Archive for the ‘State’ Category

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015


Today, Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos held a press conference to unveil his plan to lower wages and weaken prevailing wage standards for hard-working people in Wisconsin. Rep. Vos conceded that there is no quantitative study that shows that repealing or weakening prevailing wage laws achieve cost savings for the state.But, in an attempt to continue to pay back large donations and please the Koch Brothers’ front-groupAmericans For Prosperity, Rep. Vos is continuing down a disheartening path of enacting legislation that hurts working people and our middle class.

Even Republicans like Rep. Dan Knodl, who support this proposal, agree that weakening the prevailing wage will “drive down wages” in our communities and “decrease wages” for working people.

Prevailing wage makes sure that taxpayer-funded projects use local workers who make a living wage; this contributes to the overall well-being of local economies. Prevailing wage strengthens the middle class and lifts up all workers. With prevailing wage, construction projects are top-quality because highly-skilled, well-trained workers are able to complete projects on time and on budget. Prevailing wage creates value through good wages for workers, stability for contractors and safe, sound and sturdy construction buildings for citizens. Protecting prevailing wage laws are essential for a strong and stable middle class.

From today’s press conference, it appears that attacks on the prevailing wage will be either snuck into the budget or pursued through independent legislation. Currently, the 2015-2017 Wisconsin budget is still being debated in the Joint Finance Committee. Along with weakening the prevailing wage, the budget is full of bad things for working people – all which hurt Wisconsin and take us backwards.

Join us as we make phone calls to fix the budget. Volunteers are working to connect union members with their elected officials so they can hear from REAL people about this budget. Be part of the process! Click here to join us in raising the voices of working people and involving more citizens in the budget process.

From cuts to K-12 education, the privatization of homecare, job cuts for prison guards and attacks on our UW-System — this budget is all wrong for working class Wisconsinites. Driving down wages by weakening prevailing wage only makes a bad budget worse.  Click here to find a budget phone bank near you!

In Solidarity,

Phil Neuenfeldt, President

Stephanie Bloomingdale, Secretary-Treasurer


Prevailing wage repeal is an attack on workers

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
2 hours ago  • 

Public projects in Wisconsin, such as the renovation of UW-Madison’s Memorial Union, would no longer be subject to state prevailing wage requirements under a measure before the Legislature.


Oh, yes, let’s make sure we can finance all those fancy new road projects the Scott Walker administration wants to undertake by cutting wages of the very workers who build them.

That, in a nutshell, is what the governor and several of his Republican colleagues want to do later today by fully repealing the prevailing wage law, which has helped equalize wages paid to workers on public construction jobs throughout the state.

We don’t want to raise gasoline taxes nor do we want to raise registration fees, Walker said in signaling to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance that he would sign a complete repeal of the law that requires construction companies with government contracts to pay the wages that are typically paid on private projects in their area.

The law has helped ensure that working people are paid a fair wage. It has prevented firms that are bidding on government contracts from paying substandard wages so they can win the bids and effectively shut out those firms that pay a fair wage. Once again, it’s a blatant attack on union workers in Wisconsin.

Many construction companies and others that bid on public projects have pleaded with the governor and legislators not to destroy a system that has worked well for taxpayers, businesses and workers for decades in this state.

It’s unfair to once again take money from working people, who pay taxes and help the economy, too, so that the state can further its wrongheaded austerity theory, an ideology that has left Wisconsin at the bottom of economic progress.

Enlightened members of Joint Finance will vote “no” on this latest piece of discriminatory legislation.

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Scott Walker says he would sign prevailing wage repeal

Wisconsin – 5/28/2015 Gov. Scott Walker would sign a bill repealing the states prevailing wage if it passes the Legislature, his spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Laurel Patrick made the comments as an Assembly committee heard testimony on a repeal bill, which the committee later approved 5-4.

Walker has said prevailing wage wasnt a priority, and he has faced criticism from fellow Republicans for not more forcefully backing the legislation….

Ken Notes: Would it not make more sense to fix this law rather than repeal it? Exceptions for “apprentice” and “in training” laborers for example… …Display And/Or Share This article


Assembly Democrats

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

Dear Anthony ,

Scott Walker’s scandal-ridden jobs agency took another hit last week when it came to light that the company of a high-dollar donor to the governor received a questionable $500,000 loan from taxpayer funds.

This is just the latest in a long line of issues, and Democrats on the board – myself included – are calling for a federal criminal investigation.

Watch this new video on the truth about Scott Walker’s jobs agency – and be sure to share with your friends.

This isn’t the first time that Scott Walker’s job agency has come under fire – it’s become a pattern of failed leadership and potential corruption.

With Wisconsin 40th in the nation on job creation and 42nd in wage growth, Republicans are playing politics with taxpayer money instead of helping Wisconsin entrepreneurs and creating jobs for Wisconsinites. That’s wrong for Wisconsin.

Check out the truth about Scott Walker’s jobs agency.

Wisconsin Assembly Democrats will be staying on top of this and working to ensure that proper procedures are being followed – because government agencies should be working for the best interests of Wisconsinites, not for political gain.


Rep. Peter Barca
Assembly Minority Leader 





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Follow all the latest Scott Walker news on The Cap Times’ ‘Walker Watch’ page

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

With Gov. Scott Walker ramping up for an assumed presidential run, The Capital Times has put together a special topic page that collects all the Walker news in one spot.

There’s the latest news, opinion and editorials from the Cap Times on Walker. There’s also a section from other media outlets around the country on what they are writing about Walker.

There’s a Twitter feed of anything tagged #scottwalker to keep up on the latest from the Twitterverse.

We also have our interactive “Where’s Walker” map, showing where he has been on official business during his tenure.

It’s all there. Visit to see the latest.

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Russ Feingold to run for Senate

Friday, May 15th, 2015


Russ Feingold for Wisconsin


Across Wisconsin, people tell me all the time: Our politics in Washington are broken, and multi-millionaires, billionaires, and big corporations are calling all the shots.

Wisconsinites are tired of it, but no one says they want to throw in the towel. And I don’t either.

But if we want to change our politics, we all have to fight together. So let me cut to the chase:

I’m running for United States Senate in Wisconsin, and I wanted you to be one of the first to know.

Click here to watch my announcement video — and tell me you’re in this, too.

Watch my announcement video

You’ve probably heard that I know Wisconsin like the back of my hand.

That’s because I’ve spent my career in public service listening to and fighting for the people of Wisconsin. I’ve visited all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties more times than I can count, and I’ll be traveling to every corner of the state during this campaign to hear the concerns and ideas of all Wisconsinites.

Here are a few things I’ve already heard:

      • You want elected officials that work with you and listen to everyone’s concerns and ideas — not just those of a select few.

• You want a public servant who shares the optimism of Wisconsin and will work to expand opportunities for every family — not lecture them about everything our country can’t do.

• You want to be represented by a fighter who will speak truth to power and always do what he or she thinks is right, regardless of what Washington, D.C.’s powerful special interests and lobbyists say.

As I hit the road from my home in Middleton in the weeks ahead, I look forward to hearing much more from my fellow Wisconsinites.

But to build this campaign, I’ll need your help, right from the beginning.

Click here to watch my announcement video — and tell me you’re in this, too.

I love Wisconsin. I love the spirit of the people here and the beautiful state we all cherish.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me. I know that, together, we can make great things possible again.


Russ Feingold

P.S. We’re going to need to build a strong grassroots campaign to win next November, powered by support from all across Wisconsin and the country. So I hope you’ll forward this email to your friends and family — and invite them to join us, too.

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Mike McCabe: The many signs of Capitol corruption

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Sometimes political corruption comes right up and slaps you on the face.

Such was the case with the recent revelation that a state lawmaker granted a wealthy divorced developer an unusual and significant opportunity to provide input into the writing of legislation allowing high-income parents to substantially reduce their child support payments. The businessman happens to be a major donor to the Republican legislator and other GOP officials.

The effort to craft the bill (since withdrawn) to the donor’s liking even left a legislative attorney helping to write the bill at a loss. “It’s hard to fashion a general principle that will apply to only one situation,” the drafting lawyer said.

Most people don’t get that kind of attention and personalized service from an elected representative. But then most people don’t make tens of thousands of dollars in political donations.

Most times, corruption is not that conspicuous. Most times, it presents itself much more subtly.

The corrupting influence of money in politics works its will at the Capitol every day in countless ways as it shapes the legislative agenda. It plays an insidious role in determining what lawmakers discuss and what they don’t talk about, which bills get debated and which ones don’t, what business is brought to a vote, and which bills become law.

Here’s an illustration: Try to think of the last time the Legislature did something to address a major challenge unique to rural communities in Wisconsin. Try to name the rural issues that are on the Legislature’s agenda for the upcoming session. Make a list of the rural issues on the Democrats’ agenda. Now make one for the Republicans.

Those are some mighty short lists.

Rural people and rural problems get neglected at the Capitol for a reason. Politicians don’t talk about rural issues and don’t solve rural problems because they don’t get many political donations from rural areas. As the Democracy Campaign’s recent analysis of the communities in Wisconsin that produce the most campaign contributions showed, less than a quarter of the state’s nearly 900 ZIP codes produce almost all of the political donations. On the color-coded map illustrating this finding, there are some red ZIPs that strongly favor Republicans and a few blue ones that support the Democrats. But most of the map is colorless. Most parts of the state — especially the rural parts — generate little or no money for the politicians.

Elected officials always say campaign contributions have nothing to do with the decisions they make. Indeed, the legislator who authored the child support bill insisted the donations he got played no role in his decision to do the divorced businessman’s bidding.

So again I ask: When is the last time Wisconsin lawmakers tackled a major problem plaguing rural communities?

I made this point in a recent interview, and at first the reporter asking the questions appeared stumped. Then he brought up the proposed legislation designed to clear the way for more mining of sand used in a process of natural gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Think about that legislation. Local elected officials in western and northwestern Wisconsin, responding to concerns by the region’s mostly rural residents, have approved numerous resolutions and local ordinances aimed at asserting their communities’ right to oversee and regulate sand mining operations. Some have even voted to approve moratoriums stopping the activity altogether, at least for the time being.

State lawmakers marinated in money from a recent surge in political giving by sand mining interests from across the country fashioned a bill that seeks to pre-empt these local actions. The legislation strips away local control and puts the state in charge of oversight and regulation of sand mining. The hands of local officials would be tied. The ability of rural communities to determine their own fate when it comes to sand mining would be taken away.

Rural folks concerned that sand mining could harm air and water quality, lower their property values, create noise pollution and traffic congestion and damage their roads would be left with no say over these operations and no control over their own fate on the issue. They wouldn’t even have a say over the use of dynamite for blasting at the mining sites in their own backyards.

This is the one time that comes readily to mind when state lawmakers showed an interest in addressing an issue of great importance to rural Wisconsin, and this is how they respond. Sometimes political corruption comes right up and slaps you on the face.

Mike McCabe is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. This column first appeared on the group’s Big Money Blog.

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Todd Berry: State should ditch its accounting tricks

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Recent word of surprise tax revenues and higher-than-expected state surpluses are setting off the predictable fiscal feeding frenzy in the state Capitol.

There is talk of further income or property tax cuts or, perhaps, updating of state income tax withholding tables.

The latter is long overdue. State government has been withholding about 20 percent more from our paychecks than it needs, returning it later as income tax refunds. With budget crises and cash-flow problems behind it, state government can and should trim withholding to normal levels, leaving taxpayers with more income.

One idea that is probably not on the radar screens of state politicians also deserves mention.

Over the past two decades, state budget problems prompted governors and lawmakers to use repeated accounting tricks to “balance” what would otherwise have been unbalanced state budgets. Some of these tricks involved changing the timing of state aid and property tax credit payments to local units of government. This shifts costs from one fiscal year to the next.

One good-government alternative for using new-found cash is to “buy back” or undo some of these past accounting tricks. These gimmicks permanently increased by hundreds of millions of dollars deficits reported in official state financial statements prepared using general accepted accounting principles (or GAAP).

Paying for some state spending items in the current fiscal year rather than delaying payment until the following year would reverse poor budgetary decisions of past years while permanently lowering the GAAP deficit, which has ranged from $1.7 billion to $3 billion in recent years. It would also strengthen budget balances going forward, improving chances for a hike in Wisconsin’s relatively low bond rating, and increase the ability of state officials to undertake needed and major reforms in taxes, education or local government finance.

Berry is president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a state budget watchdog group:

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Dave Travis: Don’t let GOP impede voting rights

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

The Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature are making continuous efforts to impede voting rights and suppress voter turnout.

The system is being rigged — from changing voting and registration hours and dates in order to make voting more inconvenient and lengthen voter lines, to carving voter district boundary lines to favor Republican candidates, to passing repressive voter ID and registration requirements.

Some of the most insidious measures to keep people from voting are the new registration and voter ID proposals.

For 150 years, most of Wisconsin’s 1,851 cities, towns and villages did not have voter registration. If you lived in a municipality that had fewer than 5,000 residents, you didn’t need to register unless the community opted for registration. That changed a decade ago when the federal government required states to adopt statewide registration.

This offered a perfect opportunity for states to start rigging the voting laws. Despite several investigations that found no widespread or methodical fraud, a voter fraud problem was invented by partisans to justify voter suppression — read that to mean “keep down voting in Democratic-leaning areas and deter likely Democratic voters from voting.”

Following the national Republican program to make voting more difficult for the young, the elderly, the poor, minorities, and disabled, our Legislature and governor are in a mad dash to target specific groups of potential voters.

For instance young people. How many young people have photo IDs with their current address? Kids bounce around from apartment to apartment, job to job. A recent study showed fully a quarter of people in their early 20s moved in the last year. Yes, they’re supposed to change the license address, but most probably just leave mom and dad’s address on the license. The majority of Wisconsin colleges and tech schools don’t issue student IDs with current addresses.

Close to half of young minority people do not have a driver’s license — nor do many disabled people. Likewise, many elderly folks don’t hold a driver’s license. Many seniors do not have readily available birth certificates, and tracking down a birth certificate, particularly from another state, is no simple task. And finding transportation to a DMV office to get a state ID can be difficult.

Under the Republican voter ID law, now stalled in the courts, an elderly voter who grew up next door to the poll worker would have to produce a piece of paper to prove who they are!

Then there’s the casual voter. About 70 percent of eligible Wisconsin voters cast ballots in presidential elections, but that falls to around 50 percent in gubernatorial elections, and the percentages plunge in non-high-profile races. A distinct minority of us religiously vote in every election. Non-regular voters tend to get motivated by candidates or issues late in the election cycle. Late deciders should not be burdened with requirements to chase down birth certificates, state IDs, or passports in the last weeks before the election.

The respected federal judge who wrote the Indiana decision opening the floodgates to voter ID laws, Richard Posner, recently said the Indiana decision was wrong. Now that more information is available, he says the Indiana law “is a type of law now regarded as a means of voter suppression.”

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision on the legitimacy of ID laws in 2008 with Justice David Souter writing in dissent: “The law would have a disproportionate impact on poor and elderly voters.” Just last year Justice John Paul Stevens, who voted with the majority, admitted that Souter had been proven “dead right” in the years since the decision was handed down.

Federal judges are now figuring out the consequences of ID laws.

Wisconsin should too.

Former Rep. Dave Travis served in the Wisconsin Assembly for 30 years and was a member of the Assembly Elections Committee for 20 years.

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Dark money: How Wisconsin’s most politically influential organizations avoid disclosing their donors

Friday, January 17th, 2014

In the week preceding Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall election, amid a flurry of attack ads from all sides, one commercial treated Wisconsin television viewers to 30 seconds of supposedly home-spun Wisconsin wisdom.

“I didn’t vote for Scott Walker,” said a man leaning over a dock, fishing. “But I’m against the recall.”

“Recall isn’t the Wisconsin way,” said another guy.

It concluded: “End the recall madness. Vote for Scott Walker.”

The ad was sponsored by the Coalition for American Values, a mysterious Virginia-based group whose rather primitive website offered interested parties little more than a series of patriotic-themed photos — a solider greeting his son, a girl holding a flag — and an address for mailing donations. There were no names of those responsible for running the organization listed on the site.

Since the ads explicitly advocated for the election of a candidate, the group was required to report the spending to the state Government Accountability Board. But the report submitted by the Coalition for American Values didn’t offer any insight into where its money was coming from. The only donor it listed was itself.

It wasn’t until a year-and-a-half after the election that the source of the group’s money was finally revealed by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group based in Madison. By looking at tax documents for various political groups, the CMD discovered that the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR), one of the many political nonprofits linked to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, had been the group’s sole donor.

The Center for Media and Democracy filed a complaint with the accountability board, accusing the Coalition for American Values of failing to disclose its donors, as all “express advocacy” groups are required to do. The complaint has precedent — late last year, CPPR paid a $1 million fine in California for campaign finance violations.

While it will be heralded as a victory for transparency if the Coalition for American Values is reprimanded for its activities, it’s easy for such groups to avoid legal snafus and still spend unlimited amounts of money influencing voters.

Many of the most important political groups in Wisconsin are not required to report any of the money they spend on political ads. Why? Because the ads they run are technically classified as “issue ads,” meaning they avoid using specific words, such as “vote for” or “vote against.” Instead, they often bash or praise a candidate without specifically telling voters what to do at the polls.

It is this distinction between “express advocacy” and “issue advocacy” that a judge reportedly cited last week in rejecting the subpoenas that prosecutors sought for conservative groups in an ongoing John Doe investigation into illegal coordination between the Scott Walker campaign and independent political groups during the 2012 recall campaign. According to anonymous sources cited by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Appeals Judge Gregory Peterson said there was no probable cause of illegal coordination since the groups cited in the case were not engaging in “express advocacy.”

Essentially, the distinction allows these groups to do much of what political campaigns dream of doing: Raising and spending unlimited money without having to tell people where it is coming from.

Indeed, finding out who is funding these groups is difficult, if not virtually impossible. The only method for discovery is the IRS 990 form that all nonprofits are required to file annually. Although nonprofits are not required to list their contributors, they do have to list any large contributions they made to other groups.

Those willing to pore over documents for hours, if not days, might get a glimpse of where some of the money is coming from. Here’s what the Cap Times found out about some of the biggest players in Wisconsin politics.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Wisconsin Club for Growth

In addition to a cadre of lobbyists, most of whom are plucked from the staffs of Republican legislative leaders, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has an affiliate organization, the WMC Issues Mobilization Council, which regularly dumps millions of dollars into “issue ads” attacking Democrats and boosting Republicans.

Last summer, more than a year before the 2014 governor’s election, the group produced ads thanking Walker for improving Wisconsin’s business climate and creating jobs. That one ad blitz, which cost an estimated $1 million, amounted to more than half of the $1.8 million that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke reported raising during the first four months of her campaign.

While most of the money for WMC’s main organization comes from dues that member businesses pay, the money for its political arm comes exclusively from voluntary contributions, either from member businesses, individuals or outside organizations. Any contributions coming directly from companies or individuals is nearly impossible to track, however, since that information is not public.

What is clear from the tax records of other large political organizations in the state, however, is that one of WMC’s largest donors is the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the state affiliate of the national anti-tax group founded by New York City money managers in the 1980s.

In 2012 alone, the Club gave nearly $3 million to the WMC Issues Mobilization Council, about 45 percent of the $6.7 million that the group raised that year. Another big donor is the Wisconsin Bankers Association, which WMC executive director Kurt Bauer ran before taking his current position. The bankers group contributed $213,000 over the two years prior to the 2012 recall election.

“The vast majority of our donations come from WMC members, and that was true in 2012 as well,” Bauer wrote in an email in response to questions. “The Club stood out in 2012 in terms of overall dollar amounts, but they were still just one donor of many. We have many donors, and some give more than others.”

Sometimes the money moves in the opposite direction. In 2011, WMC gave nearly $1 million to the Club.

In recent years, some state-based business groups that have previously donated to WMC are giving to Wisconsin Club for Growth instead. For instance, the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance, the political arm of the Wisconsin Realtors Association, has given no money to WMC in recent years, but directed more than $1.1 million to the Club for Growth between 2010 and 2012. Similarly, the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance gave more than $400,000 to the Club in those three years, but only $5,000 to WMC.

As a result, the Club’s revenue ballooned from just more than $1 million in 2010 to over $12 million in 2011. In 2012, its revenue dropped to $8 million, still greater than WMC’s total of $6.7 million.

Both groups finance ads to boost Republican candidates or funnel the money to other conservative groups. Both have contributed substantially to the American Federation for Children, a Washington D.C.-based group that campaigns for private school vouchers.

Although both groups claim to be devoted to promoting free-market or business-friendly economic policy, they have both strayed from that focus to help elect conservative candidates.

For instance, in 2011, the Club donated $4.6 million — more than a third of its budget — to Citizens for a Strong America, a group that received no other donations that year, had no paid employees and listed a post office box in Columbus, Wis., as its address.

Citizens for a Strong America then directed a large portion of that money to socially conservative organizations. Most notably, it gave $916,000 to Wisconsin Family Action, a group that stridently opposes gay marriage and abortion, and $347,582 to the anti-abortion Wisconsin Right to Life. Those contributions accounted for more than 90 percent of Family Action’s revenue that year and roughly 14 percent of the revenue for Wisconsin Right to Life.

The director of the state Club for Growth, Eric O’Keefe, who has complained to the Wall Street Journal editorial board about the targeting of his organization by an ongoing John Doe investigation, did not respond to requests for comment.

Greater Wisconsin Committee

Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision, which allowed corporations and unions to campaign independently for candidates, Greater Wisconsin Committee was pitted against WMC and other conservative groups in the issue ad game. In the post-Citizens United era, GWC runs express advocacy ads that explicitly support Democrats or oppose Republicans.

As a result, GWC, run by a single employee with a post office box for an address, is required to disclose any money that it spends on ads to the Government Accountability Board. The money received by its spending arm, the Greater Wisconsin Independent Political Expenditure Fund, is disclosed as well. Almost all of the contributions come either directly from a handful of large unions, such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), or through a union front group, We Are Wisconsin, founded during the first round of recall elections to raise money from state and national unions.

However, there appears to be some significant contributions that GWC manages to avoid disclosing. For instance, the $100,000 it received in 2012 from the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance. While that donation was listed on WHA’s tax documents, it was nowhere to be found on GWC’s campaign finance documents.

Why? Likely because WHA reported the donation was for “issues advocacy.” Therefore, GWC does not have to report the contribution.

GWC executive director Rich Judge declined to comment specifically on the WHA donation, but said that his group discloses all contributions it is legally obligated to disclose.

The American Federation for Children

Backed largely by the billionaire DeVos family of Michigan, AFC is the one major conservative group in Wisconsin that engages in express advocacy for candidates. Although its Wisconsin chapter typically supports Republicans, it spent a significant sum of money in solidly Democratic districts to promote Democratic primary candidates who support private school vouchers.

Little is known about where the money AFC spends on Wisconsin elections comes from.

Although the group reported receiving $40,000 last year from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, AFC reports getting the rest of the money from its national organization, which is not required to disclose its finances to the state.

“Out-of-state groups are only required to report income they receive from sources within Wisconsin,” explained GAB spokesman Reid Magney last year. “Money they receive from sources outside Wisconsin does not need to be reported to the state of Wisconsin.”

Other Wisconsin groups give substantially to AFC, however. Its donors in recent years have included WMC ($185,000), Wisconsin Club for Growth ($250,000), the Wisconsin Bankers Association ($10,000), the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance ($10,000) and the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance ($30,000).

One of its most significant donors in Wisconsin was a group based in Brookfield called the Jobs First Coalition, which gave AFC $245,000 in 2011. Not much is known about the coalition, which is run by Bob Reddin, a Brookfield alderman, according to the group’s 990 form.

In response to requests for comment and its latest 990 form, somebody from the group responded via the group’s email account without identifying him or herself. The person agreed to send the 990 form via mail, as required by law, but did not respond to any further questions.

It is clear that the coalition’s money comes largely from the same sources that are funding the other big conservative groups in the state. Nearly half of the $927,000 it raised in 2011 came from the Club for Growth, which gave it $425,000. In 2011-2012 it also received $150,000 from the Homeowners Alliance and in 2010 it received $25,000 from the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance.

Americans for Prosperity

It is difficult to trace money directed to Americans for Prosperity, the national conservative behemoth founded by the Koch brothers a decade ago. Although the group boasted a budget of $125 million in 2012, considering the wealth of its backers, it did not need to solicit much money from other organizations.

Whereas most major political organizations in the state, which are registered under the IRS 501©(4) section, are allowed to engage in political communications and even openly support candidates, AFP is registered as a tax-deductible charitable organization, meaning it is barred from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

Thus, all of AFP’s activities are conducted under the guise of “voter education activities.” Much of AFP’s funding is directed toward events, such as rallies and conventions. But many millions also financed TV ads clearly intended to boost Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney and Scott Walker.

In 2011 and 2012, AFP teamed up with the MacIver Institute, a conservative think-tank, on an ad campaign promoting Walker’s policies. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, an election watchdog group, estimated that the ads cost $3.7 million. AFP President Tim Philips told CNN that his group spent $10 million in 2011 and 2012 promoting Walker’s policies.

While AFP’s funders are hard to identify, records indicate that MacIver receives a substantial portion of its budget from the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, a conservative foundation based in Milwaukee that doles out tens of millions of dollars annually to right-leaning think tanks and advocacy groups.

In response to the AFP-MacIver ad campaign, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed a complaint with the IRS, arguing the groups had violated their charitable status.

“These groups are gaming the tax code to play electoral politics while masquerading as charitable organizations,” WDC director Mike McCabe said in a March 2012, statement. The IRS responded that it would consider the matter, but has not said anything further.

Proposed solutions

So far, no state has implemented meaningful regulations that require issue advocacy groups to disclose their donors.

In Wisconsin, the attempts to do so have been stymied by both political parties and political groups across the spectrum. For instance, in the wake of the Citizens United decision in 2010, the GAB put in place a rule that would have required disclosure from any group that runs an ad or mailing within 60 days of an election that is subject to “no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.”

The Club for Growth and One Wisconsin Now, a small, union-backed group that does not run TV ads but engages in online communications, sued to block implementation. The sides reached a settlement and GAB has not since enforced the rule.

In addition, when Democrats were in control of the Legislature in 2010, a bill that would have required disclosure of issue ad groups passed the Senate but was not taken up by the Assembly.

“The leadership in the Assembly and a couple Assembly Democrats didn’t want to bring it up,” recalls Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, one of the bill’s sponsors, who says that some in his party believed they could benefit from the secretive groups.

Mike Wittenwyler, an attorney who represents the Club for Growth and other political groups, says such a law would be unconstitutional. Specifically, it would run counter to a landmark 1976 Supreme Court ruling that recognized a fundamental difference between ads that expressly advocate for candidates by using specific words, such as “vote for” or “vote against,” and ads that avoid such terms.

That does not mean, he says, that the state can’t regulate issue ads. What it could do, he suggests, is set up a framework that mimics existing regulations for federal elections. Currently, the federal government requires that all ads that mention a candidate within 60 days before an election disclose the spending.

“If the state adopted a statute like that, it depends on what it looks like, but (it might pass constitutional muster),” he says.

While such a system would force groups like WMC and the Club for Growth to immediately disclose how much they have spent on TV ads and other communication, it might not force them to disclose their donors. As is the case in federal elections, many big groups report that none of the money they received was intended to specifically fund ads, and therefore does not have to be disclosed.

Others have suggested that raising contribution limits for candidates will take some of the money out of the independent sphere. It was that reasoning that led a bill to double the amount that state candidates could accept from contributors to pass the Assembly overwhelmingly last year, although it is now stalled in the Senate.

“If we have artificially low limits, money is going to flow into the independent expenditures, which is not good for anybody,” said state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend.

Erpenbach and other disclosure advocates dismiss that reasoning out of hand. First, the amount of money one can give to a candidate still pales in comparison to the six or seven figure sums that corporations and wealthy individuals can give to independent groups. Second, why would donors give to candidates and have their donations disclosed when they can give secretly to independent groups?

Said Erpenbach:”The people who give to Americans for Prosperity don’t want their names out there.” 

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Plain Talk: Sorry, compared to Minnesotans, we made the wrong choice

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Earlier this week The New York Times ran a front-page story comparing the neighboring cities of Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., and telling how they epitomize the political divide we have in America today.

The story didn’t take any sides in the ongoing debate over whether the Republicans in Wisconsin or the Democrats in Minnesota are right, but contrasted how their very different philosophies are impacting their states.

It essentially boiled down to this: Working people are getting a much better deal in Minnesota, but business owners like Wisconsin much better.

The Times piece marvels at how the people in these two states, with similar ancestry, demographics and social history, took completely separate political paths in 2010. Wisconsin citizens, despite its long progressive history, turned complete control of their government over to Republicans while Minnesotans, also one of the country’s leading progressive states, elected to give Democrats full control of theirs.

Both states, consequently, went completely separate ways in solving their budget problems. Led by Scott Walker and his followers in the Legislature, Wisconsin decided to destroy public unions, force workers to pay more for health insurance and pensions, and make substantial cutbacks in public education.

Minnesota, on the other hand, elected to fix its budget by enacting higher taxes on those earning more than $150,000 a year and enacting some new business taxes, which allowed the state to increase aid to public education. It also permitted child care workers to unionize and sanctioned gay marriage.

The Times followed a Duluth couple who teach school in Superior and documented how they have had to supplement their income to make up for the $6,000 they lost under the Wisconsin cuts. And the reporters spent time with a Duluth foundry owner who says he would like to annex his factory to Wisconsin so he could escape his state’s high business taxes.

There are interviews with a gay Superior couple who have businesses in both Superior and Duluth and who now say that despite the higher taxes there, they plan on moving to Minnesota, where their lifestyle is welcome and not declared illegal as it is in Wisconsin. There’s a Wisconsin woman who has been cut off Medicaid in Wisconsin and is thinking of moving to Minnesota so she can be covered. And the Minnesota foundry owner expresses his worry that he’ll have trouble recruiting high-paid executives because of increased state income taxes on higher wages.

While the story didn’t go into it, the economic results in the two states have been starkly different too. While Minnesota’s economy has seen robust growth, Wisconsin’s has — generously — been called sluggish. Because of differences in how health care is viewed, Minnesotans pay far less in premiums than do Badgers. There are those who contend that the Gopher State is leaving Wisconsin in its dust.

Bottom line: The two citizenries made their choice. One has opted to make working people shoulder the burden of “fixing” state government, and the other has elected to make the wealthy and successful business interests pay a bigger share.

Problem is, we Badgers made the wrong choice.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. and @DaveZweifel

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