“BUY-PARTISAN” POLITICS IN WISCONSIN
October 1, 2003
Time and time again wealthy special interests claim that they contribute generously to candidates for the Legislature and statewide office in order to be good citizens, participate in the democratic process and support the political party and candidates whose policies and philosophy best reflect their view of government’s role in society.
This line often follows adamant denials that the timing and size of campaign contributions made by the individual or political action committee (PAC) had anything to do with successfully influencing policymakers to obtain policy, pork or spending decisions that benefited the contributor.
However, an analysis of campaign contributions by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign shows the reason most wealthy special interests contribute a lot of money to political campaigns is much less altruistic than their claims.
This report, “Buy-Partisan Politics in Wisconsin,” shows hundreds of individuals and PAC contributors donate generously to both Republican and Democratic candidates vying for control of the governor’s office, the Senate and the Assembly.
This “double giving” is nothing more than special interest bet hedging to gain influence regardless of the candidate who wins or the party that captures control of the governor’s office and the Legislature.
The report’s key findings are:
- The number of election year bet hedgers to the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor skyrocketed in 2002.
- Three of every $4 that the four legislative campaign committees (LCCs) accepted from PACs in 2001-02 came from special interests that gave to at least one Democratic and one Republican LCC. Over the long term, some PACs altered the size of their contributions to the LCCs in the Senate depending on party control, which changed five times between 1993 and June 2003.
- Nearly half of the 259 PACs that contributed to candidates for statewide office and the Legislature in 2001-02 gave to both GOP and Democratic candidates, particularly legislative leaders and multiple candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Well-heeled individuals representing special interests including builders, bankers, lawyers, health insurers and road builders, doled out contributions to both Democrat James Doyle and incumbent Republican Governor Scott McCallum in record numbers in the 2002 election year (see Appendix: Table 1).
WDC found that 325 donors made contributions to both Doyle and McCallum totaling $545,607 in 2002.
They represent a huge increase over the number of double givers in the previous two races for governor when only two donors made contributions totaling $1,300 in 1998 to Democratic candidate Ed Garvey and incumbent Republican Governor Tommy Thompson. In 1994, 36 contributors made a total of $42,244 worth of contributions to Thompson and Democratic candidate Chuck Chvala.
Many bet-hedging contributors in the 2002 race for governor initially contributed to McCallum and then switched their support to Doyle in the late summer and fall home stretch of the race. The switch coincides with numerous media polls and surveys that showed Doyle with a consistent slim lead over McCallum.
These contributors were undoubtedly more interested in establishing an influential relationship with both candidates, regardless of who would win, rather than supporting the candidate who matched their ideology.
Some of these contributors include:
- Kathleen Crampton, president of a Lake Geneva health maintenance organization contributed $2,250 to McCallum in February and April 2002 and later made two contributions totaling $1,500 to Doyle in September and October 2002.
- Jere Fabick, owner of an Oconomowoc heavy equipment rental company and a longtime supporter of Thompson, McCallum and mostly Republican legislative candidates contributed $7,388 to McCallum in January and March 2002 and later made a $5,000 contribution to Doyle in October.
- Kenneth Graham, an executive with HNTB Architects, Engineers and Planners in Milwaukee and a longtime supporter of Thompson, McCallum and mostly Republican legislative candidates contributed a total of $1,440 to McCallum between January and August 2002 and then contributed $5,000 to Doyle in late October.
- William Kennedy, president of a Janesville road-building company, contributed $1,888 to McCallum between January and mid-September 2002, and then slathered Doyle’s campaign with $4,500 in contributions in the three weeks leading up to the November election.
- William, David and Paula Kraemer, owners of Edward Kraemer & Sons Construction in Plain and major Thompson, McCallum and GOP contributors, gave McCallum $8,976 between January and June 2002 and then contributed a total of $7,900 to Doyle’s campaign between August and October 2002.
- George Steil, former Governor Thompson’s long-time personal attorney from Janesville contributed $1,052 to McCallum in February and May 2002 and then gave Doyle $500 after he was elected. His contribution to Doyle was Steil’s first large individual campaign contribution to any Democrat for legislative or statewide office since at least 1993.
Several other contributors made an even clearer case for bet hedging by contributing to both Doyle and McCallum on, or nearly on, the same day, including:
- Jose Delgado, president of American Transmission Company in Brookfield, made $250 contributions to Doyle on June 14 and to McCallum on June 28; $1,000 contributions to the candidates on September 24 and September 25; and a $1,200 contribution to McCallum on October 23 and a $1,000 contribution to Doyle on October 28, 2002.
- Thomas Radtke, owner of a Winneconne construction firm, contributed $3,000 to Doyle and to McCallum on October 29, 2002.
- Tim Michels, part owner of his family’s Brownsville road-building company and a GOP U.S. Senate candidate in 2004, gave $1,000 to McCallum on August 26 and $1,000 to Doyle on August 30, 2002.
- Larry Burcalow, president of a Middleton construction materials company, contributed $2,500 to Doyle and $1,500 to McCallum between October 15 and October 22, 2002.
- George Gialamas, a Madison real estate developer, gave Doyle and McCallum $2,500 each on August 28, 2002.
- John Sapp, a Michael, Best & Friedrich attorney in Milwaukee, contributed $1,553 to McCallum and $1,000 to Doyle on October 17, 2002.
In many cases, the special interests these contributors represent shared little or none of the pain that thousands of Wisconsin residents were dealt in the 2003-05 state budget that Doyle proposed and the Legislature approved.
The budget increases taxes, University of Wisconsin tuition, health care for the elderly and poor and other costs by $411 million. In addition, residents may be leaned on in the future to pay for a structural deficit and a potential increase in property taxes over the next two years totaling more than $1 billion.
Meanwhile, the budget and other legislative proposals provided breaks to special interests worth about $204 million. These breaks and previously identified pork, policy and favorable treatment for special interests were highlighted in a series of WDC “Graft Tax” reports and budget updates, and cost taxpayers an estimated $1,358 per year.
Three of every $4 that the four LCCs accepted from PACs in 2001-02 came from PACs that made contributions to both Republican and Democratic LCCs. The committees are the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, Committee to Elect a Republican Senate and the State Senate Democratic Committee.
Modern LCCs were created from revisions in state campaign finance and elections laws in 1979. They are aggressive fund-raising operations controlled by the four Republican and Democratic legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate. The funds they raise from wealthy special interest individual and PAC contributions are used to help elect candidates backed by legislative leaders.
When PACs donate to LCCs rather than the state parties, special interests are drawn closer to the policy-making process, creating a relationship between special interests and legislative leaders that often results in spending and policy decisions that cater to the special interests rather than the general public.
In 2001-02, the four committees accepted $606,509 from PACs, excluding party and candidate committee contributions. Of that amount, $455,311 or 75 percent came from PACs that contributed to at least one GOP and one Democratic LCC (see table below).
The Committee to Elect a Republican Senate had the highest proportion of contributions from bet-hedging PACs - 88 percent.
|Percent of Contributions |
|Committee to Elect a Republican Senate||$129,819||$114,570||88%|
|Republican Assembly Campaign Committee||$153,181||$127,381||83%|
|State Senate Democratic Committee||$184,260||$132,860||72%|
|Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee||$139,249||$80,500||58%|
The Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, which is controlled by Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer, received its top PAC contributions from some of the most powerful special interests to influence policymakers, including realtors, bankers, the teachers union and the agriculture and insurance industries.
However, most of the Republican Senate committee’s top PAC benefactors also contributed generously to the Senate and Assembly Democratic LCCs (see Appendix: Table 2).For instance, the Realtors PAC gave the Senate Republicans $12,000, the Senate Democrats $6,000 and the Assembly Democrats $4,000 in 2001-02. Volunteers for Agriculture, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s PAC, also gave Senate Republicans $12,000 and slid the Assembly Democrats $4,000. The Wisconsin Bankers Association State PAC and Banc One’s PAC gave Senate Republicans $17,000, but also contributed a total of $6,000 to the Senate Democrats and $5,000 to the Assembly Democrats.
The state’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) PAC, gave the Senate Republicans $6,500 and the Assembly Republicans $9,500. WEAC PAC also contributed a total of $26,000 to the Assembly and Senate Democratic LCCs.
Most private sector labor union PACs such as the United Auto Workers, Teamsters, AFL-CIO and the Operating Engineers contributed exclusively to Democratic LCCs and almost exclusively to Democratic candidates.
Meanwhile, PACs controlled by public sector labor unions such as WEAC and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees contributed to Republican and Democratic LCCs and a greater number of Republican candidates than private sector unions. Public sector employee salary increases, fringes and other contract matters are ultimately approved by the Legislature and it behooves those unions to kowtow to both Republicans and Democrats depending upon who is in control of the Legislature now, as well as in the future.
Aside from contributing to both Republican and Democratic legislative campaign committees, PACs varied the size of their contributions over the long term depending upon the party in power.
Between January 1993 and June 2003 majority control in the 33-member Senate changed five times. The party in control had only a razor-thin 17-16 majority during most of the 10½-year period (see table below).
|Time Period||Party in Control||Composition|
|January 1993 - April 19, 1993||Democrats||17-16|
|April 20, 1993 - June 4, 1996||Republicans||17-16|
|June 5, 1996 - April 7, 1998||Democrats||17-16|
|April 8, 1998 - November 2, 1998||Republicans||17-16|
|November 3, 1998 - November 6, 2002||Democrats||17-16, 18-15|
|November 7, 2002 - Present||Republicans||18-15|
An analysis of contributions to LCCs and individual candidates involving the 10 special interest PACs that made the largest total contributions during the 10½-year period shows that all but one - the Wisconsin Laborers District Council PAC - gave to both Democratic and Republican LCCs in both houses during the period. This labor union PAC gave only to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee and the State Senate Democratic Committee - a rare sign of ideological giving to its traditional political allies.
The remaining nine PACs contributed to all four Democratic and Republican LCCs. In some cases they varied their contributions to the Senate LCCs depending upon the party in control.
Realtors PAC, the top-giving special interest PAC to legislative candidates and LCCs at $382,585 between 1993 and June 2003, has contributed $183,075 to the four LCCs, including $119,075 to the Senate and Assembly Republican fundraising operations and $64,000 to the two Democratic LCCs.
While the realtors consistently gave more to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate even when the GOP were not in control of the Senate, they noticeably increased and decreased their contributions to the Senate Democrats’ fundraising committee. These fluctuations often coincided with whether the Democrats controlled the Senate.
For instance, the Realtors PAC contributed $6,000 to the Senate Democratic and Republican LCCs between January and April 1993 when the Democratic-controlled Senate was up for grabs due to three mid-April special elections. After those election results gave the GOP control of the Senate, the PAC only gave the State Senate Democratic Committee $1,000 over the next three years versus another $6,000 to the Senate Republicans’ fundraising committee.
After a June 1996 recall election gave back control of the Senate to the Democrats until April 1998, the PAC increased its contributions to the Senate Democrats’ committee to a total of $12,000.The GOP regained control briefly from April 1998 until the November general elections when the Democrats took the majority back and held it for the next four years. During that time the Realtors PAC increased its contributions to the SSDC to $15,000. After the Democrats lost control of the Senate in November 2002, the PAC contributed $6,000 to the Senate Republican LCC but nothing to the Senate Democratic committee through June 30.
WEAC PAC, the second-largest contributor PAC during the 10½-year period at $367,810, gave $153,000 to the four LCCs including $96,500 to the two Democratic caucus fundraising committees and $56,500 to the GOP caucus fundraising committees.
Between January and the April 1993 special elections WEAC PAC gave $6,000 to the State Senate Democratic Committee. However, after the Republicans took control WEAC PAC contributed a total of $12,000 to both the Senate Democratic and the Republican fundraising committees between April 1993 and June 1996 when Democrats regained control. In the two years that followed, WEAC gave the Democratic committee another $12,000 in contributions but reduced its total contributions to $6,000 to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate.
During the four years between November 1998 and November 2002 when the Democrats held majority control in the Senate, WEAC PAC continued giving substantially more to them - $14,000 to the SSDC versus $10,000 to CERS.WEAC PAC gave only to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee - $12,000 - from 1993 through 1996, a period that covers the 1994 elections that gave the GOP control of the Assembly and the 1996 elections when Republicans increased their majority.
In 1997, WEAC PAC made a $6,000 contribution to the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee prior to the GOP-controlled Assembly’s consideration of the 1997-99 state budget. From 1998 through 2002 WEAC actually contributed more to the Assembly Republican fundraising committee than it did to the Democratic committee - $18,000 versus $17,500. The dramatic increase in contributions to the Republican Assembly caucus during the past six years coincides with the GOP’s ever-increasing majority in the Assembly, which is now 59-40.
Two other top PAC contributors - Banc One’s PACs and the Wisconsin Builders/Building a Better Wisconsin PAC - gave to all four LCCs but almost always gave more to the committee whose caucus controlled the Senate.
Banc One’s PACs gave $222,700 to legislative candidates and LCCs from 1993 through June 2003 including $71,500 to the GOP fundraising committees and $51,000 to the two Democratic caucus committees.In spring 1993, Banc One’s PAC gave $4,500 to each of the two Senate LCCs leading up to the April special elections that put control of the Senate in Republican hands until June 1996. But during that time, the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate received $9,000 and the SSDC $4,000. When the Democrats regained control from June 1996 through April 1998, the PAC gave the Senate Democrats $5,500 and the Senate Republican LCC $3,500.
Between April and October 1998 when the GOP controlled the Senate, Banc One’s PAC gave the Senate Republican LCCs $2,000 and did not contribute to their Democratic counterpart. However, from November 1998 until the November 2002 election when the Democrats had control Banc One substantially increased its PAC contributions to a total of $10,000 to the SSDC.After the GOP regained control of the Senate in November 2002, Banc One’s PAC contributed $2,000 to CERS and $1,000 to the Senate Democratic LCC.
The builder’s Building a Better Wisconsin PAC contributed $3,000 each to the Senate Democratic and Republican fundraising committees in 1993 prior to the mid-April special elections. After the GOP won control the PAC gave the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate $7,000 and the State Senate Democratic Committee $1,150 through June 5, 1996 when the Democrats regained control of the Senate. During the next two years, the builders increased their contributions to the Senate Democrats to $2,000.
When the Republicans briefly regained control of the Senate between April and October 1998, the PAC cut its contribution to the Senate Democrats to $500. However, after the Democrats regained control in the November 1998 elections, the builders PAC contributed a total of $7,000 to Senate Democrats versus $6,000 to Senate Republicans through the November 2002 elections.
The Wisconsin Dental Association’s PAC, which contributed $158,501 to legislative candidates and committees, gave the two Republican caucus fundraising committees $38,750 and the Democratic committees $36,760.
Like the others, the PAC gave equal amounts - $6,000 - to the Senate GOP and Democratic LCCs in the first four months of 1993 leading up to the mid-April special elections. After the Republicans gained control, the PAC gave the GOP committee $2,000 versus $1,000 to the Democratic LCC over the next three years.
When the Democrats regained control in June 1996, until April 1998, the PAC increased its contributions to the State Senate Democratic Committee to $5,000. Later when the Democrats controlled the Senate from November 1998 until November 2002, the Dental PAC contributed a total of $9,410 to the Senate Democratic committee versus $7,750 to the Senate GOP committee.
Since the Democrats lost control of the Senate in November 2002 the PAC has contributed $2,500 to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate and only $500 to the State Senate Democratic Committee through June 30, 2003.
Nearly half of the 259 PACs that contributed to candidates for statewide office and the Legislature in 2001-02 gave to both Democratic and Republican candidates, sometimes even candidates who opposed each other for the same office.
In several cases, PACs contributed equal amounts - often $100, $250 or $500 - to dozens of candidates in both parties. In many cases, these bet-hedging PACs targeted Republican and Democratic legislative leaders, veteran legislators and the candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
Again the top-contributing PACs are WEAC and the realtors.
WEAC PAC contributed $114,000 to Republican and Democratic candidates for statewide office and the Legislature in 2001-02. Democratic candidates accepted the bulk of the cash - $104,100 - and Republicans accepted $9,900. The PAC contributed $1,000 to Republican Senator Dale Schultz and $500 each to GOP Representatives Sheryl Albers, Stephen Freese, Steve Kestell, Robin Kreibich, Michael Lehman, Dean Kaufert and Luther Olsen among others.
The Realtors PAC contributed a total $98,500 to all candidates including $82,900 to GOP candidates and $15,600 to Democrats including $6,000 to lieutenant governor candidate Kevin Shibilski and $1,000 each to Democratic Senators Tim Carpenter, Judith Robson, Robert Wirch and Gary George among others.
Other PACs made fewer contributions than WEAC and the realtors but targeted their contributions at the candidates for governor and legislative leaders - the policymakers who have the greatest impact crafting the state budget and deciding the fate of policy proposals that affect large as well as narrow special interests.
Alliant/Wisconsin Power & Light PAC contributed $7,200 to Republicans and $4,350 to Democrats in 2001-02, including $1,600 to five Democratic and Republican legislative leaders between late June and late July 2002 during the homestretch of legislative negotiations on a budget adjustment bill to close a $1.1 billion state budget deficit. In addition, the PAC contributed another $2,650 to the four Democratic and Republican LCCs during the same one-month period.
American Family PAC contributed $11,250 to Democrats and $4,150 to Republicans including nearly all of the candidates for attorney general, lieutenant governor and governor.
American Family contributed $1,500 on June 27, 2001 to former Democratic Senator Brian Burke’s campaign for attorney general. At the time, Burke was co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. Senate Democrats included in their version of the 2001-03 budget a $1.5 million bridge in the town of Burke that was sought by the insurance company without the approval of town officials. The bridge plan was also included in a compromise budget Burke helped negotiate and send to the governor.
After Burke was criminally indicted and dropped out of the attorney general’s race, American Family PAC contributed $500 to Democrat Peg Lautenschlager on June 27, 2002 and $500 to Republican Vince Biskupic on August 6, 2002. It also supported Democratic and Republican candidates for lieutenant governor giving Republican Margaret Farrow and Democrat Kevin Shibilski $500 each on August 8 and August 16, 2002.
In December 2001, American Family PAC doled out $2,500 in contributions to three candidates for governor - $1,000 each to McCallum and Doyle and $500 to Democratic candidate Tom Barrett. It later contributed $500 to Democratic candidate Kathleen Falk in March 2002 and another $1,000 to both Doyle and Barrett in June 2002.
The Tavern Industry PAC controlled by the Tavern League of Wisconsin contributed $23,400 to Democrats and $12,050 to Republicans including a total of $3,000 to Biskupic in August and October 2002 and $1,000 to Lautenschlager in October 2002.
TDS Telecommunications contributed $7,350 in 2001-02 including $4,600 to Democrats and $2,750 to Republicans. It contributed $1,500 to McCallum and $1,250 to Barrett in 2001. Later it contributed another $1,350 to Barrett and $500 to Doyle in 2002. The PAC also backed both Lautenschlager and Biskupic to the tune of $250 and $500, respectively, on June 28, 2002.
The Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, a labor union, contributed $35,900 to Democrats and $3,800 to Republicans in 2001-02. In 2001, the union gave a total of $2,500 to Doyle and $2,000 to McCallum. In 2002, the PAC threw its support solidly behind Doyle - giving him an additional $18,200.
However, after the Senate Republicans grabbed majority control in the November 2002 elections, the PAC contributed $1,000 to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate in April 2003 - its first contribution to that committee in nearly three years.
It also contributed $1,000 to each of the other three LCCs in February and April 2003 while the 2003-05 state budget was being considered by the Legislature. Of special interest to the firefighters and other local public employees were proposals to cut aid to local governments and a Republican shared revenue plan that sought to put police and fire services first in line for aid the state sends to local governments.