Legislators, Candidates Fail to Properly Disclose Nearly $47,000 in Large Contributions

Up 25 Percent Over Last Six Months Of ’99

August 23, 2000

Madison - Forty-nine legislators and legislative candidates violated state election laws by not disclosing required employment and occupational information about large individual contributors who made 171 donations totaling $46,902 during the first six months of 2000 (see list, PDF file), a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

The total represents a hefty increase - 25 percent - over the $37,631 of similar improperly disclosed contributions in the last six months of 1999.

Political campaigns are required by law to publicly disclose the occupations and employment of people who contribute more than $100. This requirement is important because it shows voters the special interests supporting the candidates, and the possible influence they wield over how those candidates vote on public policy.

Most of the 171 donations included no information about occupation or employment. In 51 cases occupational information was included, but it was so vague that it provided no clues about the contributor’s interest. Those occupational references included "self-employed, VP or Entrepreneur."

In 291 additional instances, legislative campaigns technically violated election laws by failing to identify the contributor’s employer. However the occupational information, which included "chiropractor, optometrist, realtor or doctor," at least provides the public with some description of the contributor’s interest.

Altogether, the 462 contributions that lack employment information total $130,252, or 20 percent of the $643,070 in contributions of more than $100 that legislative candidates received between January and June 2000.

Campaign reports with the most egregiously incomplete information about large individual campaign contributions included those filed by legislative leaders and veteran lawmakers in both houses and both parties (see table below). These lawmakers make key spending decisions involving the state’s $41 billion budget as well as other policy proposals that spend tens of millions of dollars.

TABLE
TOP* LEGISLATIVE CANDIDATES AND THE
AMOUNT OF IMPROPERLY DISCLOSED CONTRIBUTIONS
JANUARY - JUNE 2000

NAME PARTY  STATUS NUMBER OF CONTRIBUTIONS AMOUNT
Jensen R I 44 $10,000
Riley D I 12 $3,325
Panzer R I 5 $3,000
Nelson, L. R C 7 $2,900
Meyer D O 8 $2,514
Shibilski D I 9 $2,500
Hansen, Dave D C 5 $2,375
Drzewiecki R I 5 $2,250
Welch R I 8 $1,600
Harsdorf R C 4 $1,425
Clausing D I 7 $1,300
Cihlar D C 3 $1,125
Darling R I 4 $1,050
Albers R I 3 $675
Krug D I 3 $650
Huebsch R I 4 $600
Schneider D I 3 $550
Walker R I 3 $550
Carstensen D C 2 $500
Ehlenfeldt D O 1 $500
Petrowski R I 1 $500
Wasserman D I 1 $500
Chvala D I 1 $500
Lehman, M. R I 1 $500
Kedzie R I 1 $500

Key for Status: C=Challenger, I=Incumbent, O=Open Seat

At the top of the list is Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen of Waukesha, a likely candidate for governor in 2002, who also had the highest number of improperly disclosed contributions among legislative campaign finance reports filed in the last six months of 1999 - 50 contributions worth $9,400. In the most recent period, Jensen failed to disclose employment information about 44 large contributions worth $10,000.

Others who filed incomplete employment information and the value of those contributions are: Democratic Rep. Antonio Riley of Milwaukee, $3,325; Republican Senate Minority Leader Mary Panzer of West Bend, $3,000; and 16th Senate District Republican challenger Lisa Nelson, $2,900.

"Candidates have a legal obligation to disclose the occupation and employer of their big donors. In way too many cases, this required information is not being provided," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. "Now it’s the State Elections Board’s job to require them to obtain and disclose the information, and to take disciplinary action against those who haven’t complied with the law."

McCabe said enforcement of the disclosure law has been lax and should be stepped up. He also called for the law to be strengthened by requiring candidates to return contributions from those who give over $100 if the occupation and principal place of business of the donor are not provided. This provision is included in the "Voters First" campaign finance reform proposal the Democracy Campaign developed with 19 other public interest organizations.

"If candidates couldn’t accept these big donations until they had the required occupation and employer information, they’d get it. This problem would disappear overnight," McCabe said.

In addition to missing employment data, one legislator, Republican Rep. David Ward of Fort Atkinson did not file a complete report, which was due July 20, until Aug. 21. Others failed to disclose contributor information or contributions. Some examples include:

  • Democratic Sen. Gary George of Milwaukee failed to disclose $1,050 in individual contributions because he submitted a report containing two "page 5s’' and no page 6. The two "page 5s’' contained identical, itemized contributor information, which added up to $375, but had different page subtotals - $375 and $1,050. The larger total apparently applies to the missing page.
  • Republican Rep. Scott Walker of Wauwatosa identified the company owned by a contributor in the private prison industry only as "CCA" and provided no location for the business. CCA refers to Corrections Corporation of America located in Nashville, Tenn. Walker is chair of the Assembly Corrections and Courts Committee and supports allowing CCA and others to construct and operate private prisons in Wisconsin so that the state can contract with them to keep inmates here, rather than send them outside the state in order to alleviate overcrowding.
  • Democratic Rep. Antonio Riley of Milwaukee listed no employment data for a $200 contribution by Ned Bechtold, a prolific contributor from Waukesha who owns Payne & Dolan, a prominent company in the road-building industry.
  • Republican Sen. Robert Welch of Redgranite identified several longtime contributors - who gave a total of $1,100 - in the influential road building industry as "Contractor - Self-Employed" rather than listing the companies they own. In past reports, Welch’s campaign identified the companies.
  • On the lighter side, Democratic Sen. Gwedolynne Moore of Milwaukee listed a $325 individual contribution as a PAC contribution. But most may understand why because the contributor’s name is "Turns to the East."

Some state lawmakers raised large amounts of $100-plus contributions and managed to disclose the required information in every case. Those who raised the largest amount of properly reported $100-plus contributions were Democratic Sen. Roger Breske of Eland, who had 49 contributions totaling $13,075 and Republican Rep. Joseph Leibham of Sheboygan, who received 35 contributions totaling $9,275.

List of Improperly Disclosed Contrbutions (PDF File)