June 3, 2019
Wisconsin Conservation Voters, formerly called the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, is a statewide lobbying, voter education, and advocacy organization on environmental issues and policy.
The group was formed in 2002 and it has become one of the top spenders on electioneering activities doling out $3.2 million since 2010 to help elect mostly Democratic candidates to legislative and statewide offices.
The group endorses candidates and makes disclosed independent expenditures to back them. Wisconsin Conservation Voters has used a corporation, independent expenditure committee, and two political action committees (PACs) to sponsor door-to-door and telephone canvassing, get-out-the-vote activities, and broadcast advertising to support and oppose candidates.
During last fall’s legislative and statewide elections, the group spent nearly $1.1 million on electioneering activities, including more than $650,000 to support Democrat Tony Evers’s successful bid for governor. More recently, Wisconsin Conservation Voters dropped $100,000 this spring’s nonpartisan elections to back Appeals Judge Lisa Neubauer’s unsuccessful bid for Wisconsin Supreme Court.
In addition to electioneering spending on behalf of candidates, Wisconsin Conservation Voters has also made more than $104,000 in direct PAC contributions to candidates since 2010. The top recipients include:
Former Democratic Rep. Tom Nelson, of Appleton, who was also a candidate for lieutenant governor, $10,500
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, $8,000
Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, $6,150
Former Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke, $6,000
Former Democratic candidate for governor Tom Barrett, $5,000
One of the group’s most visible projects has been a biennial scorecard that rates legislators’ voting records on proposals that affect the environment.
Wisconsin Conservation Voters also holds a lobby day at the beginning of each legislative session where hundreds of local conservationists and groups converge on the Capitol to speak with legislators about their conservation priorities.
The group’s legislative priorities include curbing threats to safe drinking water, combatting climate change, and promoting renewable energy. At the State Capitol, Wisconsin Conservation Voters lobbies on dozens of bills mostly affecting air, land, and water pollution, shoreland zoning, mining, and groundwater, wetland, and high-capacity well oversight and regulation.
Between 2009 and 2018, the group spent nearly $1.2 million lobbying the governor and legislature. During most of that time, the governor’s office and legislature were controlled by Republicans.
Forty-four bills backed by the group became law during that time, including 20 in the 2009-10 legislative session alone when the governor’s office and legislature were controlled by Democrats. Thirty-one bills opposed by Wisconsin Conservation Voters also became law during the time – all but one of them when Republicans controlled state government.
Laws backed by the group included:
Local assistance for contaminated wells and failing wastewater systems;
A process for local water utilities to provide assistance for lead service line replacements;
Allowing towns to enact tougher shoreland zoning ordinances than counties in some cases;
Prohibiting the manufacture and sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs containing synthetic plastic microbeads;
Regulating drug disposal programs;
Restricting phosphorous fertilizer and pesticide use;
Regulating products that contain mercury.
Wisconsin Conservation Voters opposed laws that:
Paved the way for Foxconn to build a $10 billion manufacturing plant in southeastern Wisconsin;
Lifted moratoriums on nuclear power plant construction and metallic mining;
Loosened state oversight and approval of controversial high-capacity wells;
Allowed an open-pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin. The company that wanted the project later backed out.