In some newsrooms, reporters and editors fondly welcome odd-numbered years.
That’s because these are election-lite: No races for president, governor, attorney general or the state Legislature. No glut of partisan candidates trying to open new orifices in each other’s anatomies. Hooray.
But in covering a beat like money and politics, there is no break in the action. A glance back through a year’s worth of weekly columns confirms it.
Here are some of the topics that provided grist for our mill in 2013:
Jan. 29: “Court ruling blamed for record spending”: This column on the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling of 2010 quoted Lisa Graves, executive director of the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy, making an astonishing claim: “This past election, in 2012, was the most expensive election in U.S. history. In fact, it was the most expensive election in the history of the world.” Graves cited articles backing this up.
March 13: “Are former lawmakers cashing in?” The state’s roster of more than 500 lobbyists includes at least 16 ex-legislators, many of them former legislative leaders. Jay Heck of the nonpartisan Common Cause in Wisconsin decried the “revolving door” between lawmaking and lobbying: “It feeds a public perception that legislators, at least some of them, are legislators so they can cash in on the contacts they make.”
May 14: “Non-fiscal budget items draw flack”: As a candidate for governor, Scott Walker vowed to “Strip policy and pork projects from the state budget.” But Walker’s 2013-15 executive budget included 58 policy items and 15 pieces of pork — expenditures or breaks with specific beneficiaries. Excerpt: “It’s hard to deny that Walker is doing pretty much exactly what he promised to stop.”
May 21: “Dollars grease skids for school choice”: During the past decade, reports the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, advocates for directing public dollars to private, often parochial schools spent nearly $10 million in Wisconsin. Direct donations to state candidates totaled $2.8 million, about two-thirds from people in other states. Another $7 million was spent on such electioneering activities as issue ads. Wisconsin has continued to expand school choice.
July 23: “Abortion foes: big clout, little cash”: Anti-abortions forces in Wisconsin have scored major wins, including a bill to make women seeking abortions undergo an obstetric ultrasound, and requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Yet, the column noted, “All this has happened without big lobby budgets or major outlays of campaign cash.” Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, which opposes such changes, has spent much more on lobbying and donations to candidates. Go figure.
Aug. 5: “Unions sapped, other lobbying strong”: More than $17 million was spent on lobbying in the first half of 2013, by more than 600 registered lobby groups. The total is actually lower than for the starts of other recent odd-numbered years, when lobbying outlays are buoyed because the budget is in play. One factor: Four public employee labor unions which collectively spent $6.3 million in the first half of 2011 this time around managed just $228,499.
Sept. 11: “State cool to climate-change action”: While the Wisconsin Federation of College Republicans drew national notice for arguing that climate change is an issue the GOP should address, the Republican-controlled Legislature has apparently not gotten the memo. Of the more than 600 bills introduced in the 2013-14 legislative session when this column ran, none dealt specifically with this issue. That remains true today, with the total now past 1,000 bills.
Nov. 18: “Public wants action on redistricting”: Records obtained by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism showed that lawmakers in charge of committees that have refused to hold public hearings on bills to create a nonpartisan process of redrawing voter boundaries had received more than 300 citizen contacts. Almost all called for hearings, a cause certain to reverberate into 2014.
The Money and Politics Project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by The Joyce Foundation. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.