The Democracy Campaign issued a most unusual report today, showing that campaign fundraising by Wisconsin legislators in the first half of the year fell to its lowest level since 1999. In fact, after scouring our archives it appears it was utterly unique. I could find no other report documenting a drop in fundraising. I found this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this, but nothing showing the spigot closing.
In our report we attribute the decline in donations to the Assembly's rule banning fundraising during the state budget process. This wasn't mere conjecture on our part. The numbers told a convincing story. Overall fundraising was down, but it was down most sharply in the Assembly.
Nevertheless, since releasing our analysis this morning we've heard from a few who wonder if the economy had more to do with it than the Assembly rule.
Could be. But if the recession was the cause, then fundraising should have been in a tailspin in 2008 because the economy was already in a freefall. That wasn't the case. On the contrary, all kinds of records were broken in last year's legislative elections.
And back in 2001 in the aftermath of 9/11, the economy sputtered and both charitable contributions and tax collections fell. But the political money kept flowing. In fact, donations to candidates for governor went up six fold over pre-9/11 levels.
What we've seen over the years is a steep and steady upward arc to political giving, regardless of the condition of the economy. It is one of the few things that is truly recession-proof.
Which is why we are convinced that the drop in legislative fundraising in the first six months of 2009 had everything to do with the Assembly ban on budget-season fundraising.