Who’s Courting The Sweet 16?
Special Interest Contributions to Members of the Joint Finance Committee
April 23, 2001
State programs and policies that serve millions of Wisconsin residents either grow or wither on decisions made by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which reviews all spending and taxation proposals before they are considered by the Legislature. Once every two years, the 16-member committee’s chief task is to determine how billions in Wisconsin taxpayer dollars, fees and federal aid will be spent when it reworks the governor’s proposed two-year budget.
As they prepare to revise the proposed 2001-03 state budget, some of the policy and spending decisions they make may be better understood by looking at the cozy relationship that has developed between the committee members and special interests. One key measure of this relationship is the sources and size of campaign contributions the committee members have accepted before and during their tenure on the committee. The following tables and charts summarize the history of large special interest contributions to the Legislature’s most powerful decision-making committee.
The Senate and Assembly lawmakers chosen by legislative leaders to serve on the Joint Finance Committee accepted $2,043,754 in identifiable, large individual contributions from 1991 through 2000 and political action committee contributions between 1993 and 2000 (Table 1).
The committee members who have accepted the most special interest contributions (Table 2) are Republican Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills with a total of $426,007, followed by Republican Sen. Robert Welch of Redgranite at $265,903 and Democratic Sen. Kevin Shibilski of Stevens Point at $175,217. The committee’s co-chairs, Democratic Sen. Brian Burke of Milwaukee has received $136,266 and Republican Rep. John Gard of Peshtigo has received $122,190.
An analysis of the special interests that are most active with the committee shows the banking and finance industry contributed the most money to the campaigns of committee members - $259,185. It is followed by health professionals, which include doctors, dentists, chiropractors, nurses and podiatrists, at $217,442. Lawyers/law firms/lobbyists were third, contributing $145,890 and manufacturing and distributing interests were fourth at $134,546.
The lineup of top special interests that contribute to the committee members nearly mirrors the rankings for 1991-98 contributions to the current legislature as a whole. Health professionals ranked No. 1, followed closely by banking and financial interests, manufacturing and then lawyers/law firms/lobbyists. These interests seek greater influence with legislators because of the large range of important issues on the legislature’s plate that affects them, including health care, taxes and business, labor and environmental regulations.
In each of the four top special interest categories, Darling led all committee members in contributions (Table 3), in part, because she is a successful fund raiser who represents a wealthy suburban Milwaukee district. Welch, a committee newcomer, was second to Darling in three of the four special interest categories - banking and finance, manufacturing and health professionals. Democratic Sen. Kimberly Plache of Racine was second to Darling in contributions among the legal community and lobbyists.
Special interest groups and their lobbyists are required to report the bills they lobby on to the state Ethics Board, making it possible for the public to track some of the legislative activities of these groups. As the committee begins revising the budget bill for full legislative consideration later this year, special interests have already identified hundreds of budget items and other legislative proposals that they intend to support or oppose during this session.
Banks are pushing budget proposals to create new universal banking rules and oppose other measures to restrict ATM fees and put payment of employee wage claims ahead of lender’s claims when a business goes bankrupt. Health professionals want increases in medical assistance reimbursements. Various business and manufacturing interests want a proposed $80 million corporate tax cut and new alcohol regulations and oppose a $53 million a year computer software tax.
Special Interest Contributions to All Members of Joint Finance
*Figures represent individual contributions since 1991 and PAC contributions since 1993 through 2000.
**Figures represent large individual contributions from 1991 and PAC contributions from 1993 through 2000.
CONTRIBUTIONS FROM TOP SPECIAL INTEREST CATEGORIES TO MEMBERS
OF THE JOINT FINANCE COMMITTEE