
AMERICAN COLLEGE OF CARDIOLOGY$10,000
AMERICAN COUNCIL OF LIFE INSURERS$10,000
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS / AFT$10,000
AMERICAN HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION$10,000
AMERICAN OPTOMETRIC ASSOCIATION$10,000
AMERICAN PHYSICAL THERAPY ASSOCIATION$10,000
AMERIPAC / THE FUND FOR A GREATER AMERICA$10,000
AMERISOURCEBERGEN CORP$10,000
AT&T$10,000
BOEING CO$10,000
CATERPILLAR$10,000
COLLEGE OF AMERICAN PATHOLOGISTS$10,000
DELOITTE TOUCHE TOHMATSU$10,000
ENTERGY CORP$10,000
ERNST & YOUNG$10,000
GENERAL ELECTRIC CO$10,000
HOME DEPOT$10,000
INTERNATIONAL PAPER$10,000
MASS MUTUAL$10,000
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE$10,000
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS$10,000
NATIONAL THOROUGHBRED RACING ASSOCIATION$10,000
NEW YORK LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY$10,000
NORTHROP GRUMMAN$10,000
PRINCIPAL FINANCIAL GROUP$10,000
PRUDENTIAL FINANCIAL$10,000
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION / SEIU$10,000
THRIVENT FINANCIAL FOR LUTHERANS$10,000
UNITEDHEALTH GROUP$10,000
UNITED PARCEL SERVICES / UPS$10,000
USAA$10,000
WINE & SPIRITS WHOLESALERS OF AMERICA$10,000
XCEL ENERGY$10,000
PACIFC LIFE INSURANCE$10,000
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF ORAL & MAXILLOFACIAL SURGEONS$10,000
GUARDIAN LIFE INSURANCE$10,000
NATIONAL BEER WHOLESALERS ASSOCIATION$10,000
NATIONAL RURAL ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION$10,000
VANGUARD GROUP$10,000
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF NURSE ANESTHETISTS$10,000
NEW DEMOCRAT COALITION$10,000
TOYOTA MOTORS NORTH AMERICA$10,000
CREDIT UNION LEGISLATIVE ACTION COUNCIL / CULAC$10,000
NATIONAL VENTURE CAPITAL ASSOCIATION$10,000
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF ORTHOPAEDIC SURGEONS$10,000
TEACHERS INSURANCE & ANNUITY ASSOCIATION$10,000
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF TRUCK STOP OPERATORS$10,000
NATIONAL AUTOMOBILE DEALERS ASSOCIATION$10,000
UBS AMERICAS$10,000
ECOLAB INC$10,000
AMERICAN CHIROPRACTIC ASSOCIATION$10,000
INVESTMENT COMPANY INSTITUTE$10,000
AMERICAN COLLEGE OF RHEUMATOLOGY$10,000
NATIONAL MULTIFAMILY HOUSING COUNCIL$10,000
SENTRY INSURANCE$10,000
INDEPENDENT COMMUNITY BANKERS OF AMERICA$10,000
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF DERMATOLOGY ASSOCIATION$10,000
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF ENROLLED AGENTS$10,000
INSURED RETIREMENT INSTITUTE$10,000
EQUIPMENT LEASING & FINANCE ASSOCIATION$10,000
AMGEN$10,000
NATIONWIDE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY$9,000
NORTHWESTERN MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE$9,500
HEWLETT PACKARD$9,000
HONEYWELL INTERNATIONAL$9,000
NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION$9,000
NATIONAL ROOFING CONTRACTORS$9,000
AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION$9,000
TRANSAMERIA CORP$9,000
COMCAST CORPORATION & NBC UNIVERSAL$8,500
WALMART$8,500
AMERICAN COUNCIL OF ENGINEERING COMPANIES$8,500
NOVO NORDISK$7,737
AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR JUSTICE$7,500
AMERICAN COLLEGE OF EMERGENCY PHYSICIANS$7,500
AMERICAS HEALTH INSURANCE PLANS$7,500
BASF$7,500
CIGNA$7,500
LIBERTY MUTUAL CO$7,500
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT TRUSTS$7,500
PRICEWATERHOUSECOOPERS$7,500
FEDERAL EXPRESS / FEDEX$7,500
AMERICAN SOCIETY OF ANESTHESIOLOGISTS$7,500
ANTHEM INC$7,500
OPERATING ENGINEERS LOCAL 139$7,500
LABORERS INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA / LIUNA$7,500
NATIONAL PORK PRODUCERS COUNCIL$7,500
CHS INC$7,500
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF FAMILY PHYSICIANS$7,500
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF NEUROLOGY PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATION$7,500
HEALTHCARE DISTRIBUTION ALLIANCE$7,500
NATL TELECOMMUNICATIONS COOP ASSOC$7,500
FIDELITY FMR LLC$7,500
SHAKOPEE MDEWAKANTON SIOUX COMMUNITY$7,050
AMERICAN VETERINARY MEDICAL ASSOCIATION$7,000
AMAZON.COM SERVICES$7,000

PEOPLE WHO GAVE KIND THE LEGAL MAX IN 2020

CONTRIBUTORTOTALPLACE OF RESIDENCE
BEKENSTEIN, ANITA S$5,600Wayland, MA
BEKENSTEIN, JOSHUA (JOSH)$5,600Wayland, MA
CONROY, KEVIN T$5,600Madison, WI
DOANE, RUSSELL$5,600Menomonie, WI
FAULKNER, GORDON T$5,600Mount Horeb, WI
FAULKNER, JUDITH$5,600Mount Horeb, WI
FISHER, ROBERT J (BOB)$5,600San Francisco, CA
GRAY, JONATHAN D (JON)$5,600New York, NY
GRAY, MINDY D$5,600New York, NY
GRAYER, JONATHAN$5,600Harrison, NY
KLARMAN, SETH ANDREW$5,600Boston, MA
LAUX, JOSEPH$5,600La Crosse, WI
PARKER, ALEXANDRA LENAS$5,600Palo Alto, CA
PARKER, SEAN$5,600Palo Alto, CA
ROTH, HOWARD$5,600Wauzeka, WI
SCHNICK, ROSALIE A$5,600La Crosse, WI
SIMONS, NATHANIEL HENRY (NAT)$5,600Berkeley, CA
WANEK, RON$5,600Arcadia, WI

TOP 100 DONORS TO VAN ORDEN IN 2020

CONTRIBUTORTOTALTYPECITY OF RESIDENCESTATE
VAN ORDEN FOR WI-03$34,501Non-IndividualBETHESDAMD
CONGRESSIONAL MAJORITY CMTE$10,000Non-IndividualBAKERSFIELDCA
SEAL PAC SUPPORTING ELECTING AMERICAN LEADERS$10,000Non-IndividualWASHINGTONDC
SCHUH, KONYA D$8,400IndividualJANESVILLEWI
EYE OF THE TIGER PAC$7,500Non-IndividualARLINGTONVA
SMITH JR, HAROLD BYRON$5,600IndividualPALM BEACHFL
HILLMAN, TATNALL LEA$5,600IndividualASPENCO
KRESS, DONALD F$5,600IndividualGREEN BAYWI
DHEIN, JERE E$5,600IndividualGREEN BAYWI
WEGNER, KENNETH$5,600IndividualELMHURSTIL
HENDRICKS, KIMBERLEE K (KIM)$5,600IndividualJANESVILLEWI
NELSON, GRANT E$5,600IndividualPRESCOTTWI
MICHELS, TIMOTHY J (TIM)$5,600IndividualHARTLANDWI
MICHELS, BARBARA A$5,600IndividualHARTLANDWI
UIHLEIN, RICHARD ELLIS (DICK)$5,600IndividualLAKE FORESTIL
JOHNSON SR, MARK O$5,600IndividualRICE LAKEWI
NELSON, CAROL J$5,600IndividualPRESCOTTWI
WEBER, DONALD J (DON)$5,600IndividualLA CROSSEWI
HARTUNG, DANIEL J$5,600IndividualMADISONWI
MICHELS, PATRICK D$5,600IndividualBROWNSVILLEWI
HENDRICKS, DIANE M$5,600IndividualAFTONWI
TOLL, NANCY A$5,600IndividualFRANKLINWI
ZORE, DIANE$5,600IndividualRIVER HILLSWI
PREGONT, JOSEPH T$5,600IndividualJANESVILLEWI
MICHELS, MARYSUE C$5,600IndividualBROWNSVILLEWI
LUDINGTON, PATRICIA A$5,600IndividualONALASKAWI
LOMMEN, RICK$5,600IndividualONALASKAWI
HILLMAN, ROBERTA W (BOBBIE)$5,600IndividualASPENCO
SCHLOEMER, JAMES H$5,600IndividualMENOMONEE FALLSWI
MACDONALD JR, WILLIAM F$5,600IndividualAMBLERPA
WEEKLEY, RICHARD WELDON (DICK)$5,600IndividualHOUSTONTX
WHITELOCK, VIRGINIA E$5,600IndividualSAN DIEGOCA
UIHLEIN, ELIZABETH A (LIZ)$5,600IndividualLAKE FORESTIL
BURKE, KATHRYN M$5,600IndividualFOX POINTWI
MICHELS, KEVIN P$5,600IndividualFOND DU LACWI
MICHELS, CONNIE L$5,600IndividualFOND DU LACWI
MULLINS, LUKE$5,600IndividualJUNCTION CITYWI
LUDINGTON, DAVID$5,600IndividualONALASKAWI
JOHNSON, BARBARA B$5,600IndividualRICE LAKEWI
BOYCE, RICHARD W (DICK)$5,600IndividualWOODSIDECA
CARNEY, THOMAS$5,600IndividualDARIENWI
FOX, BRENT A$5,600IndividualJANESVILLEWI
FRANKE, JAY$5,600IndividualMIAMI BEACHFL
MCKENNA, MIKE$5,600IndividualMILTONWI
MCKENNA, DIAMOND$5,600IndividualMILTONWI
HERRO, DAVID$5,600IndividualMIAMI BEACHFL
MLEJNEK, CHRIS$5,600IndividualRICE LAKEWI
EVANS, CAROL A$5,600IndividualSAN DIEGOCA
GELATT, PHILIP M$5,600IndividualLA CROSSEWI
LETOURNEAU, EDWARD J$5,600IndividualDODGEVILLEWI
LEY, FRED$5,600IndividualBOZEMANMT
WIESER, MARK A$5,600IndividualWISCONSIN DELLSWI
IRVING, CRAIG$5,600IndividualSAN DIEGOCA
HEIDT, GERALD$5,600IndividualSAN DIEGOCA
SCHARLAU, CHRISTINA C$5,600IndividualELK MOUNDWI
ARNOLD, SARA$5,300IndividualELM GROVEWI
NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL CMTE$5,000Non-IndividualWASHINGTONDC
MIKE HUCKABEE CAMPAIGN CMTE$5,000Non-IndividualLITTLE ROCKAR
DICKMAN, CRAIG$5,000IndividualGREEN BAYWI
BUSCH III, AUGUST ANHEUSER$5,000IndividualSAINT PETERSMO
LEDWELL, STEVEN$5,000IndividualTEXARKANATX
RICHARDSON JR, DR JOHN B$5,000IndividualVESTAVIAAL
RICHARDSON, SONJA H$5,000IndividualVESTAVIAAL
GUARDIAN FUND$5,000Non-IndividualPITTSBORONC
3RD DISTRICT REPUBLICAN PARTY OF WISCONSIN$5,000Non-IndividualLA CROSSEWI
KOLBER, VINCENT A$4,800IndividualCHICAGOIL
FETTIG, ROBERT P (BOB)$4,800IndividualLAKE GENEVAWI
PEDERSON, TIMOTHY G (TIM)$4,800IndividualHARTLANDWI
WISCONSIN REPUBLICAN PARTY$4,500Non-IndividualMADISONWI
BLAINE LUETKEMEYER CAMPAIGN CMTE$4,500Non-IndividualST ELIZABETHMO
ELECTING MAJORITY MAKING EFFECTIVE REPUBLICANS$4,500Non-IndividualANOKAMN
KABARA, BETTY Z$4,500IndividualGALENAIL
HERZOG, SHAWN$4,300IndividualPLOVERWI
STEPHEN J (STEVE) SCALISE CAMPAIGN CMTE$4,000Non-IndividualNEW ORLEANSLA
SORRELL, STEVEN A$4,000IndividualINDIANAPOLISIN
HANSEN, MICHAEL L$3,800IndividualFORT LAUDERDALEFL
LESAR, NICK$3,800IndividualWHITEWATERWI
MOORE, NOEL$3,800IndividualCHICAGOIL
BECK, ELAINE E$3,800IndividualORO VALLEYAZ
SCOTT, JOHN D$3,500IndividualLAKE DELTONWI
HAUMSCHILD, JOHN$3,400IndividualOCONOMOWOCWI
SCHARLAU, JOHN$3,300IndividualELK MOUNDWI
HOLLFELDER, THOMAS A$3,300IndividualELKHART LAKEWI
PAPENFUSS, JERRY$3,300IndividualWINONAMN
ASCHER, GARY$3,250IndividualSPARTAWI
GOUGE, DANIEL$3,250IndividualBROOKFIELDWI
AYLWARD, RICHARD J$3,000IndividualNEENAHWI
RUSCH, JACK C$3,000IndividualONALASKAWI
MARTIN, JOSEPH C$3,000IndividualAPPLETONWI
CAMPBELL, ROBERT ROY$3,000IndividualLA CROSSEWI
US ISRAEL PAC USI$3,000Non-IndividualHOLLYWOODFL
FOSTER, GREGG$3,000IndividualJACKSONWY
SCHUETTE, CONNIE$2,825IndividualWAUSAUWI
MILLER, DONALD K$2,800IndividualPALM BEACHFL
ASNESS, CLIFF$2,800IndividualNEW YORKNY
DAVID, JACK$2,800IndividualNEW HARTFORDCT
HANNA, DAVID W$2,800IndividualIRVINECA
GRIMES, WINDI$2,800IndividualHOUSTONTX
PEROT JR, H ROSS$2,800IndividualDALLASTX
HANNA, VIRGINIA L$2,800IndividualIRVINECA

Peter Cameron is the managing editor of The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture in Wisconsin which investigates our public officials and other important state issues.

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