WMC Backs Bill to Cloak Campaign Contributions

April 28, 2015

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, one of the largest dark money sponsors of negative electioneering activities in Wisconsin, is supporting a Republican proposal to reduce the amount of information candidates must disclose about special interest campaign contributions.

Current law requires legislative and statewide candidates to identify the occupation and employer of donors whose cumulative contributions exceed $100 in a calendar year. The legislative proposal, Assembly Bill 176, would require candidates to identify only the occupation of donors, and only when a donor’s total contributions to a candidate exceeds $500 in a two-year election cycle.

WMC, which spent an estimated $26 million on outside electioneering activities between 2006 and 2014, boasts more than 3,800 members from more than a dozen special interest groups, including business, manufacturers, construction, agriculture, tourism, transportation, energy, banking, real estate, legal, natural resources, road builder, health care, telecommunications and insurance interests.

If approved by the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate, AB176 would severely cripple transparency and the public’s ability to identify the powerful special interests that make large campaign contributions and their possible motives.

AB176 was sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Fond du Lac and Sen. Stephen Nass of Whitewater. Between January 2010, and Oct. 20, 2014, Thiesfeldt and Nass accepted 69 percent of their large individual and political action committee contributions from special interests represented by WMC, which amounts to about $73,300 for Thiesfeldt and about $58,600 for Nass.

Thiesfeldt’s top contributors between January 2010, and Oct. 20, 2014, were Patrick Michels, of Brownsville, president of Michels Corp., and his wife, Marysue, $3,000; Ronald Schmitz, a Fond du Lac insurance executive, and his wife, Susan, $2,828; and Gary Schwefel, of Fond du Lac, a lab technician with Consultants Laboratory of Wisconsin, and his wife, Carol, an Agnesian Healthcare employee, $2,350.

Nass’s top contributors between January 2010, and Oct. 20, 2014, were John Anderson, of Rockford, Ill., owner of Anderson Industries, and his wife, Anna, $2,000; James Liautaud, of Key Largo, Fla., president of Jimmy John’s, and his wife, Leslie, $2,000; and Nick Lesar, of Palmyra, a Weiler & Co. executive, and his wife, Janet, $1,450.