Age-Old Rivalry Is A No-Contest Match

Campaign contributions from business interests
swamp labor contributions for Democrats and Republicans

May 29, 2007

Madison - Business interests have made $12 in campaign contributions for every $1 labor unions have given to candidates for statewide office and the legislature since 1995, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.

WDC found business interests made $67.4 million in large individual and political action committee contributions compared to labor’s $5.8 million between 1995 and 2006 to candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the legislature and legislative leadership committees.

The business-versus-labor-contribution ratio is even larger – $13 to $1 – when narrowed to candidates for governor and their running mates and the legislature – the public officials in charge of state policymaking and spending decisions.

During the three races for governor (see chart) in 1998, 2002 and 2006, campaign contributions by business special interests blew away labor contributions. The widest gap was $30 to $1 in the 2006 election cycle, followed by $29 to $1 in 1998 and $10 to $1 in the 2002 gubernatorial election cycle.

Chart
Business and Labor Contributions In Gubernatorial Election Cycles

Chart: Business and Labor Contributions In Gubernatorial Election Cycles

Campaign contributions from business interests to all legislative candidates and the four legislative leadership committees from 1995 through 2006 totaled $35.1 million versus $3.3 million from labor, a near $11 to $1 advantage. Business contributions outpaced labor contributions by a low of $9 to $1 in the 1995-96 and 1997-98 election cycles to a high of $15 to $1 in the 1999-2000 election cycle (see Table 1).

Table 1
Business and Labor Contributions to
All Legislative Candidates and Leadership Committees

Election Cycle Business Labor Ratio
2005-06 $7,212,172 $724,350 $10 to $1
2003-04 $7,002,216 $669,422 $11 to $1
2001-02 $6,700,739 $590,103 $11 to $1
1999-00 $5,734,498 $383,480 $15 to $1
1997-98 $4,154,762 $487,792 $9 to $1
1995-96 $4,262,961 $488,291 $9 to $1

The ratio between business and labor campaign contributions widened more among legislators and leadership committees. Business contributions totaled $24.3 million and labor contributions $1.9 million to legislators from 1995 through 2006 – a near $13 to $1 gap. Per two-year cycle, the gap ranged from a low of $9 to $1 in the 1995-96 and 1997-98 election cycles to a high of $23 to $1 in the 1999-00 election cycle (see Table 2).

Table 2
Business and Labor Contributions to
Legislators and Leadership Committees

Election Cycle Business Labor Ratio
2005-06 $5,555,085 $487,820 $11 to $1
2003-04 $4,069,471 $218,495 $19 to $1
2001-02 $4,513,004 $320,080 $14 to $1
1999-00 $3,708,942 $160,286 $23 to $1
1997-98 $3,195,490 $370,684 $9 to $1
1995-96 $3,299,353 $385,569 $9 to $1

A chief reason for the large gap between business and labor contributions has been the continuing growth in the number and size of individual contributions by business interests, compared to contributions by political action committees – the chief way labor unions deliver direct contributions to the candidates. PACs have been losing ground to the increasing pool of wealthy individual contributors because candidates are limited in the amount they can accept from a single PAC, as well as the total amount they can accept from all PACs in an election cycle.

The growth of conduits has also helped pro-business interests focus and bundle contributions. Conduits, which were created to evade PAC limits, are groups used by special interests to bundle an unlimited number and amount of individual contributions and send the candidate one large check. Individual contribution limits apply to all givers, but conduits may bundle and send an unlimited amount of individual contributions to a candidate.

According to conventional political wisdom, unions support Democrats and business interests back Republicans. Business interests contributed $43.6 million to Republican candidates for statewide and legislative offices from 1995 through 2006 compared to $501,635 by labor – an $87 to $1 ratio. But the numbers also show Democratic candidates rely more on business community contributions than many may think.

Democratic candidates accepted $25.5 million from business interests, compared to $5.3 million from labor from 1995 through 2006 – a $5 to $1 ratio.

In the 2002 governor’s race, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle’s business-to-labor contribution ratio was about $7 to $1. In Doyle’s 2006 reelection bid, the business-labor contribution ratio increased nearly four-fold to about $24 to $1.

Democratic legislative candidates and leadership committees have accepted more than half of their large individual and PAC contributions from business interests in each of the past six two-year election cycles, ranging from 52 percent in the 2003-04 election cycle to 67 percent in 2001-02. Meanwhile, labor contributions to Democratic legislative candidates and leadership committees accounted for a low of 9 percent in 1999-00 to a high of 15 percent in 2003-04. Non-business and non-labor contributions – from ideological and political party committees, retirees, nonprofits and others – comprised 22 percent to 34 percent of their contributions during those election cycles.