The Big Boys Fight in Wisconsin Over ‘Dairyland’ Name

October 17, 2017

Wisconsin License Plate: 666-WMC

Two of the most powerful industry groups in Wisconsin are in a spat over “America’s Dairyland.”

Kurt Bauer, executive director of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), no longer wants that slogan to appear on Wisconsin’s license plates, which it has since World War II, according to an article by Mark Sommerhauser of the Wisconsin State Journal. Bauer wants to change it to “Forward,” which he thinks would be more attractive to millennials and more reflective of Wisconsin’s changing economy with the Foxconn deal.

But his suggestion, which was made at a WMC luncheon on Monday, has curdled the Dairy Business Association.

“Considering the dairy community’s continuing contribution to the culture and economy of our state, it would be disheartening to make such a change after nearly 80 years,” said Mike North, president of the Dairy Business Association, in a press release on Tuesday. “The dairy community — with its hard-working farm families, cheesemakers and host of other supporting businesses — has been the backbone of this state for well over a century. That heritage, and how far we have come, should be great sources of pride. Those are things to be celebrated, not hidden.”

It’s rare for WMC and the Dairy Business Association to lock horns. Typically, they lobby together to oppose corporate taxation and regulations on high-capacity wells and water pollution, among other issues. And with their combined power, they win victory after victory.

The Democracy Campaign estimates that WMC spent $25.9 million between 2006 and 2014 to support pro-business conservative and Republican candidates for governor, attorney general, Supreme Court and the legislature.

Much of WMC’s secret election spending has gone to support Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The group has doled out an estimated $9.5 million to help Walker win his 2010 general, 2012 recall, and 2014 reelection contests, with volleys of statewide television ads, like these –  here and here for a couple of examples– that praised Walker or attacked his Democratic opponent. WMC was the single biggest lobbyist in the first half of 2017.

The Dairy Business Association, for its part, is backed by dozens of wealthy special interest sponsors that have contributed more than $2.1 million to statewide and legislative candidates, including more than $710,000 to Republican Gov. Scott Walker in recent years.