An anti-gay extremist group is pouring big money into commercials for GOP senators facing recall elections on Aug. 9.
Wisconsin Family Action has spent at least $304,000 in recent weeks on broadcast ads smearing the Democratic opponents of two right-wing state senators. That’s a remarkable level of spending for the small evangelical group, according to political observers.
Although WFA is not required by law to disclose individual donors, contributors are likely to be some of the same out-of-state groups that are shoveling cash into Wisconsin senate races at levels never before seen in the state. WFA executive director Julaine Appling refuses to discuss the source of the group’s sudden windfall.
In a story that’s notable for its layers of oddity, Appling is a never-married single woman who’s lived for many years with Diane Westphall, another never-married single woman. The two currently share a home they own together in Watertown, and they also work side by side at WFA.
But despite the marital status of its leaders, WFA’s mission is to bolster the institution of “Christian” marriage. The group works to achieve this goal exclusively by fighting legal recognition of gay and lesbian relationships.
Appling spearheaded the successful 2006 campaign to amend the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state. She’s currently mounting legal challenges aimed at revoking the domestic partner registry law enacted by former Gov. Jim Doyle.
Yet the commercials paid for by WFA never mention gays, abortion or any other right-wing social issues. In fact, WFA’s most frequently aired ad attacks the driving record of state Rep. Fred Clark, who hopes to unseat Sen. Luther Olsen in Senate District 14, which stretches from Waupaca County to the eastern part of Sauk County.
“They’re not talking about gay marriage, they’re talking about (Sen.) Fred Clark accidentally hitting a bicyclist with his car,” said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate.
Tate said Appling was able to spend only about $200,000 for WFA’s flagship effort, the voter referendum that prohibited same-sex marriage and civil unions. Put in that perspective, Tate finds WFA’s sudden high-stakes position on issues outside its narrow purview to be alarming and suspicious.
“All of a sudden this little, tiny anti-gay outfit becomes a major player on the political scene? Come on. They’ve become a front group for somebody’s dirty cash,” he said.