Lobbying organizations in Wisconsin spent just under $8 million more on their efforts influencing policy in the 2017-18 session than they did the session prior, according to data submitted to the state’s Ethics Commission.
Initial figures reported Friday show nearly 800 lobbying organizations racked up about $70 million and the equivalent of about 15,585 days, or 43 years, of work attempting to sway the course of Wisconsin lawmakers and officials.
That’s just under $8 million more than the $63 million lobbying groups spent over the 2015-16 legislative session, despite logging slightly more time: the equivalent of about 15,987 days, or about 44 years, of work.
Lobbying organizations are required by state law to report the total amount of time and dollars spent directly communicating with lawmakers or state officials, as well as the time and money spent preparing and researching for communications affecting current or future areas of legislation.
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For Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the nonprofit Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, an open government advocacy group, the increased amount of money spent on lobbying in the state is a harm for democracy.
“It looks like we’re in an ever escalating cycle of grotesque spending by lobbyists in Wisconsin who are throwing around ungodly numbers of dollars to get their way in the Legislature,” Rothschild said. “The average citizen does not have an equal say as to what laws are passed and what policies are pursued and that’s not how a democracy is supposed to work.”
A spokesman for the Association of Wisconsin Lobbyists did not immediately return a request seeking comment.
The group that spent the most money lobbying Wisconsin lawmakers and officials over the last legislative session was the conservative Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business organization that has consistently been a top tier spender on elections and lobbying.
Over the 2017-18 session, the group spent about $1.4 million on its lobbying effort, largely consistent with the $1.3 million it spent in the 2015-16 session, when it also was the state’s top spender.
According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, WMC, a supporter of former Gov. Scott Walker, has focused its lobbying efforts to push for lower taxes on businesses, environmental deregulation, changes to campaign finance laws, and the tax incentive package for electronics manufacturer Foxconn to build an LCD screen manufacturing facility in southeast Wisconsin.
The single largest piece of legislation the group was lobbying on over the 2017-18 session was a bill that would have made changes to the state’s workers compensation law.
Focus on Medicaid
The second-largest lobbying group over the latest session was the Wisconsin Hospital Association, which reported spending about $1.3 million, similar to the 2015-16 session, when it spent about the same amount and also clocked in as the second-biggest spender.
The organization, which is the lead membership and lobbying group for the state’s hospitals, is also involved in campaigns and electioneering. It has supported both former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, according to the Democracy Campaign.
Most of the Hospital Association’s money gets spent on lobbying. It has an interest in influencing policy related to health care, insurance, taxes, medical education and mental health and psychiatric care, among other things.
In the latest session, the single-largest topic the group lobbied on was Medicaid funding.
The third-largest lobbying group in the state over the latest legislative session, Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin, didn’t even have a presence in the state before 2017. The group spent $1.2 million and the equivalent of about 39 days to influence lawmakers to hold a statewide referendum asking voters to amend the state Constitution to strengthen protections for crime victims.
State lawmakers are likely putting off until next year a bill authorizing a referendum. The bill has received bipartisan support.
The effort in Wisconsin follows adoption of Marsy’s Law in states such as Illinois, California, Montana, and North and South Dakota.
The effort is bankrolled by tech billionaire Henry Nicholas, whose sister, Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, a California college student, was stalked and killed in 1983 by an ex-boyfriend.
Nicholas has spent more than $70 million in the states that put Marsy’s Law on the ballot, which Rothschild finds concerning.
“Marsy’s Law LLC is spending an astonishing amount of money for a one-issue, narrow organization,” he said. “Do we really want a billionaire from California deciding whether we should amend the Wisconsin Constitution or not?”
Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin, said the organization is proud of its effort.
“Our bipartisan coalition of more than 350 key endorsements from around Wisconsin includes brave survivors, an array of statewide victim advocacy agencies, every statewide law enforcement organization, over 200 local Chiefs of Police and more than 60 Wisconsin Sheriffs. We look forward to continued efforts in 2019 to fight for equal rights for crime victims,” Tanck said in a statement.
Also in the mix
Other groups have also spent significant sums during the 2017-18 session attempting to influence Wisconsin policymakers. They include:
- Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, $1 million
- Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, $900,000
- Wisconsin Realtors Association, $900,000
- Wisconsin Property Taxpayers, $900,000
- Americans for Prosperity, $900,000
- Wisconsin Counties Association, $800,000
- League of Wisconsin Municipalities, $800,000