February 23, 2010

What did lobbyists get for their $36 million?

It was Mark Twain who said, ""We have the best government that money can buy."

April 21 marks the centennial of Twain's death, but his words are no less true today.

A short AP story in the LaCrosse Tribune tells us:
The Wisconsin Education Association Council reported spending more than 7,200 hours lobbying state lawmakers last year. That averages out to more than 19 hours a day or nearly 55 hours on each state lawmaker, roughly an hour a week on each member of the Legislature.
WEAC is the state teachers' union. The story says teachers spent $1,511,272 lobbying state legislators, more than any other organization.

The complete 68-page list released today by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board shows that $36,205,967 was spent lobbying Wisconsin lawmakers during the 2009-2010 Legislative Session, up 5.2% from 2007. There were 746 lobbying principals and 750 registered lobbyists.

Besides the teachers, six more organizations each spent more than half a million dollars on lobbying legislators last year: Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, $777,430; Forest County Potawatomi Community, $756,512; Altria Client Services, $755,533; Wisconsin Hospital Association, $605,033; Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, $560,544; and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, $508,023.

The list details lobbying by as diverse a group of interests as you can imagine, including cities, counties, chambers of commerce, telephone companies; railroads, the Wine Institute, associations representing teachers, nurses, landscape architects, charter schools, powersports dealers, Harley Davidson, snowmobilers, bear hunters, auto recyclers, police chiefs, cheese makers, dog owners, horse council, unions, the Brewers (baseball) and brewers (beer), churches...

Here are the Racine groups listed (if I've missed any, please let me know), with the number of hours spent lobbying:
Aurora Health Care Inc.: 1,001 hours, $88,105
SC Johnson & Son Inc.: 373 hours, $71,949
JohnsonDiversey: 74 hours, $30,141
Racine Area Manufacturers and Commerce: 310 hours, $24,000
Franciscan Healthcare: 117 hours, $14,916
A few others that caught my eye:
Wisconsin Society of Anesthesiologists: 144 hours, $54,224
City of Madison: 330 hours, $35,587
Wisconsin Newspaper Association: 263 hours, $32,543
Sierra Club -- John Muir Chapter: 426 hours, $32,424
Case New Holland was listed at no hours and $0.

It's also fun to do the math, to see who got the greatest bang for the buck: Some of these organizations spent far more than others on each hour of lobbying. If my computations are correct, for example, JohnsonDiversey spent $407 per hour on lobbyists, SCJ spent $192, Wheaton spent $127, Aurora spent $87 and RAMAC got the bargain at $77. The state's teachers spent $208 per hour, while the Wisconsin league of Conservation Voters, which spent $194,169 on 6,259 hours of lobbying, barely covered lunch at just $31 an hour.

Of course, this list says nothing about what these groups received from the legislature in return. Teachers, for example, ended up getting rid of the hated QEO from 1993, which effectively limited their salary hikes each year (school districts could dictate a contract and avoid arbitration as long as salary and benefits rose 3.8%). I'd imagine most teachers would agree this year's lobbying expenditure is money well spent...

Then there's the payday loan regulation bill working its way through the Legislature -- so far, without any interest rate cap. Let's see, Community Loans of America has devoted 250 hours of lobbying this year, at a cost of $121,047; and Speedy Loan has 234 hours, costing $36,000.

The most lobbied bill in 2009 according the the GAB was AB 138, regarding appointment of the secretary of the Natural Resources Board. Organizations reported spending 2,923 hours attempting to influence legislators on that measure.

GAB adds: "Any organization that lobbies state government must file reports with the Government Accountability Board. Organizations report within 15 days of when they begin to lobby on a specific bill or issue, and file six-month reports detailing the hours and dollars spent lobbying. In Wisconsin, lobbyists are forbidden to give meals, entertainment or other gifts to state lawmakers, and campaign donations are limited to specific windows of time outside the normal legislative session."

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