The Special Interests and Money in the Prevailing Wage Fight

June 30, 2015

Business, construction, municipal utilities, and a conservative ideological group that spent more than $2.8 million in recent years to help elect GOP legislators are the influential special interests trying to change Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws.

Legislative efforts to change state and local prevailing wage laws, which set minimum pay requirements for companies chosen for state building projects, are among a handful of issues that Republicans who control the legislature have been unable to agree on in order to complete work on GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-17 state budget.

On Monday, Assembly Republicans, who have a 63-39 majority, introduced a plan that would sharply reduce the number of projects the law is applied to and the amount laborers are paid. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, who have a 19-14 majority, have yet to release their plan, but are reportedly considering exempting local governments from the prevailing wage.

But just as the legislature is split on how to handle the prevailing wage issue, so are some of the special interests that are weighing in.

A leading small business group, the Wisconsin chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, as well as municipal electric and water utilities, and Americans for Prosperity, a conservative electioneering group backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, want major changes or a repeal of prevailing wage. The business community and municipal utility officials contributed about $890,000 between January 2011 and December 2014 to current GOP legislators. Americans for Prosperity made no direct contributions, but spent an estimated $435,000 on outside electioneering activities between January 2011 and December 2014 to support GOP legislative candidates.

The construction industry is split on whether to change prevailing wage laws. Groups like Wisconsin Infrastructure Investment Now, Wisconsin Contractor Coalition, and the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association oppose a repeal, or major changes to prevailing wage laws, but Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin supports an overhaul or repeal.

As a whole, the construction industry contributed $1.5 million between January 2011 and December 2014 to current Republican legislators.

Among the top recipients of campaign contributions from business, construction and municipal utility interests are the Senate and Assembly GOP leaders whose houses are at a stalemate. Between January 2011 and December 2014, these special interests contributed about $335,000 to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and his caucus fundraising operation, the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, and about $162,000 to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and his caucus fundraiser, the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee.