Wisconsin Capitol (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

The Wisconsin state capitol building is seen in Madison.

Our "favorite" lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, recently issued a report it entitled "Local (Out of) Control," a broadside aimed at local governments that lobby state government.

WMC contends that local units of government shouldn't be spending taxpayer money to support or oppose legislation that might affect them.

The report concludes that the Legislature ought to pass a law that prohibits the locals from hiring private entities to lobby legislators. The big business association apparently isn't satisfied that it almost always gets its way with a Legislature that it has virtually bought with more than $25 million in campaign contributions the past nine years. It wants to tilt the playing field even further.

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Matt Rothschild responded to WMC's report:

"Essentially, in a duel with local governments, WMC wants to disarm its opponents," Rothschild declared.

He pointed out that in the 2017-18 session, WMC lavished $1.4 million lobbying legislators while the Wisconsin Counties Association, the group that represents county governments, spent $800,000. In the first six months of 2019, WMC spend $414,000 to the counties' $249,000.

"Nevertheless, WMC alleges that associations and private lobbyists hired by local governments 'advocate against the best interests of taxpayers,'" Rothschild added. "It doesn't say that they also advocate against the special interests of big corporations."

Rothschild points out that the Counties Association's agenda includes "protecting groundwater from contamination and overuse," "close the dark store property assessment loophole" and "increase funding for mass transit."

It's no secret that WMC opposes all these agenda items — a clue, Rothschild argues, why the big business lobby wants locals to be silenced.

He also notes that the corporate lobby isn't a fan of local non-binding referendums. The corporate lobby's report complained that such votes are attempts to influence state lawmakers, again using taxpayer dollars. Rothschild speculates WMC is angered that some 50 of Wisconsin's 72 counties have passed referendums calling for bipartisan redistricting.

Local governments — and their taxpayers — have a vested interest in state legislation. Whether it's to advocate for more funds to help maintain city streets or push for aid for local projects or demand better protections for their water supplies or dozens of others concerns, they should be at the state Capitol arguing their cases.

WMC maintains that it's different when it lavishes millions on the legislative campaigns because it uses private money. Unfortunately, all too often when big business gets its way, the taxpayers wind up paying for it.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.