State lawmakers and legislative fundraising committees took in more than $2 million in contributions from special-interest groups as they considered the 2019-21 biennial budget, according to a report from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
WDC, which tracks campaign financing, reports that Republicans, who control the Assembly and Senate, accepted $1.3 million from special-interest groups in the first half of 2019 — double the $665,000 brought in by Democratic lawmakers.
The report notes that big contributions are commonplace during budget years, as lawmakers take up the only legislative bill that must be passed in some form.
“With that in mind, powerful and savvy special interests often press to have as much of their legislative wish lists as possible inserted into the budget bill,” according to the report.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed the 2019-21 budget in July. The governor’s original draft was heavily amended by Republican lawmakers and then subsequently altered by Evers through line-item vetoes before it was ultimately signed.
WDC executive director Matthew Rothschild said this year’s $2 million in contributions marks a considerable increase from previous budget years.
Contributions reached $1.6 million in the first six months of 2017, nearly $1.28 million in the first half of 2015 and about $1.12 million in the first six months of 2013.
Democratic contributions did see a larger boost this year, following the party’s win in the 2018 governor’s race, but Republicans have dominated fundraising in the last four budget years — securing between double or triple as much in contributions.
According to the WDC report, large individual PAC contributions in the first half of 2019 came from about two dozen special interest groups, including those in business, manufacturing, health care, agriculture and construction.
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The top five recipients this year include: Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, which received $381,944; Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $309,105; Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, $188,019; State Senate Democratic Committee, $193,498; and Democratic Rep. Tip McGuire, of Kenosha, $144,482.
McGuire was elected in an April special election to fill the seat formerly held by Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, who left the Assembly to become Evers’ Revenue secretary.
As with special-interest group contributions, Republican lawmakers also raised double that of their Democratic counterparts in the first half of the year, according to an August WDC report.
Republicans, who control the Assembly 63-36 and the Senate 19-14, raised $1.47 million from individuals and political action committees between Jan. 1 and June 30, according to the report. Democrats raised about $726,200 in the same span.
However, in the same span, Democratic electioneering groups far outpaced pro-Republican groups in regard to donations collected.
Three dozen special-interest groups — identified as 527 groups by the Internal Revenue Service — received close to $3.2 million from state contributors in the first six months of 2019. Such groups often use funds to sponsor negative broadcast ads, mailings, robocalls and other electioneering activities.
Of the $3.2 million in contributions, $2.7 million, or 84%, went to Democratic-leaning groups and the remaining $497,600 went to Republican groups.