The members of the powerful Joint Finance Committee of the Legislature are key players in determining how our tax money is spent in Wisconsin. They decide which state programs will live or die, and how much money will go to them. An important part of fully understanding the positions taken by these legislators is the history of sources and extent of special interest support for them. The following charts and tables summarize the history of special interest contributions to the members of Joint Finance.
Key Players and Key Interest Groups
Career Special Interest Contributions to Members of the Joint Finance Committee, 1991-1998
April 17, 1999
A total of $733,778 was given by identified special interests to further the careers of legislators who are now members of Joint Finance. Health professionals, which include doctors, dentists, chiropractors, nurses and podiatrists, are the leading contributors since 1991 (Table 1). Health professionals contributed at least $98,476 since 1991 to the committee members’ campaigns. Three other special interests contributed more than $50,000 to the members during the period. Those groups and the amounts they contributed are: Lawyers/Law Firms/Lobbyists, $78,004; Banking & Finance, $69,815; and Manufacturing & Distributing, $51,813.
This roster of top contributors to the committee members compares closely to special interest contributions to all legislators and legislative candidates during 1997-1998 campaign period. During that period, Health Professionals were the top contributors to all legislative candidates, followed by Banking & Finance, Manufacturing & Distributing, and Construction.
The total amount of contributions to each member of Joint Finance from the top four interest categories is shown in Table 2. Republican Sen. Mary Panzer of West Bend tops the list for two categories: Banking & Finance and Manufacturing & Distributing interests. Appointed in 1993, she is one of the longest-serving members of the Finance Committee. Other committee members who lead in contributions from a special interest are Democratic Senators Russell Decker of Schofield from Health Professionals, and Kimberly Plache of Racine for Lawyers/Law Firms/Lobbyists.
Of the $733,778 contributed to Joint Finance members (Table 3), Sen. Mary Panzer tops the list with a total $117,104, followed by Sen. Kimberly Plache, a newly-appointed committee member who received at least $105,869 in special interest contributions since 1991. Plache, who was elected to the Assembly in 1988, was the recipient of tens of thousands of dollars in special interest contributions during a June 1996 recall election that she won, and that gave Democrats control of the Senate. The committee’s co-chairs, Republican Rep. John Gard of Peshtigo, received $57,321, and Democratic Sen. Brian Burke of Milwaukee received $47,423 from special interests.
Under the changes in the lobbying law implemented beginning January 1, 1999, lobbyists are required to report bills they are lobbying on within 15 days of beginning to lobby. This makes it possible to track lobbying activity more closely than in the past. Although it is still early in the session, special interests have disclosed that they are pursing hundreds of budget items and other legislative measures.
The top four categories of special interest contributors to the Joint Finance Committee plan to track and lobby dozens of regulatory, tax, fee and labor proposals, among others. They will try to affect those budget proposals through their longstanding relationship with Joint Finance Committee members. The committee, whose fiscal duties are to reject pork, special interest and other unnecessary spending, must distance themselves from those relationships in order to carry out their responsibilities.
For their part, special interests plan to work hard for their constituencies. Health professionals plan to track changes in Medical Assistance spending and reimbursement; lawyers and lobbyists want to keep an eye on a proposal to eliminate certain tax breaks for lobbying expenses; banks and other financial institutions are interested in customer fee and credit plan interest measures; and manufacturing and distributing interests plan to lobby to tax, health care and labor proposals.
Source of Data
The figures used in these profiles are based on the employer-identified individual contributions of $100 or more and PAC contributions from campaign finance reports filed with the state Elections Board and complied by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The totals do not include PAC contributions from 1991-94. For lists of individual and PAC contributors to members of Joint Finance for the 1997-98 campaign period, go here.