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WASHINGTON — The role of out-of-state money in Wisconsin's gubernatorial race has drawn a fair bit of attention, but there are other races in the state where it may be playing an even larger role.

The seven members of Congress from Wisconsin running for re-election this fall have raised in this election cycle a combined $13.4 million as of last month, and a whopping $10.1 million of that came from outside the state.

On one level, their large out-of-state hauls are understandable given that their work in Washington affects interests outside the Badger State. But on another, they also serve to entrench and solidify incumbents' hold on their seats by scaring off potential challengers and leaving those who do run with little chance to compete.

Challengers to the seven Wisconsin congressional incumbents raised $1.1 million. Combined.

"It just makes it that much harder for candidates like myself to make sure that we're building the relationships and accumulating the resources that we need to be successful," said Kelly Westlund, a Democrat challenging GOP Rep. Sean Duffy.

The shares of out-of-state money ranged from just over half of the total raised by Republican Rep. Reid Ribble to 85% for Republican Rep. Paul Ryan.

And by at least one measure, the Wisconsin representatives are raising more from out of state than at least half their 383 colleagues who are running for re-election. When it comes to just individual contributions, half the incumbents have raised less than 22% from outside their home states, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan non-profit that tracks campaign contributions. All seven Badger State incumbents raised more than that from individuals outside Wisconsin.

A spokesman for Ryan, who has built a national reputation as chairman of the House Budget Committee and as the 2012 vice presidential nominee, said he is proud to have support from across the country.

"Badger State residents have long known that Congressman Ryan is a leader who is capable of solving the problems our nation faces," Ryan spokesman Andy Speth said. "Individuals across the country are recognizing this, too."

On the other end of the spectrum, Ribble suggested his strong ties with his district accounted for his raising a higher proportion from Wisconsinites than others.

"Just from my own perspective on this, I spent a lot of time at home. And quite frankly, the bulk of my fundraising happens at home, the support I have from people typically comes from home," he said. "I grew up in the district, I've been there for 35 years, I was a relatively prominent business guy, and so I think all of those things kind of play into it."

Duffy and GOP Reps. Ron Kind and James Sensenbrenner declined to comment. An aide to Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore said she was unavailable for comment amid staff changes in her office. Alex Nguyen, a spokesman for Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment.

Kind and Moore raised roughly 80% of their total campaign contributions from outside Wisconsin. Pocan and Duffy racked up about 60% from out of state contributors. Sensenbrenner's out-of-state share was 55%.

Looking at the amounts raised out of state — and who's giving how much — can give voters an idea about potential out-of-state influence on their representatives in Congress.

"A lot of voters consider it an indication of a lawmaker's connection to their home state if they're getting more of their money in state," said Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics.

In the gubernatorial race, challenger Mary Burke has assailed Gov. Scott Walker for raising more than half his money from out of state, while Walker criticized Burke for taking out-of-state contributions while at the same time saying she would like them banned.

Congressional challengers like Westlund say amounts raised from out of state, particularly large contributions from corporate political action committees and other special interest PACs, should raise questions in voters' minds about who Wisconsin's representatives in Congress are actually representing.

"There's a flaw in the system — and it's not just on the Republican side, it's on both sides — that our political system is already owned by people with the most money," asserted Westlund, the Duffy challenger. "If you look at the priorities that Congress is focused on, you can connect those decisions directly back to the companies that are funding the campaigns of those who are in elected office."

Ron Gruett, a Democrat and college professor trying to unseat Ribble, offered similar criticism.

"I've constantly been saying we have the best government money can buy," said Gruett. He noted that the only out-of-state contribution he's been promised is from his brother-in-law in Louisville, Ky., who "might send me $10."

Rob Zerban, a Democrat and former Kenosha County board supervisor who is seeking to unseat Ryan, said it's time to institute term limits — he wants to limit members of the House to six two-year terms and senators to two six-year terms.

"That gives you 24 years of service; You know what? That's more than enough," he said.

Zerban also thinks campaigns should be federally funded, with each candidate getting the same amount to spend and outside money banned altogether.

Amar Kaleka, a filmmaker facing off against Zerban in the Democratic primary Tuesday, agreed, saying the current system "demolishes the fabric of the democracy we wish to have here."

Still, he and the others are still open to accepting out-of-state money themselves, including from special-interest political action committees.

"It's almost impossible not to at this point," Kaleka said, "because they've raised the stakes of campaigning to the height of millions and millions of dollars."

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