PAC Contributions Up Sharply in First Half of 2015

August 24, 2015

Special interest political action committees (PACs) contributed nearly $790,000 during the first six months of 2015, and most of it went to Republican Gov. Scott Walker and legislators who were considering a 2015-17 state budget loaded with policy and spending items lobbied on by many of those interests.

The contributions came from business, manufacturing, construction, real estate, agriculture, energy and other powerful special interests that use campaign contributions and lobbying to sway the governor and the legislature in order to benefit their pet programs and wish lists. Some examples of how Walker’s budget and changes to it by the GOP-controlled legislature benefited special interests are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here . Even a veteran Republican lawmaker felt that many of these non-fiscal, policy items had no place being in the state budget .

PAC contributions during the first six months of 2015 were up sharply from most of the comparable six-month periods in previous odd-numbered years (Bar Chart), except for the first half of 2011. Fundraising during 2011 was extraordinarily high because of nine state senate seats targeted for recall elections. Recall election rules allowed the targeted incumbents to raise unlimited amounts from individuals and PACs for several weeks before the 2011 recall elections.

Chart: PAC Contributions to Legislative and Statewide Officeholders During the First Six Months of Odd-Numbered Years

The top recipients of PAC contributions during the first six months of 2015 were Walker and four legislative fundraising committees used by Republican and Democratic Senate and Assembly leaders to raise money from special interests and spend on elections to defend or increase their legislative margins. Republicans currently control the Senate by a 19-14 margin and the Assembly by a 62-36 margin.

Walker accepted $237,000 from PACs during the first six months of 2015, followed by the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee at $148,575, the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate at $116,025, the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee at $101,778, and the State Senate Democratic Committee at $74,434.

PAC contributions between January and June 2015 were led by the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, one of the state’s most influential agriculture lobbying groups.

The Farm Bureau’s Volunteers for Agriculture PAC contributed $43,000 during the first half of 2015, including $30,000 to Walker and $6,000 each to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate and the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee. During that time, Walker’s proposed 2015-17 state budget sought cuts in fertilizer and plant additive fees and license fees on milk hauling tankers that could have saved the agriculture industry about $720,000. Walker and the GOP-controlled legislature ended up approving a state budget in July with $300,000 in fee cuts for the agriculture industry.

In a settlement last year with the Government Accountability Board, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation was allowed to donate $4,152 to its own charitable foundation in lieu of a fine for more than three years’ worth of illegal donations the group made to its PAC.

To check out how much other PACs gave to elected officials as well as how much your legislator received in special interest PAC money during the past six months, or any time period you choose, go to the Democracy Campaign’s PAC contribution search feature. The feature allows you to search PAC contributions by candidate, PAC name or special interest group for any period of time between 1993 and June 2015.