Skip to main content
  1. News
  2. Politics
  3. Policy & Issues

Gun rights win, big money loses in Wisconsin sheriff’s primary

See also

Anti-gun billionaire Michael Bloomberg and a well-financed Wisconsin group that dumped big money into an effort to beat pro-gun rights Milwaukee County, Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke yesterday won the Democratic primary, 52-48 percent, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The Clarke victory is being discussed on the Washington Post and Washington Times websites this morning. According to the reports, Bloomberg dumped $150,000 – more than Clarke and his primary opponent, police Lt. Chris Moews spent combined – into the effort to beat Clarke.

Sheriff Clarke is the lawman who famously last year encouraged his constituents to arm themselves and get training for personal protection. His messages raised hackles with anti-gunners, but earned for Clarke the recognition of gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association. The effort to unseat him appears to have been largely influenced by opponents of his pro-gun ownership/pro-self-defense philosophy.

Clarke spoke earlier this year at the NRA convention in Indianapolis. This column met Clarke at the airport following the event, chatting briefly, and he was entirely comfortable with the notoriety he has received.

According to the Journal-Sentinel, when the last of the absentee ballots were counted early this morning, Sheriff Clarke finished 4,644 votes ahead of Moews. The Washington Times headlined its story on the victory noting that Bloomberg’s money was “up in smoke.”

Yesterday’s results in Milwaukee County offers hope to beleaguered gun rights advocates in Washington State who are now the financial underdogs in the “dueling initiatives” battle. Proponents of Initiative 594, as reported yesterday, have raised at least $3.4 million and have big money infusions from billionaire Steve Ballmer and his wife, along with a relative handful of other wealthy folks.

Money can buy advertising, but according to Sheriff Clarke, “The voters can’t be bought.” The Journal-Sentinel described the money spent against Clarke as “an avalanche of outside campaign dollars.” In addition to the Bloomberg expenditure, the Washington Post article pointed to a $400,000 “supportive TV and radio advertising” effort by a group called the “Greater Wisconsin Committee.”

An earlier story in the Journal-Sentinel mentioned another group, Independence USA, that bought advertising critical of Clarke. The race got lots of national attention, and the outcome does signal that beating big money is tough, but not impossible.

This is another setback for Bloomberg. Last year in Colorado, he spent a reported $350,000 in an attempt to thwart the recall of two anti-gun Democrat state senators for supporting that state’s new gun control laws.

The difference between what happened in Colorado and Milwaukee County, and what is unfolding in Washington, is that the initiatives are statewide measures. The Colorado recall and yesterday’s primary were local elections. The initiatives battle is a statewide contest, and it amounts to Seattle versus the rest of the state, if Public Disclosure Commission reports here and here are any indicator.

In the Evergreen State, the “avalanche” of money appears to be coming from the greater Seattle area. The PDC report on I-594 contributions shows a lot of four- and five-figure donations. The report on I-591 shows a lot of considerably smaller double- and sometimes triple-digit contributions, from all around the state.

While Washington gun rights activists might be discouraged by the big money piling up against them, they are encouraged by yesterday’s primary in Wisconsin.

Advertisement