Outside spending, campaign fundraising narrowly separates GOP 7th Congressional candidates

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NORTH CENTRAL WIS. (WSAW) -- In the first financial disclosures for several of the current special election candidates, GOP candidates state senator Tom Tiffany and army veteran Jason Church are emerging as close fundraising contenders for the 7th Congressional seat.

GOP Special Election candidates Jason Church, Tom Tiffany (WSAW Photo)

With a little less than $70,000 separating their fundraising campaigns, Sen. Tiffany reported a total of about $719,000 raised in his end-of-quarter filings on Thursday, while Church reported a total of almost $653,000 raised since he entered the race in October, with the majority of that coming from individual contributors according to the filing. Both of them have outraised Democrat candidate Tricia Zunker by more than 4 to 1, with Zunker raising about $145,000 in total. Zunker has been outspoken in her refusal to take money from PACs, citing campaign financial reform as a key issue for her platform.

SuperPACS are also stepping up outside spending in the GOP 7th congressional primary, throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars behind each of the Republican candidates. Money unaffiliated with the campaigns, outside spending during the 7th Congressional primaries in most races of recent history has been low or nonexistent, given the largely-unchallenged statuses of former longtime incumbents Republican Rep. Sean Duffy and Democrat Rep. Dave Obey.

Now less than two weeks away from the primary election, PACs and SuperPACs have spent more than $531,000 in support of Sen. Tiffany, more than $486,000 on Church, and another $34,000 opposing Sen. Tiffany. The GOP challengers have had few ideological differences in two different campaign debates, and have chosen to distinguish themselves through their personal histories. Tiffany has served as a state lawmaker since 2010 and enjoys the endorsements of former governor Scott Walker and former seat holder Sean Duffy, while Church, an army captain and former legal staffer for Senator Ron Johnson, has set himself up as an outsider looking to bring a veteran approach to Congress.

The two main SuperPACs buying up spots in support of Jason Church are the With Honor Fund and the Americans for Security PAC, a group organized last month which has only invested funding in Church. In 2018, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos was the top contributor to the bipartisan With Honor Fund with donations totaling $10,129,17—about five times as much as the second-highest contributor for the 2018 cycle, the first election in which the PAC invested. So far in this election cycle, Jason Church and another veteran running for Congress in Texas are the only candidates in which the With Honor Fund has invested. In the last cycle, the group spent almost $4 million supporting Democrat candidates and almost $5 million supporting Republican candidates in the 2018 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The Americans for Prosperity organization, founded by heavyweight Republican donors David and Charles Koch, has invested almost $127,000 in ads supporting Sen. Tiffany. The House Freedom SuperPAC, which seeks to invest in conservative Republican leaders in the House, has spent another $214,000 in Tiffany’s support. The third major SuperPAC investing in outside spending for Sen. Tiffany is the Club for Growth organization, whose top donors this cycle according to the Center for Responsive Politics include major conservative political spenders Richard Uihlein and Jeff Yass.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Tiffany Thursday, also announced a "six-figure ad buy" in his support earlier this week, but did not disclose the full amount. Neither Democrat candidate in the race has yet attracted any outside spenders.

Zunker’s other Democrat challenger, Lawrence Dale, had not submitted filings to the FEC at the time of publishing. Tiffany’s filings had also not been uploaded to the FEC, but the numbers in this article reflect a Thursday press release with his fundraising totals.

The congressional primary is set for February 18, while the general Congressional election is May 12. The election’s winner will serve the remainder of the Congressional term before likely running for reelection this fall.