Friday, March 08, 2013

Realtors Reward Roggensack On Recusal, Rulings

The Wisconsin Realtors Association plans to spend more than $200,000 to reelect a state Supreme Court justice who voted to approve court rules the group helped write that say justices don't have to remove themselves from cases involving parties who helped get them elected.

The realtors group filed documents with the state in February saying it may spend $206,648 to support incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack, who is considered one of the court's four conservatives, in her April 2 reelection bid against Ed Fallone, a Marquette Law School professor.

The realtors have not directly spent money on outside electioneering activities in a Supreme Court race until now.

So far, the realtors group has sponsored an ad that touts Roggensack's endorsements by several county sheriffs and that she is a fair and independent judge whose rulings help keep the public safe.  However, the group told its members it endorsed Roggensack because she ruled in favor of the realtors group or real industry practices most of the time in cases before her since she was elected in 2003.

Roggensack was among the justices who voted 4-3 to approve rules in 2009 that say campaign contributions, endorsements and outside electioneering activities, like broadcast ads and mailings, by a person or group in a case before the high court are not automatic grounds for a justice who received the support to recuse themselves in the case.

The rules were written by the statewide realtors group and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's largest business organization and a powerful lobbying force that has spent millions of dollars to support mostly Republicans for statewide office and the legislature.

The court and concerns about conflicts of interest and bias in cases before it drew national attention because of two nasty Supreme Court campaigns in 2007 and 2008 where outside special interest groups spent a combined $7.9 million - about twice as much as the candidates.  Later, the court narrowly decided a case that favored WMC's position and resulted in millions of dollars in business tax refunds.


Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Grooming 'Insurance Legislators'

The ALEC model for influencing state lawmaking is spreading, especially in the insurance industry. We're now seeing evidence on campaign finance reports that Wisconsin legislators are essentially being paid to be lobbied on insurance issues...getting "scholarships" to attend insurance industry conferences where they are educated on insurance-related legislation and regulation and given model bills to pass.

Get a load of the name of one of these outfits that has made payments to at least one Wisconsin lawmaker.... The Insurance Legislators Foundation is an arm of the National Conference of Insurance Legislators. A New York address is listed for ILF on the campaign reports we've examined. Also showing up on campaign finance reports are Griffith Foundation scholarships. This outfit sponsored an "Insurance 101" program for state legislators in conjunction with the NCOIL annual meeting in Alabama last November and is doing another one in Oklahoma later this month. Griffith is affiliated with another group called the American Institute for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters, which lists a Pennsylvania address and is described as "the leader in delivering proven knowledge solutions that drive powerful business results for the risk management and property-casualty insurance industry."

Wasn't that long ago that state representatives would get ideas for bills from people they were elected to represent. Now they are being paid to travel across the country to be fed industry-approved legislation.

Good grief.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Big Donor Double Standard

In the ubiquitous TV ads for State Farm, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers complains about insurance agents stealing his signature move and turning it into their own "Discount Double Check."

Here at the Democracy Campaign, we've become well acquainted with a very similar routine. Any time we try to account for the political campaign money coming from big special interests, these groups do an old #12 when their signature move is taken at face value.

When advocating for their agendas at the State Capitol, labor unions say they speak for tens of thousands of dues-paying members and business associations claim to speak for thousands of businesses and their employees. But when we take them at their word and include the campaign donations of these masses in our analyses of interest group political influence, they scream bloody murder, whining that it's not fair to assume that all those who they claim to represent actually agree with them on the issues they are lobbying on.

A recent example is the report we issued recently showing that donors represented by interest groups lobbying for controversial mining legislation gave nearly $16 million to the governor and state legislators, which was 610 times as much as mining opponents gave.

Among the groups pushing mining deregulation is Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which fancies itself the voice of Wisconsin business and claims to represent more than 3,500 employers. Another trade association that is lobbying for the mining bill is the Wisconsin Bankers Association. WBA claims to represent 300 commercial banks and savings institutions and their nearly 2,300 branch offices and almost 30,000 employees.

Then there is the Wisconsin Builders Association, which is pushing for passage of the mining bill on behalf of its more than 6,500 member companies. And the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which claims to represent over 13,000 members statewide. Not to mention Wisconsin Independent Businesses. WIB's message to state lawmakers is that it represents nearly 4,000 "service sector companies, hometown manufacturers and traditional Main Street retailers."

The Wisconsin Restaurant Association, which boasts over 7,000 member establishments, also is registered to lobby in favor of the mining legislation. So is the Tavern League of Wisconsin, with 5,000 members.

All such groups gain political clout from claiming to speak for so many. They trade on the power of association, on their status as the voice of such vast legions. This is their signature move.

But when we note campaign contributions from top executives and managers of these thousands of businesses to the governor and state legislators, these groups suddenly insist they do not necessarily speak for their members on the mining issue or any other issue and condemn us for painting with a broad brush.

They want it both ways. When hunting for votes on issues like mining, they want to be free to pass themselves off as the voice of thousands. But when the campaign donations of those thousands make it look like legislative favors are being bought, then there really is no association, just a bunch of independent actors who may have very different views on any given issue. When accused of pay-to-play politics, it's funny how these groups speak for no one.