The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign released findings Monday that found groups in support of the Republican Party-sponsored mining bill made significant campaign contributions to Gov. Scott Walker and Republican members of the Legislature. 

The report recorded $15.6 million in donations between 2010 and 2012 from proponents of the mining legislation. This figure includes $11.3 million donated to Walker and $4.25 million to members of the Legislature. 

WDC Executive Director Mike McCabe said they gathered this information by looking at contributions since 2010 of 30 groups registered to lobby in support of mining deregulation in the state. He said officials first started noticing a contribution increase in the summer of 2010.

“Pro-mining interest groups have given 610 times as much as mining opponents have given,” McCabe said.

He noted donations have been lopsided and added these large contributions could speak to why the legislation has been addressed so quickly this session.

Though donations favor Republican representation, proponents have been reassuring Wisconsinites of the transparent and honest dialogue behind the bill.

Although McCabe thinks this information should cause citizens to wonder how open-minded legislators really are, Majority Leader Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, said at the mining hearing last Wednesday he wants this to be an open and transparent process.

Gogebic Taconite, one of the companies hoping to open a mine under this piece of legislation, also suggested at Wednesday’s hearing they will continue to openly participate in issues surrounding the bill.

McCabe said mining industries see an opportunity to make money in this state, but was skeptical on how lucrative the industry might be in the state. 

“There’s a short-term flurry of economic activity, but once a mine’s exhausted, you end up seeing the company move on to the next state,” McCabe said. “In the past, mining has created ghost towns across the country.”

In response to this claim, Gogebic Taconite also spoke to the economic security a mine would provide, promising to hire only Wisconsin workers. They were confident a modern mining facility would be able to withstand a fluctuating economy.

Jay Heck, executive director of the non-partisan lobby Common Cause in Wisconsin referred to the figures as manifesting “typical power politics.”

He said the GOP bill under discussion now is very similar to the one that failed last session, although now more Republicans are present in the Senate. Those who are in favor of the mine are those who did not want changes to the original bill, he added.

The contributions, therefore, demonstrate a close relationship between proponents of the mining bill and the state government, Heck said.

He said money often helps to shape legislation, but also observed it has become an increasing problem in elections both in Wisconsin and across the country. He said using campaign contributions to influence public policy is not good for democracy.

“People perceive the government to be bought and paid for,” Heck said. 

He said he would like to see public financing in the future so decisions can be based on the merits of the issue at hand.

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