Which groups have recently banked on big lobbying efforts in Wisconsin?

From the Milwaukee Brewers to realtors and the Koch network to Planned Parenthood, lobbying groups in Wisconsin have been active over the past decade — here's a look at who is doing what.

The Badger Project

April 26, 2023

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People sit and stand among folding chairs, coolers and parked vehicles in a parking lot, with trees and American Family Field with its roof closed in the background.

Milwaukee Brewers fans tailgate at American Family Field before the Opening Day game on April 3, 2023. (Credit: Stan Kosek / The Badger Project)

Badger Project

By Peter Cameron, The Badger Project

The Milwaukee Brewers quintupled their lobbying spending in the past decade, according to filings with the state.

The ballclub is just one of many organizations large and small that lobby in the state’s capital. Lobbying is the attempt to influence legislative or administrative action, according to the state.

Lobbyists must be registered with the state, and they must also report their hours and dollars spent lobbying to the state. Business associations, like the powerful Wisconsin Manufacturing & Commerce, and others spend hundreds of thousands of dollars every year trying to shape, promote and block legislation.

Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature are currently in the process of crafting the state’s two-year budget, which could top out at more than $100 billion, so interest groups and their lobbyists have shifted into high gear in a year the state has a record $7 billion surplus at its disposal.

Brewers and Bucks

After reporting spending nothing on lobbying in the 2013-2014 session, the Brewers spent a total of $120,000 in the two sessions between 2015 and 2018, to $222,000 in the 2019-20 session and then $435,000 in the 2021-2022 session.

The Brewers are seeking hundreds of millions in state funding to renovate their stadium, now called American Family Field. The stadium is owned and operated by a local government unit called the Southeast Professional Baseball Park District, which represents Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties.

The ballclub is negotiating with Evers, a Democrat and vocal Brewers fan, and Republicans who control the state Legislature. The state wants a commitment from the Brewers to stay in Milwaukee for a number of years in exchange for renovation funding. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, the top Republican in the state, recently said his party does not support a subsidy to the team.

The Brewers did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Similarly, the Milwaukee Bucks reported spending nearly $700,000 in lobbying in the 2015-2016 legislative session, as the team was trying to secure funding for its new arena, the Fiserv Forum, which ultimately began construction in 2016. The Bucks eventually got $250 million in funds from the state and Milwaukee County to build the stadium. The NBA team has not reported any lobbying since then.

Realtors double their lobbying

The Wisconsin Realtors Association, which bills itself as lobbying on behalf of homeowners and property owners, has dramatically and steadily increased its lobbying efforts in the past ten years, from nearly $500,000 in the 2013-2014 session to nearly $1.2 million in the 2021-2022 session, making it one of the top lobbier in the state.

Asked about the large increase, Joe Murray, political and governmental affairs director for the association, said in an email that the association has many lobbying interests, and noted lobbying expenses were lower when Republicans had full control of state government. But Evers’ election in 2018 means the association now needs to lobby both sides, he said.

“Divided government requires more time to get agreement on difficult issues,” he said. “This is not cheap.”

Other big spenders, from business to farming

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s chamber of commerce, is regularly the biggest lobbier in the state, spending about $1.4 million per 2-year legislative session. The Wisconsin Hospital Association is often second, spending about $1.3 million per legislative session. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation regularly spends more than $1 million per legislative session. The Wisconsin Insurance Alliance regularly spends more than $500,000 per session.

Lighted letters reading "Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce" are placed at the top of a building with concrete pillars, brick walls and one row of windows, with trees in the foreground.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, based in Madison, is regularly the biggest lobbying group in the state. (Credit: Peter Cameron / The Badger Project)

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood had spent relatively little in recent sessions, but increased that to more than $400,000 in the last legislative session, during which Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. That made Wisconsin’s 1849 ban on abortion relevant again.

Lobbying for libations

The Tavern League of Wisconsin, which represents the state’s thousands of bars, generally spends about $230,000 per session on lobbying, regularly outside the top 50 lobbying spenders. The Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association spent between $80,000 and $380,000 per legislative session in the last decade. Molson Coors, which acquired full ownership of Miller Brewing in Milwaukee in 2016, started lobbying in the state after the purchase, and spent an average of about $275,000 in each of the past two legislative sessions. Wisconsin Wine and Spirit Institute, which represents wholesalers, reported spending about $275,000 in each of the past two legislative sessions.

The Koch network

The Koch network’s organization Americans For Prosperity, which advocates for free market policies, lower taxes and limited government, are one of the top lobbiers in Wisconsin, spending more than $700,000 in the last session.

Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC, which lobbies more specifically for Koch Industries on issues like the environment, energy, taxation, and business policy, consistently spends more than $300,000 every legislative session.

AT&T Wisconsin

AT&T Wisconsin has drastically cut its lobbying in the past decade, dropping from more than $700,000 in the 2013-2014 session down to about $33,000 in the 2021-2022 session. Since Evers, a Democrat, was elected governor in 2018, the state has been much less friendly to large phone and internet companies, as his administration has favored smaller, local co-ops when awarding state grants for rural high-speed internet expansion. AT&T did not respond to a request for comment.

Kwik Trip

The popular La Crosse-based convenience store/gas station chain has steadily increased its lobbying in recent years, from about $265,000 in the 2015-2016 legislative session to about $376,000 in the 2021-2022 session.

Asked about the reasons behind that increase, John McHugh, Kwik Trip’s director of public relations, wrote in an email, “We are not interested in participating in this story.”

With hundreds of stores in Wisconsin, Kwik Trip lobbies on many bills, including in favor of a pending bill that allows “persons to charge fees for the use of electric vehicle charging stations.”

A chart with the title "Lobbying Spending in Wisconsin" shows the amount of money spent by AT&T, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Milwaukee Brewers from the 2013-14 through 2021-22 sessions of the Wisconsin Legislature.

(Credit: The Badger Project)

Governmental advocacy groups

The Wisconsin Counties Association, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County regularly spend six figures per legislative session, pushing for funding and favorable legislation for their municipalities.

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan, citizen-supported journalism nonprofit in Wisconsin.

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