Senate Democrats, Assembly GOP Set Pace in Money Chase

Money Flowing to Power, Leadership Committees Sop Up PAC Cash,
Sources of Donations Reveal Little Difference Between Parties

September 7, 1999

Madison - Legislators and leadership-run campaign committees collected over $875,000 in campaign contributions in the first half of the year when state budget decisions were being made, according to an analysis of state campaign finance records by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Most of the money went to majority party lawmakers who control the budget process, with Senate Democrats and Assembly Republicans holding a wide fund raising lead over minority party members.

Majority Senate Democrats collected $299,786 in the first half of 1999. Assembly Republicans who control the lower house raised $294,183 in the six-month period. Minority Assembly Democrats came in a distant third, raising $164,035. Minority Senate Republicans brought up the rear with $117,711.

"Raising this kind of money at the same time major budget decisions are being made is unseemly at best. The fact that much of this money is coming from interests with a direct stake in the budget deepens the widespread perception that the budget is for sale," WDC Executive Director Gail Shea said.

"All the talk about limiting fund raising during the legislative session was mostly nothing but talk," Shea said. "This shows how much we need to reform our campaign finance system. Despite stated intentions, when push comes to shove legislative leadership is not willing to rein in fund raising."

Three findings of note emerge from the finance reports -- the majority party fund raising advantage, the role of legislative campaign committees as collection points for special interest political action committee (PAC) donations, and the striking similarities between the sources of Democratic and Republican money.

"What really jumps out is that campaign money flows to power, regardless of party or political ideology. It’s also very evident that the legislative campaign committees are the depositories for PAC money. Rank and file legislators get most of their money from individual donors, and the PAC money goes to the committees run by the legislative leaders," Shea said.

"What’s also very clear is that both sides are heavily reliant on the same interest groups to fund their campaigns. If where you get your money is indicative of what you stand for, there’s not that much difference between Republicans and Democrats," she said. "Most of the big lobby groups don’t choose sides. They hedge their bets and give to both parties."

Democrats and Republicans shared three of the interest groups that were among each party’s top four sources of contributions, the WDC report shows. Banking and finance interests, business interests and health professionals were among the top four donors for both parties. Lawyers and law firms were the top contributors to Democrats and were the fifth biggest source of contributions to Republicans. Manufacturers and distributors were second on the Republican list and seventh on the Democrats’.

The figures compiled by WDC show that legislators raised most of their money in individual contributions of $100 or more, while the legislative campaign committees controlled by legislative leaders relied on PACs for most of their money.

Assembly Speaker Jensen was the top individual fund raiser by a wide margin, bringing in $100,819 for the six-month period. Eight Senate Democrats who are up for reelection next year were in the top 10.

Report: Money Flowing to Power