August 10, 2016
Two Republican fundraising committees accepted $2,000 in political action committee contributions from AquaAmerica, the Pennsylvania-based company that wanted GOP legislators to pass a controversial bill that would have made it easier for AquaAmerica and other private companies to buy up public water utilities.
AquaAmerica’s PAC made the contributions of $1,000 each to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate on Feb. 1 and the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee on March 7. They were the first contributions made by the PAC in Wisconsin. These fundraising committees are run by GOP Assembly and Senate leaders to raise money from special interests to spend on elections.
The legislative proposals, Assembly Bill 554 and Senate Bill 432, would have changed the referendum process to make it more difficult for local residents to have a say in the sale of their public water utilities. The bills were similar to legislation created by the pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is a special interest bill mill that unites business and other powerful special interests with state legislators to develop “model” pro-business and social policies that can be introduced in state legislatures around the country.
AB554 was introduced early last December, approved by the Assembly in mid-January and sent to the Senate where a committee recommended it for passage without a public hearing in late January. Two weeks after Aqua America’s PAC contribution to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, GOP legislative leaders waived the public hearing requirement for the bill and scheduled it for a vote by the full Senate on Feb. 16.
On the day of the Senate vote, GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, pulled the measure from consideration. The bill failed to get Senate approval before the end of the legislative session in April.
In addition to the campaign contributions, AquaAmerica, which is a private water and wastewater treatment utility that serves three million people in eight states, spent $58,500 lobbying on AB554 and SB432 in 2015 and during the first six months of 2016.
The measures were also supported by construction interests, but opposed by numerous environmental groups, like the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, a handful of municipal utility groups, and AFSCME.