Legislators Glad Handing Outside Special Interests

Recent ethics poll results mirror WDC analysis of legislative contributions

July 5, 2006

Madison - Wisconsin legislators collectively raised nearly $3 of every $4 in large individual contributions in 2005 from well-heeled special interests outside of their districts who cannot vote for them, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

The WDC findings mirror the results of a Wisconsin Policy Research Institute poll released last week that showed most state residents feel legislators cater to the state policy and spending needs of big campaign contributors and special interests more than they serve their constituents.

For instance, WDC found that members of the Senate and Assembly raised 71.5 percent, or $1.12 million of their $100-plus contributions from wealthy outsiders and only 28.5 percent, or $448,715, from their constituents in 2005. Similarly, the poll found that 73 percent of respondents believe campaign contributors have more say than voters over the actions of legislators, and 81 percent believe special interest lobbying groups, whose members are often big campaign contributors, have more sway with politicians than constituents.

2005 out-of-district legislative fundraising was worse than out-of-districting fundraising during the last comparable period in 2003 when legislators raised $1 million, or 67.1 percent, of their large individual contributions from outside of their districts and $493,482, or 32.9 percent from their constituents.

By house, state senators raised a total of $678,613 in large individual contributions, including $473,937, or 69.8 percent from outside of their districts, and Assembly representatives raised $895,053 in large individual contributions, including $651,014, or 72.7 percent, from wealthy outsiders.

By party, legislative Democrats and Republicans were equally poor at putting their constituents before outside special interests. Legislators in both parties collectively raised 71.5 percent from wealthy outsiders. Senate and Assembly Republicans took in $1.29 million, including $920,225 from outside contributors, and Democrats accepted $286,155, including $204,725 from people who could not vote for them.

Similarly, the Research Institute’s pollsters were surprised to find that the public’s distrust of politicians and their wealthy contributors spans all political affiliations and demographic groups – Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, old, young and rural and city dwellers.

By the numbers, individual campaign finance records show most lawmakers are addicted to the money outside wealthy contributors give them. WDC found that 119 legislators raised large individual contributions in 2005, and:

  • Eighty-nine, or 75 percent, of those 119 raised 50 percent or more from outside special interests;
  • Seventy-one, or 60 percent, of them raised two-thirds or more of their money from wealthy outsiders;
  • Forty-nine, or 41 percent, of them raised 75 percent or more from outside their districts;
  • And 12 legislators raised 100 percent of their large individual contributions, ranging from $100 to $2,125, from outside special interests.

The top recipient of out-of-district money in the Senate was Republican Majority Leader Dale Schultz of Richland Center who decides what legislative proposals sought or opposed by powerful special interests make to the floor and are treated the way big contributors want by Republicans who hold a 19-14 majority. Schultz raised $136,240, or 80 percent, of his large individual contributions from outside special interests.

Following Schultz were Republican Senator Ted Kanavas of Brookfield, an avid fundraiser – even though he holds a safe GOP seat – who raised $55,900, or 69 percent, from wealthy outsiders, and freshman Republican Senator Ron Brown of Eau Claire whose seat is likely to be targeted by Democrats in this fall’s elections. Brown raised $34,373, or 73 percent, from contributors outside his district.

In the Assembly, the top three out-of-district fundraisers were Republican leaders who control a 59-39 majority and the fate of legislative proposals in that house. Topping the list was Assembly Majority Leader Michael Huebsch of West Salem who raised $84,207, or 89 percent, of his large contributions from outside special interests. Assembly Speaker John Gard took in $46,385, or 97 percent, of his contributions from outsiders. Assistant Majority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald of Horicon accepted $27,740, or 95 percent, of his large contributions from special interests outside his district.

Complete lists of legislators and the amount of contributions they accepted from constituents versus wealthy outsiders -- listed by total out-of-district and alphabeticllay -- are available with the links below.

Total Out-of-DistrictAlphabetical