School Voucher Supporters Top Out-of-State Givers

$1 in $5 came from proponents of expanding school choice

May 7, 2008

Madison - School voucher supporters contributed $1 of every $5 in large individual campaign contributions state policymakers accepted from special interests outside Wisconsin in 2007, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review shows.

Large individual contributions from outside Wisconsin totaled $205,603 or 7 percent of the nearly $3.1 million in all large individual contributions accepted by the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, legislators and the four legislative leadership committees in 2007. The contributions came from 33 states, Puerto Rico and Kenya with Illinois topping the list at $31,700 followed by California at $20,150 and Texas at $18,950.

Leading the list of out-of-state special interest contributors was school choice supporters at $41,825 followed by payday lending company executives at $27,600, attorneys at $13,500, and a gay rights advocate who contributed $10,000.

The top recipients included the State Senate Democratic Committee at $25,800, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle at $24,070, the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee at $13,500, the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee at $11,750, Republican Senator Alberta Darling at $9,025 and GOP Assembly Speaker Michael Huebsch at $8,850.

A look at the top 12 recipients of out-of-state contributions in 2007 (see Table 1) shows outside interests target their contributions to those who decide Wisconsin’s social and spending policies and enforce our laws – the governor, attorney general and three legislative leaders. The three legislative leadership committees on the list are key tools used by leaders to collect special interest cash to help their colleagues at election time.

Table 1
Top* Recipients of 2007 Out-of-State Contributions to
Wisconsin Officeholders and Legislative Leadership Committees

RECIPIENT PARTY AMOUNT
State Senate Democratic Committee D $25,800
Governor Jim Doyle D $24,070
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee D $13,500
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee R $11,750
Darling, Alberta R $9,025
Assembly Speaker Michael Huebsch R $8,850
Wirch, Robert D $6,200
Kapanke, Dan R $5,850
Breske, Roger D $5,555
Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald R $5,075
Assembly Minority Leader James Kreuser D $4,750
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen R $4,650

*For a complete list see Table 3 below.

The four leadership committees combined collected a record $55,150 from out-of-state contributors (see Bar Chart).

Bar Chart: 2007 Out-of-State Large Individual Contributions to Legislative Leadership Committees

The leading pro-school-voucher supporters were among the top overall out-of-state donors in 2007 (see Table 2), including Jim and Lynne Walton of Bentonville, Arkansas and Christy Walton of Jackson, Wyoming whose families own Wal-Mart at $15,800; Richard Sharp, of Richmond, Virginia, a retired Circuit City executive at $9,450; and Dick and Betsy DeVos, of Grand Rapids, Michigan whose family founded Amway at $6,150.

Table 2
Top* 2007 Out-of-State Contributors to
Wisconsin Officeholders and Legislative Leadership Committees

CONTRIBUTOR CITY STATE EMPLOYER AMOUNT
Jim & Lynne Walton Bentonville AR Wal-Mart Stores $10,500
Tim Gill Denver CO Gill Foundation $10,000
Trevor L. Ahlberg Irving TX Cash Store $9,750
Rick Sharp Richmond VA Retired $9,450
Dick & Betsy DeVos Grand Rapids MI Alticor/Windquest $6,150
Charles E. Johnson Boca Raton FL Not Disclosed $5,500
Harriet Horwitz-Meyer Chicago IL Ounce of Prevention Fund $5,500
Harold L. Ahlberg Irving TX Cash Store $5,500
Christy Walton Jackson WY Wal-Mart Stores $5,300
Allan Jones Cleveland TN Check into Cash $5,150
Bill & Susan Oberndorf San Francisco CA SPO Partners $5,000
John McConnell Jr. Providence RI Motley Rice $4,500
Anthony & Irene Antoniou Oak Brook IL Anvan Corp $4,000
Larry Neilson Sammamish WA Plum Creek Timber $3,250
Robert Lennon Bethesda MD Attorney $3,000

* Table shows contributors of $3,000 or more in 2007.

Milwaukee’s school choice program spends about $120 million a year in state tax dollars to let about 18,500 children attend private religious and nonsectarian schools rather than Milwaukee Public Schools.

The top recipients of out-of-state pro-voucher campaign cash were Darling at $7,175 followed by the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee at $4,550, Republican Senator Dan Kapanke at $2,500, Huebsch at $2,350 and Democratic Representative Jason Fields at $2,300.

In addition to direct contributions to Wisconsin candidates over the past several years, All Children Matter, a Michigan-based pro-voucher group that has political action committees in several states, has spent more than $1.5 million in the 2004 and 2006 elections on phony, negative issue ads, most of which had nothing to do with the school choice issue. Some of their activities drew a complaint pending before the state Government Accountability Board that accuses All Children Matter of laundering $90,000 in corporate contributions through its Virginia PAC which later sent $35,000 to an All Children Matter PAC in Wisconsin to spend on negative electioneering in some 2006 legislative races. The complaint also said the Virginia PAC was not registered in Wisconsin when it transferred the money.

All Children Matter’s Virginia and Ohio PACs were recently fined a total of $5.2 million for similar activity in the 2006 Ohio elections.

Second among out-of-state contributors were payday lending company executives from Texas, Ohio, Illinois and Tennessee who contributed $27,600 to Wisconsin legislators and statewide officeholders in 2007.

Payday lending industry contributions to Wisconsin officeholders ballooned with the number of outlets the industry has opened in the state – from two in 1995 to more than 400 today. The industry has been at or near the top in out-of state special interest contributions each year since the late 1990s. During that time seven legislative proposals to control the fees and interest rates of up to 500 percent they charge have failed to pass the legislature. This past session, four of those bills died in the Republican-led Assembly without a public hearing.

Heading the list of payday industry contributors were Trevor and Harold Ahlberg of Irving, Texas who own Cash Store at $15,250, Allan Jones of Cleveland, Tennessee who owns Check into Cash at $5,150 and Jared and A. David Davis of Cincinnati, Ohio who own Check N Go at $4,000.

Leading recipients of out-of-state payday lender contributions were the State Senate Democratic Committee at $5,650 followed by Republican Representative Scott Newcomer and Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Jim Kreuser at $2,750 each, Huebsch at $2,000 and Democratic Senator Robert Wirch at $1,750.

Out-of-state lawyers ranked third in contributions to Wisconsin officeholders in 2007 at $13,500. Topping the list of contributors are John McConnell Jr. of Providence, Rhode Island at $4,500, Robert Lennon of Bethesda, Maryland at $3,000 and David Robbins of Calabasas, California at $1,000.

Democratic Governor Jim Doyle collected $3,400 from out-of-state lawyers followed Lieutenant Governor Barb Lawton who accepted $1,500. Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, Democratic Senators Roger Breske, Dave Hansen and Wirch and Democratic Representative Sheldon Wasserman each got $1,000.

Fourth among out-of-state special interest contributors was a gay rights advocate who contributed $10,000 in 2007. Tim Gill of Denver, Colorado and founder of software maker Quark and two foundations and political groups that back gay rights issues made $5,000 contributions to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee and the State Senate Democratic Committee on December 21. Gill has a short history of campaign contributions to Wisconsin candidates. His first contribution in Wisconsin was in 2006 when he gave Doyle’s reelection campaign $10,000.

Nearly a quarter of the 2007 out-of-state contributions – $50,120 – came from 83 contributors who had never before made large individual contributions to partisan officeholders in Wisconsin. The new faces were led by Lennon, the Bethesda, Maryland attorney who gave $3,000 to Doyle.

Three other new top givers gave $2,500 each. New York financial planner Louis Kreisberg contributed $1,000 each to Hansen and Breske and $500 to Huebsch. Thomas Begel, owner of Chicago investment firm TMB Industries contributed $2,500 to Doyle and Armand Brachman, of Long Lake, Minnesota and owner of Dominium Inc. a real estate development company contributed $500 each to Republican Representatives John Murtha, Jeffrey Mursau, Brett Davis, Mary Williams and Huebsch.

Two legislators received contributions from outside the U.S. Democratic Representative Pedro Colon accepted $2,000 from four contributors in Puerto Rico who work for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, a hospital, a coffee grower and an insurance company. Republican Representative Rich Zipperer accepted $250 from a contributor in Nairobi, Kenya who works for Diageo, a worldwide liquor distributor.

Complete List of Officeholders and Leadership Committees

Table 3
2007 Out-of-State Contributions to
Wisconsin Officeholders and Legislative Leadership Committees

RECIPIENT PARTY AMOUNT
State Senate Democratic Committee D $25,800
Doyle, Jim D $24,070
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee D $13,500
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee R $11,750
Darling, Alberta R $9,025
Huebsch, Michael R $8,850
Wirch, Robert D $6,200
Kapanke, Dan R $5,850
Breske, Roger D $5,555
Fitzgerald, Scott R $5,075
Kreuser, James D $4,750
Van Hollen, JB R $4,650
Colon, Pedro D $4,630
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate R $4,100
Hansen, Dave D $3,950
Kanavas, Theodore J R $3,950
Newcomer, Scott R $3,850
Davis, Brett H R $3,250
Kedzie, Neal R $3,250
Fitzgerald, Jeff R $2,825
Jorgensen, Andy D $2,800
Murtha, John R $2,600
Hintz, Gordon N D $2,550
Mason, Cory D $2,525
Williams, Mary R $2,500
Lawton, Barbara D $2,312
Fields, Jason M D $2,300
Miller, Mark D $2,300
Nelson, Thomas D $2,300
Nerison, Lee A R $2,250
Mursau, Jeffrey L R $2,200
Moulton, Terry R $2,115
Hines, JA R $1,850
Van Roy, Karl R $1,750
Wasserman, Sheldon D $1,721
Coggs, G Spencer D $1,500
Plale, Jeffrey D $1,450
Taylor , Lena C D $1,200
Smith, Jeffrey E D $1,100
Lassa, Julie D $1,000
Tauchen, Gary R $1,000
Sherman, Gary D $900
Nygren, John R $850
Montgomery, Phil R $600
Hraychuck, Ann D $500
Ott, Jim R $500
Suder, Scott R $500
Zepnick, Josh D $500
Harsdorf, Sheila R $450
Vos, Robin R $450
Lazich, Mary R $350
Schultz, Dale R $350
Sheridan, Michael D $350
Shilling, Jennifer D $350
Friske, Donald R $250
Kessler, Frederick P D $250
Zipperer, Rich R $250
Gunderson, Scott R $200
Gundrum, Mark R $200
Kramer, Bill R $200
Meyer, Dan R $200
Carpenter, Tim D $100
Garthwaite, Philip C D $100
Hilgenberg, Steve D $100
Hixson, Kim D $100
Jauch, Robert D $100
Kreitlow, Patrick J D $100
Lehman, John D $100
Musser, Terry R $100
Richards, Jon D $100
Soletski, Jim D $100
Stone, Jeff R $100
Vinehout, Kathleen D $100
TOTAL $205,603