Mine Backers Drill With Big Cash To Ease Regulations

Special interests that favor new mining rules hold $610 to $1 contribution advantage

January 28, 2013

Madison – Special interests that back loosening mining regulations for a Florida company that wants to dig an open pit iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin have contributed $15.6 million to the Republican-controlled legislature and GOP Governor Scott Walker who are likely to approve mining permit changes in the coming months.

The Democracy Campaign review also found the campaign contributions made by mining deregulation interests swamped those of mining deregulation opponents – environmental groups – by a ratio of $610 to $1. Environmental groups which oppose the Republican mining proposal introduced in mid-January contributed only $25,544 to legislators between 2010 and June 2012 and to the governor between 2010 and April 23, 2012.

Support for a nearly identical GOP proposal last session to reduce groundwater, wetland, waste rock disposal and other environment laws for iron ore mining and impose deadlines on the state to review mine proposals so companies can get permits faster was led by manufacturing, construction, business, banking, transportation and four other special interests, according to state lobbying records.

This array of powerful special interests support mining deregulation because they will benefit from the short- and long-term construction and operation of Gogebic Taconite’s proposed mine in Ashland and Iron counties. Gogebic Taconite is a Wisconsin-based subsidiary of the Cline Group which controls large coal mining operations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois and Ohio.

Walker, who has campaigned around the state to gin up support for changing rules to attract mining projects, received $11.34 million from 2010 through April 23, 2012 from interests that support mining deregulation (Table 1) including $67,068 from the prospective mine’s owner, Christopher Cline, his employees and other mining industry executives. During the same period, Walker received only $650 from environmental groups.

The legislature, which is controlled by Republicans 59-39 in the Assembly and 18-15 in the Senate, received $4.25 million from 2010 through June 30, 2012 from interests that support mining deregulation (Table 2) including nearly $13,000 from Cline, his employees and other mining industry executives. During the same period, legislators received only $24,894 from environmental groups.

This mining deregulation bill much like the failed proposal in the last legislative session is generally backed by Republicans who claim it will create hundreds of needed jobs in northern Wisconsin and the rest of the state and opposed by Democratic legislators who claim the job creation benefits are uncertain and that both bills allow iron ore mining practices that will hurt the environment.

Republican legislators and two legislative campaign committees used by legislative leaders to milk special interests for campaign cash to use on elections received $3.38 million or 79 percent of the contributions made by mining deregulation interests. Democratic legislators and their two legislative campaign committees received $875,866 or 21 percent of the contributions made by mining deregulation interests.

Republican legislators accepted an average $43,878 each from mining deregulation interests compared to an average $16,220 accepted by each Democratic legislator between 2010 and June 2012.

Twenty-one legislators and legislative campaign committees used by legislative leaders to milk special interests for campaign cash to use at election time received $50,000 or more in campaign contributions during the two-and-a-half-year period from the special interests that back mining deregulation. Most of the top recipients – 18 – were majority Republican legislators and about a third of them were targeted incumbents or challengers involved in some of the 13 Senate recall races in 2011 and 2012 where candidates spent an estimated $50.7 million (Table 3).

Topping the list of those who received campaign cash from interests that back mining deregulation was veteran Republican Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills who accepted $467,293. Darling spent a record $1.23 million during the 2011 recall elections to keep her job. Darling was followed by the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate – one of the four legislative campaign committees Democratic and Republican Senate and Assembly leaders use to rake in special interest cash to spend at election time – which raised $313,413. GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau, who was a recall target in 2012, rounded out the top three raising $262,735. 

Table 1
Contributions To Republican Governor Scott Walker
From Special Interests That Support Mining Deregulation
2010 – April 23, 2012

Special Interest Amount
Construction $3,669,252
Banking & Finance $2,556,062
Manufacturing & Distributing $2,298,402
Business $1,062,517
Transportation $752,372
Road Builders $583,191
Utilities $205,226
Taverns & Restaurants $192,483
Labor* $20,000
TOTAL $11,339,505

*Total represents political action committee contributions from the Operating Engineers Local 139, Wisconsin Pipe Trades Association and Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters which supported last session’s mining proposal.

Table 2
Contributions To The 2013-14 Legislature
From Special Interests That Support Mining Deregulation
2010 – June 2012

Special Interest Amount
Banking & Finance $919,341
Manufacturing & Distributing $856,910
Business $654,997
Construction $597,696
Transportation $349,882
Utilities $294,027
Taverns & Restaurants $229,111
Road Builders $211,896
Labor* $140,989
TOTAL $4,254,849

*Total represents political action committee contributions from Operating Engineers Local 139, Wisconsin Pipe Trades Association, Wisconsin State Council of Carpenters, Wisconsin Laborers District Council and the Iron Workers District Council which supported last session’s mining proposal.

Table 3
Top Legislative Recipients* Of Campaign Contributions
From Special Interests That Support Mining Deregulation
2010 – June 2012

Legislator/Committee Office Party Amount
Alberta Darling S08 R $467,293
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate S R $313,413
Scott Fitzgerald S13 R $262,735
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee A R $178,419
Terry Moulton S23 R $173,820
Sheila Harsdorf S10 R $158,580
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee A D $158,209
State Senate Democratic Committee S D $156,894
Leah Vukmir S05 R $111,200
Jerry Petrowski S29 R $105,823
Howard Marklein A51 R $79,131
Robin Vos A63 R $78,570
Tom Tiffany S12 R $74,915
Sandy Pasch A10 D $73,103
Luther Olsen S14 R $71,956
Frank Lasee S01 R $60,413
Tom Larson A67 R $56,380
Robert Cowles S02 R $53,978
John Klenke A88 R $52,609
Glenn Grothman S20 R $52,439
Travis Tranel A49 R $51,539

*Table represents legislators and committees who received $50,000 or more from special interests.