Walker, GOP Legislature Tending Special Interest Wish Lists

March 2, 2011

Madison – Republican Governor Scott Walker and majority GOP legislators accepted about $2 of every $3 in campaign contributions from wealthy special interests who are now seeing some of their long-sought tax breaks and other spending and policy priorities become law, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Some of the items which were introduced at the governor’s request in January were lifted from the legislative agenda of the state’s largest business organization – Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce – which also supports Walker’s union-busting budget repair bill at the center of the Capitol protests.

Special interests contributed $7.91 million directly to Walker from January 2009 through October 18, 2010 and spent another $6.9 million on outside electioneering activities like negative broadcast ads to support him. Republican legislators who control the Assembly 57-38-1 and the Senate 19-14 accepted $3.89 million in large special interest contributions and got $3 million in additional support from outside groups. The entire legislature accepted $6.47 million in large special interest contributions from January 2009 through October 18, 2010.

Here are some of those special interest bills, which added about $140 million in business tax breaks and other spending to the state’s projected $3 billion-plus deficit through 2013, and the amount that special interest supporters and opponents of those measures contributed to Walker and GOP legislators from January 2009 through October 18, 2010:

  1. A $48 million tax exemption for individuals who want to sink money into health savings accounts to pay future medical bills. Republicans who generally support the exemption say it is one way to help consumers pay for medical bills, while Democrats who generally oppose the exemption say it’s nothing more than a tax break for rich people and does nothing to control health care costs. Ten Democrats voted with GOP legislators to pass the bill.

    Eleven powerful special interests including the business, construction, banking, real estate, insurance and agriculture industries contributed $5.09 million to Walker from January 2009 through October 18, 2010 which represents 64 percent of the $7.91 million in total large individual and political action committee contributions he accepted during the period. Republican legislators elected last fall received $2.49 million from those 11 special interests, which was 64 percent of the $3.89 million they accepted from all special interests.

    Labor unions, which opposed the bill, contributed $27,460 to Walker which was three-tenths of 1 percent of his total large contributions and $75,863 to legislative Republicans which was 2 percent of their total large contributions.

  2. Limits on injury and product liability lawsuits and the awards that can be collected against businesses. The measure was passed along party lines. Republicans generally support tort changes, saying Wisconsin’s legal climate discouraged businesses from locating or expanding here because it left them victim to frivolous lawsuits while Democrats generally oppose these measures, saying they put corporate profits ahead of people’s safety.

    Ten special interest groups led by bankers, manufacturers and health professionals contributed $2.42 million to GOP legislators – about 62 percent of all their $3.89 million in large special interest contributions. Opponents of the measure – labor unions, lawyers and environmentalists – contributed $224,763 or about 6 percent of the Republican legislators’ large contributions.

    Walker accepted $4.6 million from special interests who supported his tort bill – about 58 percent of his $7.91 million in total large special interest contributions. The bill’s opponents contributed $321,969 or 4 percent of Walker’s large special interest contributions.

  3. Giving Walker authority to approve the scope and content of administrative rules developed by state agencies in order to enforce laws passed by legislators. Republicans generally support the bill because rules can go beyond legislative intent. Democrats generally oppose the measure because it gives the governor too much power and intrudes on the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government. The measure was approved by the legislature nearly along party lines.

    Nine special interest groups who supported the measure gave Walker $3.91 million, or 49 percent of his total large contributions, led by manufacturing, construction and banking interests. Environmentalists who opposed the bill contributed nothing to Walker from January 2009 through October 18, 2010.

    Those nine special interest groups also contributed $1.82 million to GOP legislators, or 47 percent of their total large individual and PAC contributions. Environmentalists opposed to the bill contributed a total of $750 to two Republican legislators.

  4. Requiring a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate and the Assembly in order to increase income, sales or corporate taxes. Sales and corporate taxes have not been raised since 1982 and 1981, respectively. Individual income taxes vary by income and a new bracket of 7.75 percent for the highest income earners was created in 2009. The bill was approved by the legislature nearly along party lines.

    Six groups that supported the bill, including manufacturing, construction and banking interests, contributed $3.02 million to Walker which was 38 percent of his total large contributions. Labor unions opposed the bill and contributed $27,460 to the governor which was three-tenths of 1 percent of his $7.91 million in total large contributions.

    Those six special interest groups that supported the bill also contributed $1.37 million to legislative Republicans which was 35 percent of their total $3.89 million in large contributions. Labor contributed $75,863 to Republican legislators which was 2 percent of their total large contributions.

  5. Creating a tax credit for out-of-state businesses that come to Wisconsin for at least two years. The credit, estimated to cost about $1 million over the next two years, would be equal to the amount of a business’s income or franchise tax liability. Supporters claim the bill, which was approved on bipartisan votes of 82-12 in the Assembly and 24-9 in the Senate, was part of a package of measures to help improve the state’s business climate. Critics said the measure was mostly symbolism and lacked the substance to attract new business to the state.

    Six special interest groups that supported the bill including manufacturers, construction, banking and business contributed $3.21 million, or 41 percent, of Walker’s total large contributions.

    Those same six special interest groups contributed $1.96 million, or 30 percent, of the $6.47 million in total large special interest contributions accepted by all legislators. Legislative Republicans accepted $1.46 million from those interests and Democratic legislators accepted $498,618 from those interests.

  6. Increasing by $25 million the state’s Economic Development Tax Credit program which already had $75 million in unused credits sitting in its account. The credits are used to reduce a business’s income tax liability.

    Five special interest groups that supported the bill, including manufacturing, construction and banking interests, contributed $3.02 million, or 38 percent, of Walker’s $7.91 million in large contributions.

    Those five special interest backers of the bill, which was approved on bipartisan votes of 82-12 in the Assembly and 25-8 in the Senate, contributed $1.78 million, or 28 percent, of the total large contributions accepted by all legislators. Republican legislators accepted $1.32 million from those interests compared to $457,922 accepted by legislative Democrats.

  7. Creating a new program to reduce small business income and franchise taxes by $66 million over two years. Republicans defend the measure saying it is among a number of proposals designed to improve the state’s business climate while Democrats say it does too little to significantly stimulate job creation.

    Four special interest groups that supported the proposal, including construction, banking, business and transportation interests, contributed $2.19 million to Walker or 28 percent of his total $7.91 million in large contributions.

    The four special interests that backed the bill, which passed on bipartisan votes of 60-33 in the Assembly and 25-8 in the Senate, also contributed $1.56 million, or 24 percent, of the total $6.47 million in large contributions to all legislators. Republican legislators accepted $1.14 million from the bill’s backers and Democratic legislators accepted $418,956.