The Money Behind Right-to-Work: Business Contributions Dwarf Labor Contributions

February 23, 2015

It’s not difficult to see why the Wisconsin legislature put consideration of a right-to-work bill as a special priority rarely afforded other policy proposals: Majority GOP legislators accepted $26 in contributions from business interests for every $1 in labor contributions since the beginning of 2013.

And, the ratio of business-to-labor contributions to Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who said he would sign a right-to-work bill if it reached his desk, is even greater: $302 to $1.

GOP legislative leaders scheduled an extraordinary session of the legislature this week to consider and approve a right-to-work law, which would prohibit requiring workers to make payments to unions as a condition of employment. Twenty-four states have right-to-work laws.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization and a powerful influence in state elections and policymaking, has spearheaded making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, arguing that the Badger State would become more attractive business, particularly manufacturing.

But unions and other opponents of right-to-work laws claim all workers should pay for the gains in salary and benefits that occur because of unions, and that right-to-work laws end up reducing workers’ wages.

Large individual and political action committee contributions from manufacturing, banking, insurance, construction, and other powerful business interests totaled about $2.8 million to current GOP legislators, who control the Senate 18-14 and the Assembly 63-36, between 2013 and July 2014. Meanwhile, labor interests gave GOP legislators $106,935.

Walker accepted about $9.9 million in large individual and PAC contributions from business interests, compared to $32,750 from labor between 2013 and July 2014.

Walker’s top business contributors between 2013 and July 2014 were the Bass family – Lee, Edward, Sid, and Ramona – of Fort Worth, Tex., owners of the Bass Companies, a hedge fund, $40,000; retired pharmaceutical executive Richard Roberts, his wife, Dvorah, and his children, Batsheva and Rivka, of Lakewood, N.J., $35,000; and Carl, Chart, Court and Kameron Westcott, of Dallas, Tex., owners of Westcott LLC, a private investment firm, $32,258.

Top business contributors between 2013 and July 2014 to current GOP legislators include retirees Grant and Carol Nelson, of Prescott, who operate the Nelson Family Foundation, $14,000; Terry and Mary Kohler, of Sheboygan, owners of Windway Capital, $12,000; and Pierre McCormick, of Venice, Fla., owner of Wisconsin Distributors, $8,500.

In addition to these top contributors, Diane Hendricks, owner of ABC Supply in Beloit, and a strong supporter of right-to-work laws, contributed $1 million to the state Republican Party in 2014 and has given Walker’s campaign more than a half a million dollars since he was first elected in 2010.