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Interest group spending drops in second half of 2019

Interest groups spent $16.7 million lobbying the state Capitol during the second half of 2019, a big drop from the same period two years earlier, according to a check of filings.

Historically, lobbying in Wisconsin hit a high in the second half of 2017 with $18.5 million spent trying to influence the Capitol as the budget dragged into September and GOP lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate bickered over final details. The $18.5 million then spent over that six-month period was a significant increase from the $15.6 million dropped during the same period two years earlier.

But that activity tailed off significantly for the same period in 2019 for obvious reasons: the budget was done on time, and the Senate was in just two days during the fall floor period and the Assembly just three. Altogether, lobbyists spent 93,920 hours in the last six months of 2019 trying to exert influence in the Capitol, down from 102,150 hours during the same period in 2017.

The dip in spending in the last six months of the year also helped drop the total tally for spending in 2019 below that for 2017. Last year, groups spent $34.6 million on lobbying in the Capitol, down from $37.3 million in 2017.
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce was the biggest spender on lobbying, dropping $388,450 in the six-month period.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association was No. 2 at $343,432, and the Wisconsin Credit Union League was No. 3 at $308,527.

WMC reported it spent 14% of its time on workforce training and another 11% on the regulation of PFAS, a chemical used in products such as firefighting foam and nonstick cookware. Several bills were introduced this session after the chemical was found in the Marinette-Peshtigo and Madison areas.

The rest of WMC’s lobbying during the six-month effort came under the heading of minor efforts – issues that accounted for less than 10% of the organization’s total time.

Scott Manley, WMC’s executive vice president of government relations, said the attention paid to workforce training included pushes for additional equipment for high school classrooms to welding and other trades and money for instructors.

He said Wisconsin needs to draw more people here to meet employers’ demands.

“It isn’t just the fact that we’ve got a shortage of skilled workers. We have a shortage of all workers, period, and it’s a demographic problem,” Manley said.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Credit Union League spent 24% of its time on Assembly and Senate versions of legislation that made changes to laws governing financial institutions. The changes reduce from 90 days to 30 days the period for payment for lost, destroyed or stolen checks.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 457, was signed into law in the fall.

The group put another 20% of its time into Assembly and Senate versions of legislation to allow financial institutions to refuse or delay a transaction if they believe a vulnerable adult is being exploited.

The legislation — AB 481 and SB 429 — has received public hearings in both chambers of the state Legislature.

The remaining lobbyists in the top 10 (and what they spent) were: Wisconsin Realtors Association ($292,495), Wisconsin Infrastructure Now Inc. ($242,620), Wisconsin Insurance Alliance ($201,613), Wisconsin Farm Bureau

Federation ($200,896), Wisconsin Automobile and Truck Dealers Association Inc. ($190,577); Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association ($189,372), and the Wisconsin Counties Association ($184,643).

The Capitol Report is written by editorial staff writers at, a nonpartisan news service that specializes in coverage of government and politics, and is distributed for publication by members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

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