After a close finish in 2020, the Republican looks to flip the western Wisconsin congressional seat Democrats have held for 26 years.

By Peter Cameron, THE BADGER PROJECT

It's another record year of campaign donations in western Wisconsin.

Derrick Van Orden, Republican candidate for the 3rd Congressional District in western Wisconsin, has raised nearly $6 million for his 2022 campaign, according to filings with the Federal Elections Commission. That’s compared to about $1.4 million for his Democratic opponent state Sen. Brad Pfaff.

Those figures are accurate up to Sep. 30, the most recent reporting deadline. With several weeks of fundraising needing to be reported before the election, Van Orden has, on his own, already shattered the record amount for the district he and Democratic Rep. Ron Kind raised for their tight election — about $5 million — in 2020.

Van Orden nearly won the district that year, when he gave Kind his first serious challenge in years, losing by about 3 percent and about 10,000 votes.

THE TOP DONORS TO EACH CANDIDATE ARE LISTED BELOW.

Considering that finish, his fundraising, and former President Donald Trump’s winning the district in 2016 and 2020, Van Orden has to be considered the frontrunner, said Joe Heim, a political science professor emeritus at UW-La Crosse.

“The district is so large that just getting your name and face around is a major undertaking,” Heim said. “So his name is much better known than a first-term state Sen. Pfaff.”

Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District runs along the Mississippi River from Platteville nearly 200 miles north to Eau Claire.

“All this has given Van Orden a distinct advantage,” Heim continued. “Add into all this is the normal, national, historical pattern of the ‘out of White House party’ gaining seats in Congress, you have an environment favorable to a Republican.”

Federal campaign limits allow an individual to give a candidate for federal office a maximum of $2,900 per election, and candidates face a primary and a general, so one person can give a total of $5,800 to one candidate per election cycle.

More than 100 people have donated the maximum $5,800 to Van Orden’s campaign, according to filings with the FEC. Notable names giving the max include Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn and his wife Andrea Wynn, Menard's founder and owner John Menard Jr and his wife Fay Menard, Kwik Trip CEO Don Zeitlow, billionaire Republican megadonors Dick and Liz Uehlein of ULINE, billionaire Diane Hendricks and Kim Hendricks of ABC Building Supply, and Ross Perot Jr.

Top donors to Pfaff’s campaign include Judith Faulkner, CEO and founder of Epic, the healthcare software giant based in Dane County, her husband Gordon Faulkner, and Kevin Conroy, the CEO of the Madison-based Exact Sciences, all of whom have given $5,000.

A member of the U.S. House of Representatives makes an annual salary of $174,000.

The retiring Kind’s campaign committee has given Pfaff’s campaign at least $4,000. Kind and his wife Tawni Kind also personally gave Pfaff’s campaign at least $3,000 and $3,750 each. Pfaff previously worked for Kind’s congressional office.

Former Democratic state legislator Tim Cullen gave him $3,400.

Lynde Uihlein, a Schlitz heir, major Democratic donor and relative of Dick Uihlein, has given Pfaff $2,800. Former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl has given Pfaff’s campaign $2,700.

Asked about the huge fundraising difference in the campaign, Pfaff said in an email “when you have a record that you have to run away from and be scared of, you need more money to do it.”

Joe Heim, a political science professor emeritus at UW-La Crosse

Pfaff criticized Van Orden for his written admission that he exposed another male soldier’s genitals to female soldiers in his book “Book of Man: A Navy SEAL’s Guide to the Lost Art of Manhood.” Pfaff also noted that Van Orden was put on probation for trying to board a plane with a loaded handgun last year. And he pointed to Van Orden’s attendance at Trump’s rally on Jan. 6 in Washington D.C. that devolved into a violent attack on the Capitol and the police guarding it.

“That’s why millions of out-of-state dollars are flowing in to help Derrick,” Pfaff wrote. “But let’s also be clear, when I’m on the campaign trail, I don’t hear about who is winning the fundraising war. I hear about real challenges that voters are dealing with like rising costs, job opportunities that are few and far between, and a feeling of being left behind by Washington politics.”

Van Orden did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment.

Independent spending in the district

So far, outside groups have spent about $600,000 promoting Van Orden and another $600,000 on ads attacking him, according to the database on Open Secrets, an organization that collects and publicizes campaign finance data. Outside groups have spent only about $25,000 supporting Pfaff and about $725,000 attacking him.

The Center Forward Committee, which has ties to the Blue Dog Coalition of centrist Democrats, has spent $600,000 attacking Van Orden.

The Republicans’ Congressional Leadership Fund has spent more than $400,000 and the National Republican Congressional Committee more than $300,000, both to attack Pfaff.

Two law enforcement Super PACs have spent nearly $500,000 supporting Van Orden.

Disclosure of personal finances

Per federal law, candidates for federal office must file reports disclosing their financial holdings including assets, earned income, liabilities, etc.

Van Orden has not disclosed any earned income since at least Jan. 1, 2020, according to his reports. He has been running for Congress for most of that time. He also reported checking account holdings between $1,001 and $15,000. His campaign did not respond to questions on how he has supported himself with no income.

EDITOR'S NOTE: After the story was published, Justin Giorgio, a spokesman for Van Orden's campaign, said the candidate and his wife live on his military pension after 26 years of service, and on payments for his 100% disability rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Benefits from federal retirement programs and disability payments from the federal government do not have to be reported, according to the rules of the U.S. House Ethics Committee.

On a disclosure form filed in August 2021, Van Orden reported he was a partner in “Van Orden Properties LLC” and a co-owner of “JIC Global LLC” doing business as “Juarez Industries.” He did not report holdings in those companies on a disclosure form filed in June. His campaign did not respond to questions asking about those companies.

Pfaff reported his annual state Senate salary of about $55,000, farmland holdings valued between $100,000 and $250,000, between $100,000 and $250,000 in stocks, and a pressure-washing business in Madison.

Other issues

Van Orden was present at Trump’s rally in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6 at which the president fraudulently claimed the election had been stolen from him. Trump has repeated that lie despite numerous court cases, recounts and audits across the country finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Van Orden said he left the rally when attendees attacked police and broke their way into the Capitol. To pay for the trip, Van Orden used campaign funds at a time when he was not a candidate, but the FEC rejected a formal complaint against him, saying the sum was too small to pursue, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

The Republican candidate has refused to debate Pfaff. He told Channel 8 News that he wanted to do a town hall-style debate, but then refused or ignored his challenger's offer to do some. Van Orden participated in a debate against Kind in 2020.

And Van Orden was fined and placed on unsupervised probation in Iowa in 2021 when he tried to board a plane with a loaded handgun in his carry-on luggage. A judge ordered he pay $360 and show he had taken a firearms safety course, which he did, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The Transportation Security Administration also fined him, the newspaper reported.

Gov. Tony Evers nominated Pfaff in 2019 to be the state’s agricultural secretary, but the Republican-controlled state Senate, which must approve the appointees, voted against Pfaff after he criticized Republicans for delaying funding for a farmer suicide prevention program.

Pfaff  then ran for state Senate in the district that includes La Crosse in 2020 and won a tight and expensive race. His state Senate term ends in 2024.

This story was funded in part by a grant from the La Crosse Community Foundation.

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

DONORS WHO GAVE THE MAXIMUM TO VAN ORDEN

DONOR RESIDENCE TOTAL
AYLWARD, AMY J. NEENAH, WI $5,800
AYLWARD, RICHARD J. MR. NEENAH, WI $5,800
BAUMGARTNER, DONALD MILWAUKEE, WI $5,800
BAUMGARTNER, DONNA MS. RIVER HILLS, WI $5,800
BENEDICT, DEBORAH MEDINA, MN $5,800
BENEDICT, MICHAEL MEDINA, MN $5,800
BERARD, ROBERT MR. STEVENS POINT, WI $5,800
BILLHEIMER, JOHN LIVERMORE, CA $5,800
BUCKLEY, MARJORIE NORTH PALM BEACH, FL $5,800
BUCKLEY, WALTER W. JR. NORTH PALM BEACH, FL $5,800
BUNTROCK, DEAN L. OAKBROOK TERRACE, IL $5,800
BUNTROCK, ROSEMARIE OAKBROOK TERRACE, IL $5,800
BURKE FOLEY, RORY MR. MILWAUKEE, WI $5,800
BURKE, KATHRYN MS. FOX POINT, WI $5,800
BURKE, WENDY MILWAUKEE, WI $5,800
CALLAN, JAMES J. FOX POINT, WI $5,800
CAMERON, RONALD M. LITTLE ROCK, AR $5,800
CHESEBRO, KENNETH CAMBRIDGE, MA $5,800
CONLON, DAVID W. JOHNSON CITY, TX $5,800
DAHL, HARRY J. MR. SPARTA, WI $5,800
DEAN, JANE S. MEQUON, WI $5,800
DEAN, RANDOLPH H. MEQUON, WI $5,800
DEAN, RICH MR. MEQUON, WI $5,800
DHEIN, JERE MR. GREEN BAY, WI $5,800
DOHERTY, EDWARD D. DALLAS, TX $5,800
DRUCKENMILLER, STANLEY F. NEW YORK, NY $5,800
DUHAMEL, KATHERINE B. SAN FRANCISCO, CA $5,800
DUHAMEL, WILLIAM F. SAN FRANCISCO, CA $5,800
FARROW, PETER C. CHIPPEWA FALLS, WI $5,800
FISHER, KENNETH L. PLANO, TX $5,800
FISHER, SHERRILYN PLANO, TX $5,800
FUSSNER, CHRISTOPHER JOHN CHANDLER, AZ $5,800
GALICOT, GREGORIO D. LA JOLLA, CA $5,800
GELATT, PHILIP M. MR. LA CROSSE, WI $5,800
HANNA, DAVID MR. IRVINE, CA $5,800
HANNA, VIRGINIA MS. IRVINE, CA $5,800
HEIDT, MATTHEW MR. CORONADO, CA $6,000
HENDRICKS, DIANE M. MS. AFTON, WI $5,800
HENDRICKS, KIMBERLEE K. MS. JANESVILLE, WI $5,800
HERMENING, KEVIN J. MOSINEE, WI $5,800
HERMENING, WENDY MOSINEE, WI $5,800
HERRO, DAVID MR. MIAMI BEACH, FL $5,800
HOLSON, RICHARD S. LAKE FOREST, IL $5,800
JOHNSON, BARBARA B. MRS. RICE LAKE, WI $5,800
JOHNSON, DREW SOUTHLAKE, TX $5,800
JOHNSON, ERIK S. MR. MIDDLETON, WI $5,800
JOHNSON, MARK O. MR. RICE LAKE, WI $5,800
JOSEPH, CAROL MRS. OMRO, WI $5,800
JOUHET, FREDERIC ROCHESTER HILLS, MI $5,800
JOUHET, SANDRA ROCHESTER HILLS, MI $5,800
KEMMERER, JOHN JACKSON, WY $5,800
KEMMERER, KAREN JACKSON, WY $5,800
KENT, WILLIAM MIDLAND, TX $5,800
KIERLIN, ROBERT A. MR. WINONA, MN $5,800
KOVACEVICH, RICHARD M. SAN FRANCISCO, CA $5,800
KRAFT, ROBERT W. MR. MILWAUKEE, WI $5,800
KRESS, CAROL J. GREEN BAY, WI $5,800
KRESS, DONALD F. MR. GREEN BAY, WI $5,800
KUBLY, BILLIE W. NAPLES, FL $5,800
KUESTER, DENNIS NAPLES, FL $5,800
LOQUERCIO, BOB STREAMWOOD, IL $5,800
LUDINGTON, DAVID DR. ONALASKA, WI $5,800
LUDINGTON, PATRICIA A. MRS. ONALASKA, WI $5,800
MARQUIS, DARRELL L. PEORIA, IL $5,800
MARQUIS, THOMAS PRINCETON, IL $5,800
MCCORMICK DRIVE LLC ST. PETERSBURG, FL $5,800
MCKENNA, MIKE MR. MILTON, WI $5,800
MENARD, FAY EAU CLAIRE, WI $5,800
MENARD, JOHN R. JR. EAU CLAIRE, WI $5,800
MILLER, BARBARA CLEVELAND, OH $5,800
MILLS, ANDREW MR. LONG LAKE, MN $5,800
MOISO, J JEROME MCARTHUR, CA $6,000
MOISO, JUDITH MCARTHUR, CA $5,800
MONCRIEF, R. W. FORT WORTH, TX $5,800
MOSLING, J. PETER MR. PICKETT, WI $5,800
MULLINS, LUKE MR. JUNCTION CITY, WI $5,800
NELSON, CAROL J. MRS. PRESCOTT, WI $5,800
NELSON, GRANT E. MR. PRESCOTT, WI $5,800
NEUMANN, AMY HARTLAND, WI $5,800
NEUMANN, MATT MR. HARTLAND, WI $5,800
O'BRIEN, KARIN M. HOLMEN, WI $5,800
PEREZ, WILLIAM NAPLES, FL $5,800
PEROT, H. ROSS MR. JR. DALLAS, TX $5,800
PERRY, APRIL ROGANNE MS. DENTON, TX $5,800
PETULLO, ANTHONY J. MR. WHITEFISH BAY, WI $5,800
PETULLO, BEV WHITEFISH BAY, WI $5,800
PIEPER, JENNIFER CORCORAN, MN $5,800
PIEPER, RICHARD MR. MILWAUKEE, WI $5,800
PIEPER, RON CORCORAN, MN $5,800
POPOLO, JOSEPH DALLAS, TX $5,800
PREGONT, JOSEPH T. MR. JANESVILLE, WI $5,800
RAMSEY, JASON BREVARD, NC $5,800
REES-JONES, TREVOR DALLAS, TX $5,800
REIBEL, BARBARA GREENWICH, CT $5,800
REIBEL, JAMES GREENWICH, CT $5,800
ROOD, JOHN JACKSONVILLE, FL $5,800
ROOD, SONYA JACKSONVILLE, FL $5,800
ROZOLIS, KEITH MR. LAKE GENEVA, WI $5,800
RYAN, PATRICK WINNETKA, IL $5,800
RYAN, SHIRLEY ANN WINNETKA, IL $5,800
SCHLOEMER, JAMES H. MR. MENOMONEE FALLS, WI $5,800
SCHROEDER, BRIAN MR. DE PERE, WI $5,800
SCHUH, KONYA D. MRS. JANESVILLE, WI $5,800
SEWELL, CARL DALLAS, TX $5,800
SIEVERS, AUGUST ELK GROVE VILLAGE, IL $5,800
SILSETH, JOHN M. MR. BROOKFIELD, WI $5,800
SMITH, HAROLD B. MR. PALM BEACH, FL $5,800
SNIDER, STEVE NEWTON, MA $5,800
SOLOMON, STEVEN DALLAS, TX $5,800
STORY, KENDRA MS. JANESVILLE, WI $5,800
TOLL, NANCY A. MS. FRANKLIN, WI $5,800
UIHLEIN, ELIZABETH A. MS. LAKE FOREST, IL $5,800
UIHLEIN, RICHARD E. MR. LAKE FOREST, IL $5,800
VANDERMUS, NANCY J. MS. ONALASKA, WI $5,800
WAKEMAN, BARBARA L. ANNAPOLIS, MD $5,800
WAKEMAN, CAROL L. GREEN BAY, WI $5,800
WAKEMAN, JOHN F. ANNAPOLIS, MD $5,800
WEEKLEY, RICHARD W. MR. HOUSTON, TX $5,800
WEGNER, KENNETH MR. ELMHURST, IL $5,800
WIESER, MARK A. MR. WISCONSIN DELLS, WI $5,800
WILEY, LAWRENCE MADISON, WI $5,800
WINN, STEPHEN T. DALLAS, TX $5,800
WOLDING, RICHARD H. MR. NELSONVILLE, WI $5,800
WOODMAN, JANE MS. PALM BEACH, FL $5,800
WYNN, ANDREA LAS VEGAS, NV $5,800
WYNN, STEPHEN LAS VEGAS, NV $5,800
ZARNEGIN, ROBERT BEVERLY HILLS, CA $5,800
ZIETLOW, DONALD P. MR. ONALASKA, WI $5,800
ZORE, DIANE MS. RIVER HILLS, WI $5,800
ZORE, ED RIVER HILLS, WI $5,800

TOP INDIVIDUAL DONORS TO PFAFF

CONTRIBUTOR NAME CITY & STATE TOTAL
KERN, DEBORAH SHOREWOOD, WI $5,800
LAUX, JOE ONALASKA, WI $5,800
LUBAR, MARIANNE S RIVER HILLS, WI $5,800
MERINOFF, CHARLES NEW YORK, NY $5,800
MILLER, JOHN W FOX POINT, WI $5,800
PFAFF, SHAWN W FITCHBURG, WI $5,800
UIHLEIN, LYNDE B MILWAUKEE, WI $5,800
WALKER, THOMAS BLACK RIVER FALLS, WI $5,800
WEIL, SAGE MADISON, WI $5,800
PAGE, GLORIA LOS ALTOS, CA $5,300
AMERICAN CRYSTAL SUGAR COMPANY PAC MOORHEAD, MN $5,000
CONROY, KEVIN T. MADISON, WI $5,000
FAULKNER, GORDON MOUNT HOREB, WI $5,000
FAULKNER, JUDITH MOUNT HOREB, WI $5,000
INTERNATIONAL UNION OF OPERATING ENGINEERS LOCAL 139 PEWAUKEE, WI $5,000
NEA FUND FOR CHILDREN AND PUBLIC EDUCATION WASHINGTON, D.C. $5,000
NEW DEMOCRAT COALITION ACTION FUND WASHINGTON, D.C. $5,000
UA UNION PLUMBERS & PIPEFITTERS VOTE! PAC ANNAPOLIS, MD $5,000
WISCONSIN BEER DISTRIBUTORS CONDUIT FUND MADISON, WI $5,000

This article first appeared on The Badger Project and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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Steve is a web designer and recently retired from running the hosting and development company Cruiskeen Consulting LLC. Cruiskeen Consulting LLC is the parent company of Wis.Community, and publication of this site continues after his retirement.

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