Wisconsin organizations spent more than $70 million lobbying legislators in the 2017-18 legislative session, according to a recent report from the Wisconsin Ethics Commission.
Wisconsin has some of the strictest lobbying laws in the country, according to the WEC. Lobbying organizations are required by law to report how much time and money each organization puts into its effort every six months, and organizations are forbidden from entertaining legislatures.
Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that monitors money in politics, expects this number to continue to rise.
“What we’re seeing is an ever-escalating rise in spending on lobbying in the state capitol, and that doesn’t bode well for the public at large, which isn’t represented by the big lobbyists,” Rothschild said.
The top spending organization, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, spent a total of $1,354,114, and 8,407 hours in the 2017-18 session, consistent with their spending in past sessions, according to the state’s Ethics Commission. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is the state’s largest business trade association, and lobbies on behalf of more than 3,700 employers for issues such as tax cuts, environmental deregulation and campaign finance laws.
Wisconsin Hospital Association, Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin LLC. and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation each spent over $1 million in the 2017-18 session.
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Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin LLC. spent $1,159,492 over this period — the organization had no presence in Wisconsin before 2017. The national branch, Marsy’s Law for All, spent $15,000 in Wisconsin in the 2015-16 session. The organization works on behalf of crime victims, aiming to extend constitutional rights to give rights to the victims of crimes that are equal to those of the accused and give them legal standing in court procedures, according to the organization.
In Wisconsin, the bill has received bipartisan support and has passed the statewide assembly committee, but must pass the Legislature in two consecutive sessions before a statewide referendum asking voters to amend the state Constitution, according to the organization.
Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation spent $133,250 dollars in 2017-18, almost double their spending from the last session, according to the report. This organization partners with UW to financially support scientific research and has impacted legislation since their foundation in 1925. Most notably, WARF played a significant role in the passage of the national 1980 Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act, which permitted U.S. universities and other federally funded bodies to retain ownership over their intellectual property, according to WARF.
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Spokesperson for WARF Jeanan Yasiri Moe said the organization maintains “a strong partnership” with the state because those officials directly impact the university and the funding researchers receive.
“We do this so we can help officials understand WARF’s role and make informed policy decisions,” Moe said. “We engage in communications to educate and inform policymakers on a range of issues related to our role and expertise supporting the university and the state.”
Overall, almost 800 lobbying organizations spent $70,424,510 to influence legislators over the two year period. This is almost $8 million dollars more than the 2015-16 legislature session when 791 organizations spent $62,857,117, according to the reports. In other measurements, a total of 374,052 hours were spent lobbying during this time.