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Unions sapped, other lobbying strong

By Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Special interest groups in Wisconsin spent less trying to sway state law and policy in the first half of 2013 than in comparable past periods. But it’s still a whole lotta moolah.

With a few stragglers left to file (reports were due July 31), the Government Accountability Board’s “Eye on Lobbying” website lists $17.1 million in lobbying outlays reported by more than 600 registered lobby groups. This paid for almost 124,000 hours of lobbying.

Lobbying outlays run highest during the first six months of odd-numbered years, when the biennial budget is in play. During this period in 2009, they totaled $20.7 million; in 2011, they reached $23.9 million, led by public employee unions fighting changes to collective bargaining.

Four of these unions — Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, Wisconsin Education Association Council, AFSCME Council 11 and AFSCME International — collectively spent $6.3 million in early 2011. This year, with union power weakened, AFSCME International no longer is a registered lobby group and the other three managed $228,499.

That’s a 96 percent decline.

The state’s leading lobbyer so far in 2013 is the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, representing property and casualty insurers, at $357,167. The largest share of this, or $285,000, went not for lobbyists but “other lobbying expenses.”

Andrew Franken, the alliance’s president and in-house lobbyist, said this category includes such indirect lobby costs as legal fees, research and an “economic study of our industry” shared with lawmakers — costs included at the GAB’s suggestion.

“I’m complying with the spirit and letter of our lobby law,” Franken said.

In second place, the Wisconsin Hospital Association spent $323,506 on 2,636 lobby hours. Forty-five percent of its effort was on budget bill changes to Medical Assistance and related programs. In all, more than 50 groups lobbied on this subject area, logging more than 5,000 hours.

Budget bill provisions regarding school choice, charters and open enrollment also drew heavy lobbying, at more than 4,000 hours.

The big business lobby group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce was the third-highest spender, at $294,823. It declared an interest in more than 150 bills, budget areas and topic areas. The issue it worked on most, at 11 percent of its total effort, was SB 1, the state mining bill, which passed in March.

The mining bill attracted more than 2,700 hours of lobbying. Most was by mining opponents, led by the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, with 1,131 hours.

One final finding: Becoming a lobbyist is a good career move.

Jeff Fitzgerald, who obtained a lobby license Jan. 9, two days after ending his tenure as Assembly speaker, snared a total of $100,199 from his 10 lobby clients. This was for 422 hours of lobbying, including eight for which J.P. Cullen & Sons, a major state construction firm, parted with $12,000.

Fitzgerald did not return a detailed phone message. Jonathan Becker, the GAB’s ethics division administrator, said such payments most likely involve a retainer fee arrangement, where the lobbyist is paid for his or her availability.

One thing’s for sure: A hundred grand for a half year of lobbying compares nicely to Fitzgerald’s 2012 salary — $50,243 for an entire year of lawmaking.

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