The numbers are in, let the crunching begin.
State political candidates and lobby groups recently filed disclosure reports with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.
Wisconsin’s 700-plus registered lobby groups reported spending $11.5 million seeking to influence state law and policy in the last half of 2014. That brought total lobbying expenditures for the two-year legislative session to $57.5 million.
That’s a huge amount, about $150,000 for each of the 380 session bills that became laws. But it’s less than the $63.3 million invested by lobby groups in the 2011-12 session and the all-time high $65.4 million spent in 2009-10.
One erratic variable has been the role of public employee unions. In 2009-10, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, AFSCME Council 11, AFSCME International and Wisconsin State AFL-CIO collectively spent $3.4 million on lobbying. In 2011-12, when those unions waged a losing battle against Act 10 changes, the total topped $7 million.
In 2013-14, the lobbying outlays of those four unions totaled $644,980. That’s a 91 percent decline from the session before.
Lobbying by the business group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce rose for the third consecutive session, to $1.2 million. WMC reported spending 9,920 hours on more than 250 bills and subject areas.
Other heavyweights included the Wisconsin Hospital Association at $1.1 million, the Wisconsin Counties Association at $821,000 and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation at $784,000.
The session’s highest spending lobby group, at $1.5 million, was Wisconsin Property Taxpayers Inc. Most of that money went toward paying field workers to go around the state talking up the membership-based advocacy group’s tax-reform agenda.
Among the session’s most heavily lobbied bills were those to loosen the rules for metallic mining, at 3,598 hours, and toughen the rules for suing over asbestos exposure, at 3,256 hours. The supporters won.
On campaign finance, newly filed reports show Republican Gov. Scott Walker raised $30.4 million and spent $32.4 million in the last six months of 2013 and all of 2014. That’s nearly twice the roughly $17 million raised and spent during the 18-month period by his unsuccessful Democratic challenger, Mary Burke.
Republican Brad Schimel raised and spent about $1.4 million on his way to becoming state attorney general. His rival, Democrat Susan Happ, raised and spent about $1 million. Outside groups including WMC poured at least $2.3 million into the race on television ads alone, according to estimates from the national Center for Public Integrity.
Finally, filings of donations through Feb. 2 show that liberal Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley has outraised conservative challenger James Daley, $375,000 to $140,000. Bradley has gotten money from the campaign of former Democratic U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl and Seymour Abrahamson, husband of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Daley’s donors include the Republican Party of Wisconsin and former Gov. Tommy Thompson.
But by the time ballots are cast April 7, the coffers of those two candidates could be a minor factor. Total spending in the last five Wisconsin Supreme Court elections, as estimated by the nonpartisan watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, has topped $22 million. Two-thirds of that was by outside special interests.