Doyle’s DNR Flip-Flop Attuned With Big Contributors

Opponents of DNR secretary plan have given millions, supporters only thousands

September 1, 2009

Madison - Powerful special interests that oppose a legislative proposal to return control over the Department of Natural Resources secretary to a citizen board have contributed $4.14 million to Governor Jim Doyle since 2003 versus $17,175 by supporters of the plan, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review shows.

The sharp difference in campaign contributions between special interests that oppose and support the proposal amounts to a $241 to $1 ratio in contributions from 2003 through 2008 to Doyle, who surprised environmentalists in March when he said he opposed removing control of the DNR secretary from the governor. He favored giving back control over the agency’s secretary to the seven-member Natural Resources Board during his first campaign for governor in 2002 and before that when he was attorney general.

The hiring, firing and supervision of the DNR secretary had been done by a board from 1927 until 1995 when the legislature and former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson successfully shifted control over the DNR secretary to the governor. When that happened, then-Attorney General Doyle said letting governors hire and fire DNR secretaries was a “wholesale attack on the way we protect the environment.”

But since Doyle became governor his campaign has received 34 percent of its $12.24 million in large individual and political action committee contributions from special interest opponents of an independent DNR secretary. The opposition is led by the construction industry which gave Doyle $1.12 million from 2003 through 2008 (see Table 1) followed by the real estate industry at $865,703, the business community at $637,454 and manufacturers who have doled out $527,006.

Table 1
Contributions To Governor Jim Doyle From Special Interests
Opposed To Assembly Bill 138 And Senate Bill 113
2003 – 2008

Special Interest Amount
Construction $1,119,381
Real Estate $865,703
Business $637,454
Manufacturers & Distributors $527,006
Energy $393,378
Natural Resources $256,525
Road Construction $204,548
Agriculture $97,499
Operating Engineers Local 139 $33,676
Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin $1,325
TOTAL $4,136,495

On the other side, supporters of an independent DNR secretary have given Doyle one-tenth of a percent of his total $12.24 million in large individual and PAC contributions led by environmental groups at $10,875 and $5,500 from the union representing state public employees – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 24 (see Table 2).

Table 2
Contributions To Governor Jim Doyle From Special Interests
That Support Assembly Bill 138 And Senate Bill 113
2003 – 2008

Special Interest Amount
Environmental Policy $10,875
AFSCME Council 24 $5,500
American Federation of Teachers – WI $450
Citizens Utility Board $350
Total $17,175

Both sides offer a slew of philosophical, environmental and political arguments about who the DNR secretary should report to. Those who support having control over the DNR secretary by the governor say the agency is no different than other state agencies whose secretaries are appointed by the governor. They say a governor-appointed DNR secretary is more credible and effective and the governor is more responsible to the public for conservation policy than if the secretary is chosen by and environmental policy decisions are supervised by an unelected citizen board.

Supporters of returning control over the secretary to the Natural Resources Board, whose members are appointed to staggered six-year terms by the governor, say it would assure environmental policies are based on science and not skewed by political meddling from a governor who can strike deals with special interests whose projects may violate DNR regulations in exchange for campaign cash. They say the public is better served by taking control of the DNR secretary away from the governor because environmental policy is more buffered from influence by special interests.