Lobbyist’s Pay-to-Play Memo Turns Out to Be Prophetic, Analysis Shows

October 15, 2001

Madison - An April memo from a prominent lobbyist to his clients describing Senate Majority Leader Charles Chvala’s shakedown of special interests for campaign contributions proved prophetic as donors changed their giving patterns to meet demands the lobbyist said Chvala made, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review of the latest campaign finance reports shows. 

Three Democratic senators named in Quarles & Brady lobbyist Tony Driessen’s memo as Chvala’s "highest priority" candidates hauled in an average seven times more in campaign contributions than their colleagues, the WDC analysis shows.

Driessen also claimed Chvala pressured special interests to contribute more money to Senate Democrats, informing his clients that the majority leader "will not look favorably upon groups" that give more collectively to the 56 Assembly Republicans than they give the 18 Senate Democrats. Indeed, the campaign contribution data show special interest donors reversed recent practice and gave more overall to Senate Democrats than they gave Republicans who control the Assembly.

A Chvala spokesman dismissed the memo when it was made public in May, saying "this is Tony Driessen’s view of the world" and denying any connection between public policy making and campaign contributions.

"It turns out Tony Driessen’s view of the world was right. The big donors followed orders with amazing precision," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said, noting that Chvala’s reported meetings with interest groups coincided with the legislature’s work on the 2001-03 state budget that was later loaded with dozens of breaks and benefits for big and small special interests.

The WDC analysis of campaign contributions to legislators found:

  • Large individual and political action committee contributions to Senators Kimberly Plache of Racine, Judy Robson of Beloit and James Baumgart of Sheboygan skyrocketed between the first quarter and the second quarter of 2001 after Chvala’s meetings with lobbyists about his new fundraising policies (see Charts 1, 2 and 3). They raised between 486 percent and 2,169 percent more money in the second quarter.
  • This trio raised substantially more money than their 12 Democratic and Republican colleagues who face re-election in 2002 (see Chart 4). In the second quarter, the three increased their fundraising 787 percent - to an average $36,024 each - and accepted seven times more money than the average $5,048 raised by their colleagues. This compares to the average $4,060 Plache, Robson and Baumgart raised in the first quarter, which was just over twice as much as the average $1,843 raised by their colleagues.
  • Plache and Robson finished among the top five recipients of campaign contributions in half of 20 broad special interest categories, often placing behind only candidates running for statewide office and legislative leaders. Plache was the top recipient of contributions by tourism and business interests, and Robson’s highest ranking was No. 3 in contributions from road builders and transportation interests. An analysis of more narrowly-defined special interest groups also revealed that Plache and/or Robson were among the lead recipients of campaign cash from accountants, liquor distributors, outdoor advertisers and fireworks purveyors. A recent WDC report showed that these were among several special interests that made substantial campaign contributions and were offered numerous financial and policy breaks by the Senate Democrats and Assembly GOP during budget deliberations. 
  • While state law prohibits registered lobbyists from contributing during consideration of the budget, it does not prohibit the spouses and families of lobbyists nor regular employees of lobbying firms to contribute to legislators. An analysis shows that Plache received the most large individual contributions of any legislator - $2,700 - from employees or family members of lobbyists. Robson was fourth with $1,250 and Baumgart fifth with $1,000 in large individual contributions. They all placed well ahead of contributions to several legislative leaders. From 1998 through 2000, Plache had received only $276, Robson $550 and Baumgart $0 from lobbyists or their families and employees.
  • Nearly all the 52 contributions of $500 or more to Plache, Robson and Baumgart between January and June 2001 were from contributors outside the senators’ districts who had not made a large individual contribution to any of them in at least four years. None of Baumgart’s seven contributions of $500 or more came from inside his district or from someone who had made a large contribution to him in at least the last four years. Of Plache’s 31 contributions of $500 or more, only one came from inside her district and only four came from people who had contributed to her campaign in the last four years. Of Robson’s 14 contributions of $500 or more, only two were from inside her district or from individuals who had contributed to her in the last four years. 
  • Senate Democrats got more contributions than the other caucuses from 17 of 23 major special interest groups (see Table), compared to the first six months of 1999 when they received the most contributions from only four of the 23 groups. Senate Democrats raised more in large individual and PAC contributions than each of the other three caucuses - $555,746. This also beats the $546,904 in large individual and PAC contributions raised by all four caucuses combined during the comparable January-through-June 1999 budget period. 

The strong-arm fundraising tactics detailed in Driessen’s memo would be stopped if the legislature enacts Senate Bill 104, which includes a prohibition on fundraising during the state budget process, McCabe said. Senator Chvala indicated last week he now supports SB 104, which was introduced in March by Senator Michael Ellis of Neenah. The bill was approved on a bipartisan 4-1 vote by the Senate Judiciary, Consumer Affairs and Campaign Finance Reform Committee in July, but has not yet been scheduled for a vote in the full Senate.

CHART 1
TOTAL LARGE INDIVIDUAL AND PAC CONTRIBUTIONS
TO SENATOR BAUMGART
DURING THE FIRST TWO QUARTERS OF 2001

Chart: Large Individual and PAC Contributions to Senator Baumgart First Two Quarters of 2001

(Baumgart raised $540 in the first quarter and $12,250 in the second quarter,a 2,169 percent increase in fundraising in a non-election year)

CHART 2
TOTAL LARGE INDIVIDUAL AND PAC CONTRIBUTIONS
TO SENATOR PLACHE
DURING THE FIRST TWO QUARTERS OF 2001

Chart: Large Individual and PAC Contributions to Senator Plache First Two Quarters of 2001

(Plache raised $5,160 in the first quarter and $57,865 in the second quarter,a 1,021 percent increase in fundraising in a non-election year)

CHART 3
TOTAL LARGE INDIVIDUAL AND PAC CONTRIBUTIONS
TO SENATOR ROBSON
DURING THE FIRST TWO QUARTERS OF 2001

Chart: Large Individual and PAC Contributions to Senator Robson First Two Quarters of 2001

(Robson raised $6,480 in the first quarter and $37,956 in the second quarter,a 486 percent increase in fundraising in a non-election year)

CHART 4
COMPARISON OF AVERAGE LARGE INDIVIDUAL AND PAC CONTRIBUTIONS TO BAUMGART, PLACHE AND ROBSON,
AND THE REMAINING SENATORS FACING 2002 RE-ELECTION
January - June 2001

Chart: Comaprison of Large Individual and PAC Contributions to Baumgart, Plache, Robson and Remaining Senators Facing 2002 Re-Election

TOTAL LARGE INDIVIDUAL AND PAC CONTRIBUTIONS
BY SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP TO THE LEGISLATIVE CAUCUSES
January - June 2001

INTEREST GROUP SENATE
DEMOCRATS
SENATE
REPUBLICANS
ASSEMBLY
REPUBLICANS
ASSEMBLY
DEMOCRATS
Agriculture $4,175 $2,250 $12,350 $200
Banking & Finance $45,768 $28,975 $40,405 $10,357
Business $39,960 $15,750 $19,531 $1,875
Civil Servants/ Public Employees $3,690 $1,625 $1,975 $400
Construction $17,309 $11,900 $25,944 $3,900
Defense $0 $100 $100 $0
Education $11,175 $1,500 $6,595 $2,125
Energy $6,350 $3,450 $5,155 $1,500
Health Professionals $41,300 $16,260 $22,055 $4,700
Health Services/Institutions $32,675 $5,300 $20,375 $950
Insurance $26,383 $14,765 $28,375 $1,700
Labor Unions $80,405 $4,000 $2,600 $11,750
Lawyers/Law Firms/Lobbyists $41,726 $12,360 $15,120 $7,600
Manufacturing & Distributing $41,475 $16,200 $25,115 $4,341
Natural Resources $27,540 $3,900 $11,240 $1,600
Non-Profit/Social Services $7,920 $950 $350 $950
Political/Ideological $10,391 $9,806 $5,792 $2,587
Real Estate $24,803 $19,760 $19,005 $5,250
Retirees/Homemakers $9,420 $11,250 $11,100 $2,100
Road Construction $13,768 $700 $8,200 $500
Telecommunications & Computers $14,200 $7,775 $7,419 $1,520
Tourism & Entertainment $41,150 $6,420 $15,544 $3,483
Transportation $14,163 $8,700 $18,491 $1,550

Figures in bold show the caucus that received the most contributions from the special interest.