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Data: Lobbyists spent nearly $18M in Wisconsin budget season

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Lobbyists spent nearly $18 million to influence the Wisconsin Legislature and state agencies during the first budget season under Gov. Tony Evers, according to preliminary figures.

The nonpartisan state Ethics Commission’s records suggest that spending from more than 700 possible lobbying groups has fallen by more than $1 million so far this year, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The newspaper examined total lobbying in the first six months of 2019 and compared it with the same period two years ago. Although hundreds of groups reported to the Ethics Commission, many logged little to no lobbying activity.

The numbers also suggest that six of the top 10 lobbyist groups in 2019 were among the highest spenders during the state’s last budget battle two years ago. The top spenders include the Wisconsin Hospital Association and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Evers added 78 line vetoes before signing the two-year budget July 3 .

The statistics account for the salary and benefits paid to lobbyists and other employees for their time spent directly communicating with legislators or other Wisconsin officials, as well as time spent preparing for such communication. They also account for money lobbyists spent on research, advocacy linked to legislation they’re seeking to influence and overhead, such as rent or supplies, connected to their lobbying efforts.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association, which represents many of the state’s hospitals and health systems, spent the most — $430,138 on 2,197 hours, or 92 full days — in attempts to influence state officials. The hospital associations’ spending came after Evers and Democrats in the Legislature proposed accepting federal dollars to provide Wisconsin’s Medicaid program coverage to roughly 82,000 more adults. The money would go to people who earn as much as 133% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, the poverty level is a yearly income of $25,750. Legislative Republicans disagreed with the suggested idea and ultimately removed it from consideration.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the powerful conservative business lobby, spent $414,184 to influence legislation so far in 2019. A spokesman, Scott Manley, said that most of the organization’s time has been spent on challenging Evers’ proposals, which include his call to scale back the state’s manufacturing and agriculture tax credit to help pay for a tax cut for the middle class. The GOP Legislature subsequently rejected the proposed plan.

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