State Insurance Group Pays for Clout
WIA spends millions on lobbying, campaign donations, gets favored bills passed.
This state trade group for property and casualty insurers spent about $3.4 million on campaign contributions and lobbying the state since 2011 to push about three dozen bills into law that benefited the industry.
Lately, the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance has been backing a legislative proposal, Senate Bill 289, that would cut from 60 to 45 days the amount of notice that insurers are required to give their customers about significant premium increases or policy changes. The measure was approved by the Senate in early October, less than three weeks after it was introduced, and awaits Assembly action.
The group also butted heads late last month with the conservative Badger Institute over the Alliance’s support of AB357 and SB329, which would set up a regulation and licensing process for public insurance adjusters. The Alliance supports the measures, claiming consumers need protection from dishonest or unqualified adjusters. The Institute is among a host of rightwing groups in recent years that are trying to deregulate licensing requirements for numerous professions in Wisconsin and across the country.
Between January 2011 and June 2019, the Alliance spent more than $3 million on lobbying bills to restrict liability, limit the size of damage awards, and weigh in on other bills that affect the industry’s bottom line.
Among about 800 lobbying groups that do business at the State Capitol, the Alliance ranked among the top 10 spenders, at nearly $186,000, during the first six months of 2019. The Alliance also ranked among the top 10 spenders for the entire 2017-18 legislative session, shelling out $941,975 for lobbying.
Notable bills backed by the group since 2011 that became law include those that:
Shortened the statute of limitations for certain class action lawsuits and lowered the interest rate insurers must pay on overdue claims;
Reduced from three to six years the statute of limitations for death or damages lawsuits in motor vehicle accidents;
Limited parental liability for negligence or misconduct by children in vehicle accidents;
Reduced liability in dog bite incidents;
Cut from two to one year the time a driver’s license may be suspended for failing to pay money judgments;
Reduced liability for farmers and ranchers for recreational and educational events;
Restricted legal options for asbestos victims to sue asbestos makers for their injuries;
Eliminated local government liability for damages caused by poor roads;
Limited non-economic damages in lawsuits involving consumer products and services and nursing homes;
Reduced minimum mandatory auto insurance coverages;
Eliminated liability for non-economic and punitive damages in lawsuits over genetic testing;
Reduced liability for ski area operators.
Like other influential special interests, the Alliance also doles out individual, political action committee (PAC), and corporate contributions to legislative and statewide candidates, legislative campaign committees and outside electioneering groups. Between January 2011 and June 2019, the Alliance and its PACs and a corporation contributed about $370,000, mostly to support Republicans, who controlled the legislature and the governor’s office during this time.
About $229,000, or 62 percent, were direct PAC and corporate contributions to Republican candidates and more than $89,000, or 24 percent, were PAC and corporate contributions to Democrats.
Topping the list of recipients were:
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, $58,250
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $39,250
Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, $31,000
State Senate Democratic Committee, $26,500
Former GOP Gov. Scott Walker, $20,655
In addition to its PAC and corporate contributions, the Alliance also contributed $52,500 in two contributions to the Republican State Leadership Committee’s 527 group in 2016 and 2018.
527 groups are loosely regulated by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, but may raise and spend unlimited amounts from any source on outside electioneering activities in federal and state campaigns. The Republican State Leadership Committee sponsors outside electioneering activities to support GOP candidates in legislative races throughout the country.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers did not receive any contributions from the Alliance’s PACs between January 2011 and June 2019.