Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Madison - If elected officials wonder why the public is increasingly cynical about their motives, they might only have to look at how much was spent to influence them the past 18 months - $47 million.
State organizations paid that much to lobbyists in the current legislative session, a 23% jump from the previous session, according to a report issued Friday by the state Ethics Board.
The lobbyists were employed by nearly 750 organizations and spent 393,000 hours lobbying the Legislature and state agencies on bills and administrative rules from January 2005 to July 2006. That's equal to a person working eight hours a day every business day for 188 years, the report says.
The total amount spent on lobbying this session is likely to be the highest to date, said Jay Heck, executive director of clean-government watchdog Common Cause in Wisconsin. In the first 18 months of the 2003-'04 legislative session, organizations spent $38.3 million on lobbyists.
"Money and connections have never played a larger role in shaping public policy," Heck said.
Six lobbying firms earned $1 million or more, according to the report:
• Capitol Consultants/Wimmer and Co. - $2.13 million; among its major clients are the Forest County Potawatomi tribe, Georgia-Pacific Corp. and the Dairyland Business Association.
• Broydrick & Associates - $2.11 million; some clients include Wisconsin Energy Corp., Aurora Health Care Inc. and the American Cancer Society.
• The Hamilton Consulting Group - $1.47 million; clients include Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Xcel Energy.
• Quarles & Brady law firm - $1.15 million; Wisconsin Hospital Association.
• Foley & Lardner law firm - $1.13 million; Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Aurora.
• Martin Schreiber & Associates - $1.12 million; Forest County Potawatomi, Philip Morris Inc. and Miller Brewing Co.
R. Roth Judd, executive director of the Ethics Board, said that the money paid to lobbyists was for preparing and carrying messages to public officials and that grass-roots organizations increasingly have joined the process.
"Lobbyists and the firms that employ them cannot provide anything to elected officials, even a cup of coffee," Judd said, adding that Wisconsin's system is more transparent than others. "Among our objectives is putting an end to stealth lobbying so every organization knows the identity of every other organization lobbying and what they're lobbying about."
Heck said lobbyists have a huge advantage over average residents because of the access they command in the Capitol, enhanced by special interests' ability to donate campaign funds. "That almost inevitably comes at the expense of the great body of taxpayers who don't have special-interest representation," he said.
Citizens sense that, too. Recent surveys have shown that Wisconsin residents believe elected officials are more concerned with representing their own interests or those of special-interest groups than they are with serving the public good.
Lobbyist Bill Broydrick said Heck was off the mark, arguing that lobbyists play an important role in public policy because they ensure that key groups are heard.
"You want to avoid the tyranny of the majority, and to avoid the tyranny of the majority, you need to have intense minorities," he said.
Broydrick criticized the report, saying it wrongly listed his company in second instead of first place. Broydrick said the top listing - Capitol Consultants/Wimmer and Co. - is actually two distinct firms that share office space. Erik Hayko, lobbying disclosure administrator for the board, said Capitol Consultants and Wimmer and Co. are listed together on lobbying reports.
William McCoshen and Eric Petersen of Capitol Consultants/Wimmer and Co. could not be reached Friday.
Broydrick became a lobbyist nearly 25 years ago after serving almost four years in the Assembly. He said he focused much of his lobbying efforts the past 18 months on keeping the state from cutting Medicaid reimbursements on behalf of Aurora Health Care and Children's Hospital and Health System. That fight was successful, as was his work for the American Cancer Society to keep a statewide smoking ban at bay that the group saw as too weak.
Schreiber, a former Democratic acting governor, represents the Forest County Potawatomi, among other clients. The Potawatomi operate the state's most lucrative casino in Milwaukee and failed in an effort to give the Legislature a say in approving new casinos, which the tribe hoped would block the chances of a proposed Kenosha casino.
But Ken Walsh, a lobbyist for Schreiber & Associates, said the effort had an upside because it boosted public support for legislative oversight of siting casinos. He said not all lobbying is for narrow interests, noting that his firm represents the Wisconsin Troopers' Association, which supported a law for children up to age 8 to use booster seats in cars.
"I don't consider the troopers a special-interest group," he said. "They're out there advocating for highway safety."