Gard Sets Record for Out-of-District Donations

Speaker also took more from outside Wisconsin than any legislator in 2003

April 20, 2004

Madison - In his first year as Assembly Speaker, John Gard raised more large individual contributions from powerful special interests outside of his Assembly District than any previous candidate for the Legislature, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

Gard raised $248,925 from individual contributors in 2003. Of that, $232,663 came in large individual donations - contributions totaling $100 or more in a year from the same contributor. Most of these large contributions - $227,708 or 97.9 percent - came from outside his district (see table below). Only $4,955 in large contributions came from people who could vote for him. Gard’s remaining individual donations - $16,262 - were contributions under $100. However a review of those found that at least $10,104 came from outside his district.

In addition to his own campaign committee, the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee controlled by Gard raised $173,110 in 2003.

Top Legislative Recipients of Large Out-of-District Contributions

John Gard R A89 2003 $227,708
Sheila Harsdorf R S10 1999-2000 $213,447
Nancy Mistele R S27 1995-1998 $193,173
Scott Jensen R A32 2000 $190,432
Alice Clausing D S10 1997-2000 $187,559

Gard represents portions of Marinette, Oconto and Brown counties but received thousands of dollars from special interests throughout the state and as far away as California, Texas, Maryland and Washington D.C. In addition to accepting the most out-of-district contributions, Gard also received the most out-of-state contributions - $15,025 - of any legislator in 2003.

Gard attracts money from afar because, as speaker, he is a key policy gatekeeper who determines which bills are approved by the Legislature and reach the governor’s desk. Special interests contribute to legislative leaders, and especially Gard, to get the pet projects, perks or state spending they want, or items that they oppose shot down.

For instance, Gard received $30,350 in 2003 - more than any other legislator - from road builders and transportation interests who benefited handsomely from Gard’s leadership role. Earlier this year Gard killed a legislative proposal that would have ended automatic annual increases of Wisconsin’s gasoline tax, which is one of the highest in the nation at 32.1 cents per gallon. The measure had the support of Democrats and Republicans but was opposed by road builders because the gasoline tax pays for the ever-growing list of multi-million contracts they receive to build roads.

During debate last summer on the state’s 2003-05 state budget and ways to cut spending to close a $3.2 billion deficit the Assembly increased the governor’s proposed transportation budget by adding 99 delayed road projects worth $250 million and four new long-term construction projects that cost $629 million. The Assembly also approved a $50 million a year spending increase for road projects by diverting auto sales taxes from the state’s general tax fund.

The Assembly’s action came a month after a mid-May fundraiser by Gard at the home of a Janesville road builder. It was one of three fundraisers Gard scheduled that month outside of his district while the budget was under consideration. The other fundraisers were scheduled at country clubs in Racine and Fond du Lac.

Gard has been criticized for collecting an $88 a day expense allowance while living much of the time in his $158,000 house in Sun Prairie just north of Madison. Legislators who live outside Dane County may claim $88 a day for expenses when they are working in Madison. Legislators who live in Dane County may claim $44 a day. Gard claims he is entitled to the larger allowance even though he has a home near Madison because his official address is Peshtigo.

Other key findings WDC made involving 2003 out-of-district contributions were:

  • Republicans received more than three times more large individual contributions from outside their districts than Democrats - $776,763 versus $230,462.
  • Legislative candidates accepted twice as much in large individual contributions from outside their districts as from inside - $1,007,225 versus $493,482 (see Appendix).
  • Eighteen of 132 legislative candidates - nine Republicans and nine Democrats - accepted 100 percent of their 2003 large individual contributions from outside their districts, ranging from a total of $100 to a total of $8,195 by Representative Dean Kaufert, who is co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.
  • Eighty of 132 legislative candidates accepted 50 percent or more of their large individual contributions from outside their districts.
  • Assembly candidates received substantially more large out-of-district contributions than Senate candidates - $626,241 versus $380,984.