Matt Rothschild
Op Ed

Business Lobby Wants Limits on Competitors

WMC report calls for prohibiting local governments from hiring state lobbyists.

By - Dec 11th, 2019 03:04 pm
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Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Photo by Riley Vetterkind / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Photo by Riley Vetterkind / Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the giant business lobby, came out with a report on Tuesday to pressure the Legislature to limit the ability of local governments to do lobbying. The report also slams local non-binding referenda.

The report, entitled “Local (Out of) Control,” wants the Legislature to pass a law that “prohibits local governments from using taxpayer funds to hire private entities that lobby state government.”

Essentially, in a duel with local governments, WMC wants to disarm its opponents.

Not that it’s being outgunned.

In 2017-2018 Legislative session, WMC was the biggest lobbyist in the state, spending $1.4 million. The Wisconsin Counties Association, which it singles out for criticism, spent $800,000. In the first six months of 2019, WMC spent $414,000 on lobbying, and the Wisconsin Counties Association spent $249,000.

Nevertheless, WMC alleges that associations and private lobbyists hired by local governments often “advocate against the best interest of taxpayers.” It doesn’t say that they also advocate against the special interests of big corporations, but WMC does note that “Wisconsin CEOs ranked this as the top issue to pursue in a recent WMC survey.”

A glance at the Wisconsin Counties Association’s 2019-2020 Legislative Agenda offers clues about the animosity of WMC. Items on that agenda include: “protect groundwater from contamination and overuse,” “close the dark store property assessment loophole,” and “increase funding for mass transit”—all of which WMC opposes.

Another agenda item deals with redistricting and, unlike the rigging of the maps by the GOP leadership in 2011, would “require the Wisconsin State Legislature to wait until local governments produce and provide their numbers, wards, and district information when redistricting and to use local boundaries to create state districts.”

The redistricting issue seems to be in WMC’s craw, as 50 counties have passed non-binding referenda urging the Legislature to pass a law banning gerrymandering. WMC’s report swerves out of its way to do a hit and run on the referenda process: “In addition to direct lobbying, local governments also attempt to influence state lawmakers via non-binding referenda and issue-based ad campaigns – all financed with local taxpayer dollars,” the report states. “This type of activity raises many questions about how taxpayer funds are used, the openness of local government, and if the local citizenry are actually being appropriately represented.”

Of course, the local citizenry can decide whether they’re being appropriately represented – in lobbying and in the referendum process – simply by voting the local officials out of office at the next available opportunity.

But that remedy isn’t good enough for WMC.

By the way, WMC does a lot more than just lobbying to get its way in the Legislature.

WMC has spent an estimated $25.1 million since January 2010 on outside electioneering activities using independent expenditures and undisclosed phony issue ads to elect people to office who do its bidding.

Matthew Rothschild is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

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