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COMMENTARY: Reports track campaign cash, lobbying

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

Disclosure reports for Wisconsin campaign finance and lobby activity, which were due Jan. 31, contain a wealth of information, only a smidgen of which has garnered media attention.

Here are some highlights.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker, as expected, is way in front of his Democratic challenger, businesswoman Mary Burke. Walker reported raising $5.1 million in the final six months of 2013, compared to Burke’s $1.8 million. Walker ended the reporting period with $4.6 million cash on hand. Burke had $1.3 million.

Burke’s total includes almost $430,000 of her own money. Walker gave himself nothing.

Half of Walker’s individual contributions during that period came from other states. The breakdown includes: Wisconsin, $2,466,999; Illinois, $326,902; California, $295,122; Florida, $219,455; and Texas, $213,196.

Excluding her self-contribution, Burke garnered nearly $1.1 million in individual contributions from Wisconsin, 86 percent of her reported total. The next highest state was New York, with $33,823. Illinois, California and Maine all chipped in amounts between $20,000 and $25,000.

Walker had at least 88 individual donors who gave the maximum $10,000. Burke had 40 donors at that level, not including herself.

Donations to Walker of $1,000 or more accounted for $2.6 million, more than half his total take. Burke got about $870,000 in donations of at least $1,000, or 68 percent of her total, excluding herself.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker is ahead of Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, in fundraising. Walker reported raising $5.1 million in the final six months of 2013, compared to Burke’s $1.8 million. (AP File Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King)

Republican Gov. Scott Walker is ahead of Democratic challenger, Mary Burke, in fundraising. Walker reported raising $5.1 million in the final six months of 2013, compared to Burke’s $1.8 million. (AP File Photo of Burke/Wisconsin State Journal, M.P. King. AP File Photo of Walker)

Walker’s campaign boasted that 75 percent of his donors gave $50 or less. But 83 percent of his total from individuals came from larger contributions.

Burke’s split was similar, with 74 percent of her individual donations arriving in increments of $50 or less, but larger donations accounted for 89 percent of her individual total, again excluding herself.

In another high-stakes 2014 race, the GOP candidate for state attorney general, Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, raised $194,565. Lagging well behind were Democratic contenders state Rep. Jon Richards with $64,191 and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne with $44,566. A third Democrat, Jefferson County District attorney Susan Happ, entered the race in January, past the reporting cutoff.

Schimel helped his cause with a $50,000 donation, and Ozanne gave himself $20,000, which he called a loan. Richards got all his money from others.

Meanwhile, the state’s roughly 700 interest groups spent about $15 million on about 94,000 hours of lobbying in the last half of 2013, bringing the annual total to $32 million. That’s actually down a bit from 2011, the last year lawmakers passed a biennial budget, when the total topped $38 million.

Wisconsin has a new lobbying leader: Wisconsin Property Taxpayers Inc., which reported spending $446,714 in the last half of 2013. That puts it well above the business group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which spent $294,561, and the Wisconsin Hospital Association, which spent $278,171.

But Wisconsin Property Taxpayers does not at first glance appear to be a lobby powerhouse. It employs no outside lobbyists. Its only in-house lobbyist, legislative director Michael Birkley, logged 926 hours for $16,500, a compensation rate that in that field practically qualifies as charity work. Former Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, for instance, made at least $167,000 for 539 hours of lobbying last year, his first as a contract lobbyist, according to records.

Most of the lobby outlays for the Wisconsin Property Taxpayers went for “nonlobbyist employees.” Birkley said the group employs fieldworkers who spend part of each day talking to members of the public about legislation.

The group’s biggest lobby focus in the last period was urging an end to the personal property tax on businesses and asking that all property owners, including religious and nonprofit groups, pay for the municipal services they receive.

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