Sophia Voight | Appleton Post-Crescent USA TODAY NETWORK – WISCONSIN
APPLETON – Outagamie County’s first contested county executive race in eight years is bringing in the big bucks as former board member Kevin Sturn and 12-year incumbent Tom Nelson vie for the county’s highest office.
With a week before the election, Nelson has eclipsed his challenger in fundraising, bringing in five times the amount of money as Sturn has received, according to campaign finance reports.
Sturn previously served on the county board from 2012 to 2020 and is challenging Nelson to bring new leadership to the executive seat and remove politics he says the incumbent brings to the county office. Nelson, who last year unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate, has held the office since 2011 and ran unopposed in his previous two elections for a four-year term.
The two candidates will face off in the April 4 election. For information about registering to vote and polling locations, visit the MyVote Wisconsin website at myvote.wi.gov.
The Post-Crescent analyzed the contributions, expenditures and cash on hand for both candidates. These are the latest numbers ahead of the spring election and how they compare.
How much have the candidates raised and spent so far?
As of March 27, Nelson has received more than $212,000 in donations compared to Sturn, who received over $18,800 and put in $18,500 of his own money.
Bolstered by $217,000 in on-hand cash at the start of his fourth consecutive run at office, Nelson spent over $357,000 on his campaign in the last four months. The incumbent’s spending for his campaign more than triples how much the county executive’s 2023 salary of $112,299 would be.
In comparison, Sturn spent almost $32,000 — a drop in the bucket compared to Nelson’s expenditures.
Where is that money coming from?
Usually, local candidates get the majority of their donations from their constituency, however, Nelson’s previous position in the state Assembly and runs for U.S. House and U.S. Senate — which he held and ran as a Democrat — resulted in him receiving a large number of donations from outside the county. Sturn’s donations, on the other hand, came primarily from county residents.
Nelson drew a majority of his contributions from across the state and country, giving him the upper hand in donations during this race. Of his total contributions, 30% came from individuals and committees outside of Wisconsin. All of Sturn’s donations came from Wisconsin donors.
And while Nelson raised five times as much money as Sturn in total, Sturn raised more money locally, getting over $18,000 in donations from county residentscompared to Nelson’s $11,000 from his constituency.
For Sturn, $18,000 came from individual donors and $6,250 came from political action committees, including $200 from state Sen. Rachael Cabral-Guevara, R-Appleton, and $250 from state Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville.
Most of Nelson’s donations have come from individual donors as well, but he has also received a significant amount of money from PACs.
While the county executive office is nonpartisan, Nelson’s contributions reference his Democratic background. Notable donations include $16,000 from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and $3,800 from Gov. Tony Evers’ PAC.
How are the candidates spending their donations?
Nelson’s Democratic background also comes through in his expenditures as he paid over $18,000 to left-leaning organizations including:
- $3,500 in consulting fees with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin
- $12,000 in “campaign fees” with Progressive Campaign Consulting
- $2,600 to the Democratic fundraising nonprofit ActBlue Sturn spent the majority of his contributions on yard signs and advertisements, which includes:
- $2,800 on yard signs
- $19,300 on postcard and door hanger ads
- $4,900 on video, radio and newspaper ads Nelson’s campaign finance reports don’t specify the types of advertisements he spent money on, but show he spent $291,000 on “advertisements” and $2,800 on “mail and literature.”
Sophia Voight is a local government and political reporter with The Post-Crescent. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sophia_voight.