Election Cash: Corporate Leaders Back GOP’S Van Orden, Kapanke

Republican candidates Derrick Van Orden and Dan Kapanke have the financial backing of the founder of Ashley Furniture, the CEO of Kwik Trip, the chairman of Festival Foods, and the founder of Logistics Health Incorporated.

Don Zietlow, Ron Wanek, Dave Skogen and Don Weber – an elite group of local conservatives and heads of the some of the region’s wealthiest families – all wrote checks for Kapanke and Van Orden’s election campaigns in recent months.

Kapanke, who is the owner of the La Crosse Loggers, is running to reclaim the District 32 seat he lost to Jennifer Shilling in 2011. Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL and occasional Fox News guest, is contesting the Republican primary for the 3rd Congressional District seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse.

Wanek is the billionaire founder and chairman of the board of Ashley Furniture, which is headquartered in Arcadia and is one of the La Crosse region’s biggest employers. In March, Wanek made a $250,000 donation to the Trump Victory PAC. Wanek and his wife Joyce, from an address in Florida, have also put $5,600 into Van Orden’s campaign and donated $1,000 to Kapanke, according to recently filed state and federal campaign finance reports.

Kwik Trip CEO Zietlow and Weber, a real estate developer and founder of Logistics Health Incorporated (LHI), gave at least $132,000 and $124,000 respectively to support Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election cycle, public records show. Both LHI and Kwik Trip are headquartered in La Crosse. To date, neither Weber nor Zietlow have made a donation to support the increasingly unhinged Trump for his 2020 campaign.

However, Zietlow and his wife LaVonne have donated $2,000 to Kapanke and $5,600 to Van Orden in the current election cycle. Weber and his wife Roxanne have donated the same amount to Van Orden and contributed $4,925 to Kapanke, while Festival Foods chairman Skogen and his wife Barb have donated $500 to Kapanke and $2,800 to Van Orden. Skogen is a less prolific donor to political campaigns than the three other corporate leaders and has not made any donations to Trump’s campaigns. Interestingly, Skogen has donated to Kind’s campaigns as far back as the 1990s but this year has chosen to back Van Orden.

The news that the conservative fundraising big-hitters are backing Van Orden is a blow to Jessi Ebben, who is also running in the Republican primary for Kind’s seat. She recently challenged Van Orden to two in-person debates, but received no response.

Van Orden raised $546,000 in the second quarter alone, federal election records show, substantially more than Kind’s haul of $239,000 and Ebben’s $111,000. Still, Kind should not be too concerned, given that he had $3.1 million in campaign cash on hand as of June 30, compared to Van Orden’s $386,000. Kind is being challenged in the August 11 Democratic primary by Dr. Mark Neumann, who is refusing any donations from PACs and raised just $4,500 in the second quarter.

$339K raised for state senate race

In the District 32 state senate race, Kapanke had raised an impressive $187,000 as of June 30. He’s running to replace Shilling, who stepped down earlier this year to take a job as a lobbyist with Dairyland Power. She’s supporting fellow Democrat Brad Pfaff’s run for her old seat. Pfaff has put $79,000 of his own money into his campaign, in addition to receiving a $50,000 donation from the state senate democratic committee. 

A former Kind staffer, Pfaff also received $2,000 from Shilling’s campaign fund, and $3,000 from campaign fundraising committees connected to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Governor Tony Evers. 

Pfaff’s most recent job was as the director of business and rural development for the Wisconsin Department of Administration on a salary of $120,910. But he resigned from that job earlier this year to focus on his campaign. He had raised a total of $152,000 as of June 30, trailing Kapanke’s $187,000 haul, according to campaign finance reports the candidates filed with the state by the July 15 deadline.

These are considerable sums for a state senate race well before the November general election, illustrating the importance of the contest, which could further strengthen the Republican majority in the state senate.

Democrat Jayne Swiggum, a nurse from Gays Mills, is hoping to upset the plans of party leaders for an easy procession through the primary for Pfaff. She is running in part to reduce the influence of money on the political process and is refusing to take any financial donations. Swiggum’s campaign finance report shows she has spent just $261 to date on the race, all of which came from her own pocket.

A third Democrat, Paul Michael Weber of La Crosse, is also running in the August 11 primary for the District 32 senate seat. No campaign finance report was available for Weber from the state.

By Eric Timmons. Support our journalism by making a donation here. Email questions to lacrosseindependent@gmail.com. Top photo credit: WisPolitics.com – Kapanke Campaign/CC BY-SA 2.0

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