The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce has spent or funneled more than $2.4 million since 2010 on elections and lobbying activities to push pro-business policies at the expense of workers and consumers.
As with most powerful special interests and business groups, Republican legislative and statewide candidates have been the Milwaukee chamber’s chief beneficiaries, particularly GOP Gov. Scott Walker. The governor has received about $1.5 million in campaign contributions and election backing through the group, which claims 1,800 Milwaukee-area business members.
Rather than directly spending to influence legislative and statewide elections, the business group has given more than $1.9 million since 2010 to federal 527 electioneering groups, which may raise and spend unlimited money from any source on state and federal elections. The Milwaukee chamber gave nearly $1.9 million to three GOP 527 groups and $55,000 to three Democratic groups, including:
$1,343,025 to the Republican Governors Association;
$406,035 to the Republican State Leadership Committee;
$125,000 to Our American Revival;
$25,000 to the Greater Wisconsin Committee;
$25,000 to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee;
$5,000 to the Democratic Governors Association;
The Republican Governors Association spent an estimated $18.4 million to help Walker in his successful 2010, 2012 and 2014 elections, and the Republican State Leadership Committee spent more than $2.7 million in Wisconsin since 2010 to help elect GOP legislators.
Last year, the Milwaukee business group contributed $28,200 to the Construction Trades Coalition, which spent about $59,000 to support Democrats in six legislative races during the 2016 fall elections.
In addition to funneling money to outside electioneering groups, the Milwaukee business group’s political action committee (PAC) and conduit, which bundles direct individual donations to candidates, contributed nearly $154,000 between January 2010 and December 2016 to legislative and statewide candidates. The vast majority of the contributions, nearly $150,500, went to Republicans. Topping the list of PAC and conduit contributions from the Milwaukee chamber between January 2010 and December 2016 was:
GOP Sen. Alberta Darling, of River Hills, $21,250
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, $14,000
GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, $12,250
In 2012, the business group’s PAC was fined $500 by the state for collecting $170,000 in excessive donations that were used to finance the PAC’s contributions to Walker’s recall campaign. The PAC was also ordered to retrieve $170,000 in excessive donations to Walker and return the money to the contributors.
The Milwaukee chamber mostly supports deregulation, lower taxes, anti-worker measures, proposals to limit local control, breaks for businesses, and voucher and charter schools. And the business group generally opposes proposals like minimum wage increases, state and local prevailing wages, mandatory family leave, and other policies that cost businesses.
Between January 2011 and December 2016, the group spent about $405,000 on lobbying state spending and policy, including about $180,000 in the last 2015-16 legislative session. Along with other special interest groups, the Milwaukee chamber persuaded the state to put up millions of dollars in state funding for a new downtown Milwaukee Bucks arena. The Milwaukee group also successfully pushed the passage of a state right-to-work law, which prohibits requiring workers to make payments to unions as a condition of employment.
During deliberations on the 2015-17 state budget, the business group asked the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to cut $300,000 a year in funding for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), which represents consumers in electrical and gas rate increase requests by utilities that are before the state Public Service Commission.
So far in the current 2017-18 legislative session, the Milwaukee business group supports an Assembly GOP income tax cut and road-funding proposal that would eventually cut taxes for Wisconsin’s wealthiest residents. A Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis showed that more than $2 billion of about $2.7 billion in tax cuts that the proposal would create just in 2029 would go to taxpayers earning $100,000 or more.
The Milwaukee business group also praised a proposed GOP bill that would attach seven-year expiration dates to state rules and regulations that would require state agencies to get approval from the legislature to keep them in force.
Among the group’s top leaders is its longtime president, Tim Sheehy, and Steve Baas, vice president of governmental affairs. Fifteen years ago, Baas was an aide to former GOP Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was among five legislative leaders convicted in the Caucus Scandal, which investigated the illegal use of state personnel and resources on legislative campaigns. Baas was among about two dozen Capitol staffers granted immunity in the investigation.