Money Shouts at Capitol
Special Interest Giving Mirrors Legislative Votes
February 23, 2004
Madison - Legislators who voted with powerful special interests on key legislative proposals received more than four times more campaign contributions on average from those wealthy contributors than legislators who did not side with them, a new Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.
The Democracy Campaign reviewed Assembly and Senate votes on eight legislative proposals since November and the amount of campaign contributions legislators received from special interests with a stake in the bills. WDC found that legislators who voted with special interests supporting the measures collected $10.36 million and those who did not received $2.29 million from wealthy contributors with an interest in the issues.
In one case, legislators who voted with special interests received 48 times more money from those interests than those who voted against the proposal.
"Money doesn’t talk in state government, it shouts. You can predict votes on bills with amazing precision just by following the money trail," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. "The sad conclusion reached when you analyze roll call votes is that money buys legislation in Wisconsin, and it is bought long before the day a bill is debated. Organized money does it by filling the Legislature with people in tune with the interests of organized money."
The bills WDC examined were passed by the Assembly or Senate and ranged from so-called "job creation" proposals to plans to expand Milwaukee’s school choice program and restrict minimum wage increases.
In several instances, the special interests supported or opposed these bills at public hearings, usually in Madison. However, their positions were not identified on the Wisconsin Ethics Board website where a wider slice of the general public has the best opportunity to see the power brokers who anoint policy benefiting them at the expense of the general public.
The following are descriptions of the bills, the legislative vote and the contributions accepted by legislators from 1993 through June 30, 2003 from wealthy contributors with an interest in the legislation:
Assembly Bill 734, which partially deregulates telecommunications services, was backed by the business and manufacturing community and approved 57-37 by the Assembly. Those who voted for the bill have received $845,962 from those special interests while those who opposed the proposals have received $125,286 from those contributors.
James Buchen, a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce lobbyist, supported the bill at a January 15, 2004 hearing, according to legislative committee records. However, the Ethics Board shows WMC’s position remains "undisclosed" as of February 23.
Assembly Bill 732, which eases financial guarantees sand and gravel pit operators must make to local governments for land reclamation, was backed by business, manufacturing and road building interests and approved 58-36 by the Assembly. Legislators who voted for the bill received nearly eight times more contributions from those special interests than those who voted against it - $1,076,249 versus $137,061.
WMC lobbyist Buchen and Patrick Stevens for the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, the road builders’ lobbying group, supported the bill at a January 15, 2004 public hearing but their organizations’ positions were not disclosed on the Ethics Board website as of February 23.
Assembly Bill 727, which changes restrictions on patient health care records, was supported by bankers, business and manufacturing interests, health maintenance organizations and hospitals and approved 59-35 by the Assembly. Supporters of the bill received seven times more contributions from those special interests than those who voted against it - $1,305,972 versus $182,143.
WMC and the Wisconsin Bankers Association, which supported the bill at a public hearing January 15, 2004, are not identified on the Ethics Board website as of February 23 as being in favor of the proposal.
Assembly Bill 733, which makes it easier for out-of-state real estate agents to get Wisconsin licenses, was backed by the Wisconsin Realtors Association at a January 27 public hearing and later approved 57-38 by the Assembly. Legislators who voted for the bill have accepted $320,898 from the Realtors and those who voted against it received $72,280. As of February 23 there was no record at the Ethics Board of the group’s position on the bill.
Assembly Bill 626, which gives employers tax credits for training apprentices, was backed by the construction industry and would cost the state $11.7 million a year. It received no public hearing other than a public vote of approval by the Joint Finance Committee before the Assembly approved it 59-37 last November.
Those who voted in favor of the bill have received $1,332,136 from construction interests since 1993 while those who voted against it have accepted $186,160 from the industry.
Assembly Bill 633, which prohibits local governments from setting their own minimum wage rates, was supported and opposed by powerful special interests. The measure was approved 55-40 by the Assembly. Supporters were business, manufacturing, transportation, lawyers and tourism interests who have contributed $1,550,999 to those who supported the proposal and $481,997 to those who opposed it.
Opponents of the measure - labor unions and local governments - have contributed $273,796 to those who voted against it and $66,297 to those who favored it.
Lobbyists for the National Federation of Independent Business, Wisconsin Merchants Federation and the State Bar of Wisconsin testified in favor of the bill at public hearings November 3 and December 8 but the groups’ position remained undisclosed with the Ethics Board as of February 23, 2004.
Assembly Bill 746, which would allow pupils in the Milwaukee school choice program to attend charter schools outside the school district at state cost, was approved 62-33 by the Assembly. The school choice program has been supported by business interests in Milwaukee and outside of the state. Through the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce political action committee and conduit and the Fund for Choices in Education conduit, school choice supporters have contributed 48 times more money to those who backed the bill - $79,125 - versus only $1,650 to the 33 legislators who voted against it.
Meanwhile, the state’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, and groups representing school administrators oppose the bill. Legislators who opposed this proposal have received $64,136 from these special interests while those who supported it received $46,320.
Wisconsin Charter Schools Association lobbyist Senn Brown supported the measure at a January 14, 2004 public hearing but that position remained undisclosed with the Ethics Board as of February 23.
Paste date here
Senate Bill 246, which seeks to cut the amount of time businesses have to wait for permits by imposing deadlines on state agencies, was backed by a host of powerful special interests that would benefit from the bill: Business, manufacturers, construction, realtors and agriculture, as well as SBC and outdoor billboard interests. The Assembly approved the bill 64-35 and the Senate 20-13. Those who voted for the bill have accepted $3,733,188 from these interests and those who voted "no" received $765,848 from those industries.
Lobbyists for the Wisconsin Builders Association, Wisconsin Economic Development Association and the Wisconsin Biotechnology Association supported the bill at a September 16, 2003 public hearing but there was no record of the groups’ position on the Ethics Board website as of February 23, 2004.
Several criteria were used in choosing which bills to review. The proposals had to be the subject of a roll call vote in at least one house. Additionally, measures were chosen whose ultimate fate is still to be determined because they have not reached the governor’s desk to be signed into law or vetoed. And the bills had to have publicly documented friends or foes whose campaign contributions can be traced. For instance, two measures that took up much of the Legislature’s time but for which special interest donations cannot be adequately traced were proposals to allow people to carry concealed weapons and to redefine marriage.
Campaign finance law only requires contributors to reveal their employer and occupation when they contribute more than $100 in a year. They are not required to disclose connections to social, ideological or political organizations that sometimes may be the impetus to support a particular candidate.
Excel spreadsheets showing the campaign contributions to each legislator from special interests with a stake in the legislative proposals reviewed in this report are available on here.