WEAC leads in lobbying spending

CREATED Aug 12, 2011

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The statewide teachers union led in spending on lobbying state lawmakers even before this year's fight over collective bargaining rights.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council spent $2.5 million on lobbying in 2009 and 2010, years when Democrats were in control of all of state government, a report released Thursday by the Government Accountability Board showed.

WEAC is always one of the top spending lobbyists in the Capitol and they took a central role this year fighting Gov. Scott Walker's plan curbing public employee union rights, including teachers.

Back in 2009, when Democrat Jim Doyle was governor and Democrats controlled the Senate and Assembly, WEAC wasn't helping to organize massive protests but it was a regular presence in the Capitol.

Much of its lobbying in 2009 was in support of removing caps on raises for teachers during contract negotiations, a move supported by Doyle and approved by the Legislature.

But this year Walker and Republicans passed a bill taking away teachers' collective bargaining rights, except over wages that are no greater than inflation.

More than a third of WEAC's lobbying over that two-year period was during the six months in 2009 when the budget was under consideration. All told, WEAC spent 12,364 hours lobbying, which averages to 17 hours a day every day for two years.

WEAC spokeswoman Christina Brey said the union fought hard over those two years on a variety of school quality issues, including accountability for voucher schools, and a measure giving the state superintendent more powers.

A report that would show WEAC and other lobbyists' activity in the first six months of this year when the collective bargaining fight was raging should be released by the GAB soon, spokesman Reid Magney said.

The report shows that 782 organizations employed lobbyists during the two-year legislative session. Lobbyists collectively spent 482,745 hours and $65.4 million twisting the arms of lawmakers. That's an average of nearly $500,000 and 3,700 hours lobbying each of the 132 state lawmakers.

Both the hours spent on lobbying and the amount was up from the previous session in 2007 and 2008, when it was 477,368 hours and $62 million.

The numbers came as no surprise to Jay Heck, director of the Wisconsin chapter of the government watchdog group Common Cause.

"Lobbying is a bigger and bigger business in Wisconsin every year. As the state budget gets larger, there's more money at stake and the number of lobbyists increases, Heck said. "It's overwhelming force and that's what's used now in lobbying."

The Forest County Potawatomi spent the second most on lobbying at $2 million, followed by the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance at $1 million and nearly $1 million by tobacco company Altria Client Services, Inc.

The Wisconsin Insurance Alliance was working against budget proposals related to car insurance and liability that were approved by the Democrats but removed this year when Republicans took control. Altria worked in vain to stop a 75-cent-per-pack cigarette tax increase.

The Potawatomi was involved in a number of bills, including a climate change measure that was the most heavily lobbied proposal over those two years. The bill, backed by Doyle and environmentalists and in the works for years, did not pass under opposition from some in the business community who feared it would lead to higher utility rates.

The next most lobbied was a bill taking away the governor's ability to appoint the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)