January 2, 2020
American Transmission Co. (ATC), which builds and owns high-voltage power lines, is among the top Wisconsin contributors to loosely regulated outside electioneering groups that spend millions to influence state and federal elections in Wisconsin and throughout the country.
ATC and its employees generated more than $1.8 million in contributions to outside electioneering groups and individual and corporate campaign contributions to legislative fundraising committees and candidates for legislative and statewide offices between January 2010 and June 2019.
The bulk of those contributions – about $1.4 million – were made by the company to 527 electioneering groups that may raise unlimited amounts from any source.
ATC was among 15 Wisconsin contributors, and one of only two businesses, that gave 527s $1 million or more since 2010. Most of ATC’s contributions to 527s, about 88 percent, went to Republican 527 groups. The 527 recipients of ATC’s contributions were:
Republican Governors Association, $878,600
Republican State Leadership Committee, $354,090
Democratic Governors Association, $150,700
All four of these 527 groups hail from outside the state, but have collectively spent about $48.6 million on Wisconsin gubernatorial and legislative elections since January 2010.
The biggest spender in Wisconsin, the Republican Governors Association, doled out an estimated $29.5 million with the help of American Transmission and other state contributors to support former GOP Gov. Scott Walker in his 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2018 elections. The group raises tens of millions of dollars a year from powerful special interests to help elect GOP governors nationwide.
The Republican State Leadership Committee has spent about $5 million in Wisconsin since January 2010 to support GOP legislative candidates.
In addition to 527 contributions, the company and its employees have made about $437,700 in corporate and individual contributions since January 2010 to legislative fundraising committees and candidates for legislative and statewide office. The top recipients were:
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, $100,060
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $87,700
State Senate Democratic Committee, $53,175
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, $35,605
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has received $11,970 in contributions from ATC employees.
The company, located in Pewaukee, was created in 2001 and operates nearly 10,000 miles of high-voltage electric lines that transmit power in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Upper Michigan. Today, about two dozen utilities, local governments, and municipal electric companies and cooperatives have a stake in the company. WEC Energy Group, the parent company of We Energies, owns about 60 percent of ATC.
Many of ATC’s large transmission line projects, which are considered and approved by the state Public Service Commission (PSC), have been controversial. The latest controversial project, dubbed the Cardinal Hickory Creek power line, is a 100-mile transmission line across central and southwestern Wisconsin expected to cost about $490 million. Utilities and renewable energy interests supported the project, but two environmental groups have sued the PSC in court. The groups are seeking to invalidate the commission’s decision and construction permits for the project, alleging that two of the three commissioners had a conflict of interest because of their past and present ties to ATC.
Unlike other large contributors, ATC is not a registered lobbying group with the state.