Flip-Flops On DNR Bill Treated Kindly By Special Interests

Key legislators who abandoned bill got nearly $704,000 from like-minded special interests

March 31, 2010

Madison - Seventeen legislators who once supported removing the governor’s authority to appoint Department of Natural Resources secretaries but recently supported the governor’s veto of a bill to do that received $703,743 since 2005 from special interests who oppose the change, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review shows.

During the same period – from 2005 through 2009 – the 17 legislators received no contributions from special interests that support returning control of the DNR secretary to the Natural Resources Board.

Total campaign contributions from special interests that opposed the bill ranged from $4,450 to Democratic Representative Leon Young to $163,196 to Republican Representative Mike Huebsch (Table). These special interest contributions were 22 percent to 59 percent of their total large individual and political action committee contributions from 2005 through 2009.

Many of the 17 legislators were identified by environmentalists or in media reports as ‘yes’ votes to override the veto for a number of reasons. Some were sponsors of the bill or had initially voted for it. Others supported a bill in the 2007-08 legislative session to return control over the DNR secretary to the board.

Six of the 17 representatives – Democrats Leon Young and Josh Zepnick and Republicans Ed Brooks, Steve Kestell, Thomas Lothian and Brett Davis – were sponsors of the bill. But Davis and Lothian voted against the bill twice and then supported the veto. Brooks and Kestell initially voted for the bill, but then against it after changes were made by the Senate and then ultimately supported the governor’s veto. Young and Zepnick initially voted in favor of it and in favor of Senate changes to the bill, but then decided to uphold the governor’s veto.

Two representatives – Republican John Murtha and Democrat John Steinbrink – were not sponsors of the bill but initially voted for it. But then Murtha voted against Senate changes to the measure and supported the veto and Steinbrink voted to support the Senate’s changes but then supported the veto.

Nine representatives – Republicans Joel Kleefisch, Mike Huebsch, Scott Gunderson, Joan Ballweg, Daniel LeMahieu, Scott Newcomer, Don Pridemore, Kevin Petersen and John Nygren – did not sponsor the bill or vote for it even though they supported a similar bill in the 2007-08 legislative when the GOP controlled the Assembly.

Doyle surprised observers when he announced last spring that he no longer supported having the Natural Resources Board pick the DNR chief. That was the process for selecting DNR secretaries from the 1920s until 1995 when then-Republican Governor Tommy Thompson and the GOP-controlled legislature transferred control over the secretary’s appointment from the board to the governor.

Doyle, who was attorney general at the time, condemned the change. But as governor, Doyle has enjoyed $4.48 million in campaign contributions from 2003 through 2009 from special interests who want governors to control the DNR secretary. During the same time, Doyle has received only $17,375 from special interests who want the DNR board to control the secretary.

Doyle says DNR secretaries appointed by the governor are more credible and the governor is more responsible to the public for conservation policy than if the secretary is chosen and supervised by an unelected citizen board.

Hunters, anglers, environmentalists and other interests who want control over the secretary returned to the board complain that important environmental decisions made by the DNR have been too politicized because the governor has too much control over the agency.

After the Assembly vote to override the veto, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and others said pressure from business groups and other special interests that make large campaign contributions at election time influenced legislators.

Four of the most powerful special interests that affect state government policymaking and spending opposed removing the governor’s DNR appointment authority – business and manufacturing, real estate, construction and agriculture. In addition, transportation, natural resources and energy interests, Operating Engineers Local 139 and the National Rifle Association opposed the change.

Supporting the change in control over the DNR secretary were environmental policy and outdoor groups, American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 24, Citizens Utility Board and the League of Women Voters.


Supporters Of The DNR Secretary Bill Who Supported The Governor’s Veto

Legislator Party Contributions From
Of The Bill
Percent Of Opponents’
Contributions Of
Total Fundraising
Contributions From
Supporters** Of
The Bill
Leon Young D $4,450 22% $0
Joel Kleefisch R $35,350 38% $0
John Murtha R $82,721 47% $0
John Steinbrink D $10,850 45% $0
Josh Zepnick D $12,450 37% $0
Ed Brooks R $29,140 59% $0
Steve Kestell R $9,050 35% $0
Thomas Lothian R $18,300 44% $0
Brett Davis R $151,753 42% $0
Mike Huebsch R $163,196 39% $0
Scott Gunderson R $55,915 53% $0
Joan Ballweg R $9,150 34% $0
Daniel LeMahieu R $16,390 43% $0
Scott Newcomer R $37,001 36% $0
Don Pridemore R $8,360 32% $0
Kevin Petersen R $37,919 46% $0
John Nygren R $21,748 27% $0
TOTAL $703,743 41% $0

*Special interest opponents are business, manufacturing, energy, construction, agriculture, real estate, natural resources, transportation, Operating Engineers Local 139 and the National Rifle Association

**Special interest supporters are environmental groups, American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 24, Citizens Utility Board and League of Women Voters