Legislative Leaders Went on Special Interest Fundraising Spree during Budget Debate

August 10, 2015

Republican and Democratic legislative leaders raised nearly $1 million from special interests during the first six months of 2015, the same time the legislature was considering the 2015-17 state budget.

The extent of legislative fundraising during the state budget process is significant because the multi-billion dollar, two-year budget is the state’s major policy and spending package. The state budget is also the only bill that must be approved in some form by the legislature, which means it is heavily lobbied by business, manufacturing, transportation, construction, and other powerful special interest groups.

Fundraising was led by four Senate and Assembly Republican and Democratic campaign committees used by legislative leaders to raise money from special interests and spend on elections. During the first six months of 2015, the four legislative campaign committees (Table) raised nearly $811,000 and had about $669,000 in their campaign accounts as of June 30.

The fundraising by these committees also highlights the flow of money to power. Republicans hold comfortable 62-36 and 19-14 majorities in the Assembly and Senate, respectively. Majority control of both houses of the legislature allows Republican leaders to determine how much the state budget spends on hundreds of policies and programs.

The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee raised the most, bringing in more than $268,000 and having nearly $325,000 in the bank, followed by the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, which raised more than $214,000 and had nearly $171,000 in its campaign account as of June 30.

Legislative Campaign Committee Fundraising

Committee Fundraising
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee $268,496.79
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate $214,531.45
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committe $169,412.01
State Senate Democratic Committe $158,521.40
Totals $810,961.65

In addition to the four legislative campaign committees, the personal campaign committees of some of the legislative leaders were also among the top fundraisers between January and June, 2015.

Personal fundraising by legislative leaders was led by Republican Sen. Alberta Darling, of River Hills, who raised $64,220. Darling is the longtime co-chair of the legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, which considers the governor’s proposed budget before it goes to the full legislature for action. The committee’s other co-chair, GOP Rep. John Nygren, of Marinette, raised $23,144.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, accepted $44,084, and GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, of Burlington, raised $15,537 from special interests during the first six months of 2015. In addition to leading their respective Republican majorities, Fitzgerald and Vos control the legislative agenda.

Other legislative leaders and their six-month fundraising totals were: Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse, $7,606; Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, of Kaukauna, $1,805; Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, of Kenosha, $1,700; and GOP Senate President Mary Lazich, of New Berlin, $750.