Legislative Leaders Milk Special Interests for Record Cash

Leadership committee fundraising up 55%; nearly $1M raised in 2004

February 8, 2005

Madison - Legislative leaders tapped special interests’ pocketbooks to raise a record of nearly $1 million in 2004 through their four legislative campaign committees, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

A review of year-end campaign finance reports filed with the state Elections Board shows the committees (see table below) raised $973,767 in 2004. That is 55 percent more than the $626,738 the committees raised in the previous, comparable 2000 presidential election year.

Committee 2004 Fundraising
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee $481,493
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate $241,336
State Senate Democratic Committee $179,585
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee $71,353
Total $973,767

The total also edges the previous annual record of $940,325 set in 1996 (see chart below), a year whose political dynamics included a successful summer recall election that tipped control of the Senate to the Democrats. It was also the first general election year that Democrats had the opportunity to regain control of the Assembly after losing it in the November 1994 elections for the first time since the early 1970s.

Fundraising by legislative campaign committees in 2003-04 also set a record for a two-year election cycle, at $1,662,094. The previous high was $1,632,063 in the 1995-96 election cycle.

Legislative campaign committees are aggressive fundraising operations controlled by legislative leaders. The committees divert contributions that might otherwise go to political parties or candidates and increase the control legislative leaders have over rank and file lawmakers.

These committees also allow special interest contributors to cozy up to legislative leaders, who ultimately determine which legislative proposals survive and are sent on to the governor. For instance, lobbyists are prohibited from contributing directly to candidates except between June 1 and the November election in an even-numbered year. However, lobbyists can contribute to legislative campaign committees any time, including during legislative debate on the state budget.

Legislative leaders in the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate, as well as Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, who raised nearly $1.8 million in 2004 even though he is not up for reelection until 2006, have refused to introduce or support meaningful, comprehensive campaign finance reform. Instead, they are taking advantage of Wisconsin’s broken campaign finance system to raise as much money as they can.

Annual Fundraising by Legislative Campaign Committees