Today, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign issued a “report,” which will no doubt be reported as incontrovertible fact in newspapers across the state.
The “analysis” purports to show that business interests have given $12 to state candidates for every $1 labor organizations have given over the same time.Â It says:
WDC found business interests made $67.4 million in large individual and political action committee contributions compared to laborâ€™s $5.8 million between 1995 and 2006 to candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the legislature and legislative leadership committees.
That must be the explanation for our Democratic Governor and State Senate.
Of course, WDC never says what they consider to be a “business” interest, since they don’t list their methodology.Â Â A candidate once complained to me that his mother gave him $100 and was listed as a “business” since she owned a tree pruning farm and had to list that on the report.Â For all we know, “business” could be anyone with a job.Â At the very least, who they describe as “business” is extraordinarily subjective.Â Are university professors “labor?”Â How do we know?
There also may be practical reasons why union contributions are underreported.Â For instance, one has to report their employer if they give a contribution of over $100.Â Could it be possible that union members tend to give in amounts less than $100, so their employer isn’t listed?Â One contribution of $125 would show up as being from a “business interest,” while twenty contributions of $50 (from different donors) would not.
Also, there may be substantial differences in the way unions and businesses collect funds for contributions.Â Union members often don’t have to bother with making contributions, since the union collects a portion of their check every month.Â That money often goes to pay for independent expenditures (which the WDC report conveniently ignores), and isn’t reported anywhere.Â Business interestsÂ tend to collect money from employees (“bundling”) and contribute via conduit, which are reported as individual contributions.
WDC’s firstÂ chart supposedly shows that union contributions dropped in the 2006 gubernatorial election cycle.Â Are we seriously supposed to believe that unions spent lessÂ in elections last year than they did in 2002?Â Or is the bulk of that money going to front groups like One Wisconsin Now and the Greater Wisconsin Committee, who don’t report their donors?
What’s particularly galling is that this analysis punishes individuals who follow elections law and report their contributions.Â The reporting system is intended to show who is giving and how much they’re giving, in order to gauge how much influence they have.Â If WDC wants to make accusations on that basis, that’s fine.Â But to ignore spending by labor (and business, for that matter) via unreported channels and call this an “analysis” is absurd.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that the AFL-CIO wrote a check out to the WDC, but we’ll never know because they don’t disclose their donors.