Bought leaders treat democracy as enemy of economy in pushing ‘jobs’ bill
November 11, 2003
Madison - A business deregulation bill being rammed through the Legislature by leaders marinated in campaign contributions from the plan’s backers would make it more difficult for people to object to environmental and other concerns about business expansions and locations that affect the public, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said today.
Special interests behind the bill - euphemistically called the "Job Creation Act" - have contributed nearly $7 million to members of the Legislature since 1993, WDC reported.
"Lord only knows if this bill would create any jobs. But it will surely limit public participation. It is another one of the countless ways that citizens’ control over their own destiny is being slowly but surely eroded," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. "Less democracy has never been a proven recipe for economic development."
The bill was developed without public participation in secret meetings with business lobbyists. It was endorsed by a dozen big business interests on October 30, but the public did not get its first glimpse at the proposal until it was introduced in both houses as Senate Bill 313 and Assembly Bill 655 on November 11. Legislative leaders say they plan on approving one of the bills and sending it to the governor before they adjourn their last floor session of the year on Thursday.
Those special interest backers include business, manufacturing, bankers, the construction and road building industries, utilities, Realtors and papermakers, among others. Collectively the special interests that back this bill gave $6.97 million in large individual and political action committee contributions to current legislators between 1993 and June 30, 2003.
Most of that campaign cash - $5.42 million, or 78 percent - has been accepted by Assembly and Senate Republican legislators who control both houses of the Legislature and will decide the fate of the proposal. The authors of the bill and leaders of those caucuses - Assembly Speaker John Gard and Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer - have accepted a total of $293,010 in campaign contributions from the interests they let write the measure. This year alone, the legislative campaign committees that Gard and Panzer control have collected $58,600 in contributions from these interests.
"Gard and Panzer cut a backroom deal with some of their biggest campaign contributors and kept the public in the dark. The business lobbyists were saying they loved the bill more than a week before it was even a bill," McCabe said.
The substance of the bill also is hostile to public involvement, he said. The legislation restricts the public’s ability to weigh in on projects that will affect their lives and the environment by erecting new barriers to public hearings and halving the time devoted to public comment on business permits.
"This legislation might as well be called the Public Input Suppression Act of 2003," McCabe said. "The bill severely limits public input on business permits. It puts a muzzle on citizens and places blind faith in the good will of megacorporations. It treats democracy as the enemy of the economy."
The new business deregulation measure is the latest in a string of legislative initiatives that have made it to the top of the Legislature’s agenda for the final floor session of the year because they are coveted by wealthy campaign contributors, McCabe said.
WDC released a report last week identifying a diverse collection of bills that lack support from the general public but are nevertheless on the Legislature’s to-do list thanks to millions of dollars in campaign contributions from interests supporting them. They include high-profile bills legalizing concealed weapons and redefining marriage, as well as obscure proposals increasing penalties for theft of shopping carts and gasoline and allowing businesses to self-audit their compliance with environmental laws.