Given the many millions of dollars spent by interest groups to help determine who gets elected, it’s easy to overlook the many millions more spent trying to influence politicians once they are in office.
In the first six months of 2014, Wisconsin’s 700-plus registered lobby groups collectively invested $14.1 million trying to shape state law or policy, according to new filings with the state Government Accountability Board.
That’s actually down a bit from 2013, when spending in the first and second halves of the year totaled $17 million and $14.8 million, respectively. Lobby outlays tend to be higher in odd-numbered years, when the two-year legislative session is young and the budget is in play.
Leading the pack in spending from January through June was Wisconsin Property Taxpayers Inc., a membership-based group devoted to reforming “Wisconsin’s antiquated and regressive property tax system.” WPT reportedly spent $482,893 on 2,314 hours of lobbying.
That makes it the state’s highest-spending lobby group for the second consecutive reporting period.
Michael Birkley, the group’s legislative director and sole registered lobbyist, received $31,200 for 938 hours of lobbying. Most of WPT’s total went to eight field workers whose discussions with people around the state about legislation are counted as a lobbying expense.
Birkley said his group’s main lobbying effort is trying to eliminate the state’s personal-property tax. He said the tax, paid by businesses on nonexempt equipment, accounts for about 2 percent of total property tax collections.
A bill to kill the tax was introduced April 3, the last day of the session’s last floor period, and promptly died. Its lone sponsor, Mary Williams, R-Medford, is not seeking re-election.
WPT also is working to end local technical college taxes, shifting the burden to the state, and to protect use-based assessments of agricultural land, which is important to the farmers who make up about two-thirds of the group’s 18,500 membership.
Another top player was Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which spent $261,322 on 2,640 hours of lobbying in 2014. The group has registered an interest in more than 100 bills and dozens of topic areas.
In 2014, WMC favored a successful bill to ease the requirement that electric utilities boost their use of renewable energy, and opposed failed bills to increase the state minimum wage and increase state monitoring of frac sand operations.
WMC also backed failed bills to let workers “voluntarily choose to work” without a weekly day off and to preempt local governments from making contractors pay prevailing wages on local projects using state money.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Hospital Association spent $261,539 on 1,723 hours of lobbying. A third of that went to help defeat a proposal to cap what health-care providers can charge for services under worker’s compensation. That bill spurred dozens of groups to lobby an astonishing 2,868 hours.