As much as politicians like to diss lobbyists publicly, even lawmakers who pride themselves on resisting the pressure of special interests will concede that those paid to represent companies, nonprofits, local governments and ideological interest groups play an important role in crafting policy.

“I will see every lobbyist who asks to see me unless I have a scheduling conflict because I know they have a job to do and I can get important information,” says state Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison.

State Rep. Travis Tranel, R-Cuba City, said nearly the same thing last year when defending Assembly Republican leaders’ plan to hold fundraisers set up like speed-dating services, in which each lobbyist who makes a contribution gets several precious minutes of face time with each attending legislator.

Lobbyists don’t have to pay for access, Tranel says. “I’ve never said no to a lobbyist."

For Berceau, the problem is that lobbyists have no interest in speaking to her anymore. Their avoidance of her and other Democrats reflects the perception that Republicans will be running the show in Wisconsin for many years to come. Unlike in past years, when the balance of power in the Capitol was more delicate, lobbyists no longer see an incentive to cultivate relationships in both parties.

“There’s been a notable change this year,” Berceau says. “I have always been visited by lobbyists, even when we’re in the minority. They’re not even bothering now.”

There are few indications that things will get better for Democrats anytime soon. Gov. Scott Walker leads his Democratic opponent in most polls and national polls suggest that Republicans will likely gain ground in Congress and in state legislatures around the country.

But worse still for Democrats is that Republicans so skillfully redrew the legislative district maps that few in the minority party harbor illusions of gaining back control of the Assembly in the foreseeable future.

Similarly, she says that interest groups are desperately seeking to curry favor with the Walker administration by hiring allies of the governor. She cites the UW System’s recent hiring of Jim Villa, Walker's former chief of staff during his time as Milwaukee County executive, to a top lobbying position for the System.

Berceau also suggested that the Wisconsin League of Municipalities had Walker’s wishes in mind when its board named Jerry Deschane, the current head of the Wisconsin Builders Association, to be its next executive director.

Deschane made headlines three years ago when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel revealed that his son, Brian, had been hired to a top state job for which he appeared to be woefully under-qualified, ostensibly because of his connections to Walker, who had just been elected.

Larry Arft, the city manager of Beloit and president of the League of Municipalities, says that Deschane was hired because of the breadth of his experience and contacts in both parties.

“He didn’t present himself as being a Walker loyalist or being particularly close to the governor,” he said.

Anecdotally, lobbyists have suggested that government relations firms are less interested in hiring Democrats than in the past and that lobbyists and their clients see little reason to contribute to members of the party out of power.

However, campaign finance records indicate that the Democratic legislative campaign committees — the fundraising groups run by party leadership in both chambers of the Legislature — are raising almost as much money as their Republican counterparts. The groups typically receive most of their money from insiders, either lobbyists or conduits for business groups.

Both the State Senate Democratic Committee and the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate raised $120,000 last year. And the nearly $287,000 the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee raised last year fell just short of the $310,000 the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee received.

Jack Craver is the Capital Times political reporter, focusing on elections, candidates and campaign finance.

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(34) comments


The Democrats, at some point, will regain control of both houses (both in Madison and DC). I hope they do not forget how the Republicans acted when they are in power, and that they will deal sternly with the Republicans. This is the only language they understand.. For a long time the Republicans have depended on divisions within the Democratic party and took advantage of same. It looks me to that the Democratic of today is more united than the Republican party. It is possible (though unlikely) that the Republicans could win the Senate this year but their control of that house would be for no more than two years. At this time I am expecting a landslide 2016 for the Democrats.


The GOP and the people have certainly not forgotten how the Democrats governed when they had total control. In fact, that is why the Democrats were voted out.

It is likely that the GOP will take the Senate as of today. Ask your boy Nate Silver. I have zero idea of what to expect in 2016, but I'm pretty sure about what will happen in 2024.


it is easy to be united (I agree with that in WI) when you don't actually have to work on passing legislation. They are united in opposition. It is harder to hold it all together when are actually doing something...hence the mid-term slide every party tends to suffer.

It is worth noting that while they had unstoppable control in DC they managed to pass Obamacare with great mashing of teeth among their supporters. All of the major things they talk about (Single Payer, Minimum Wage, End the War, Gay Marriage, Raise taxes, Environmental Protection) were basically left by the wayside.

The reason Walker is popular is because when given total control they did everything they wanted is also why he is so hated by the left.


Nav. You bring up an interesting point. Clearly the state Republicans have executed a winner take all strategy. But Doyle was also known to be pretty ruthless with his electoral power. Not enough has been examined on the how and why of Walker's rise. Why has Walker been so successful thus far? What voter sentiment did he tap into to win? As for your predictions, the pendulum keeps swinging. It always has. It's just a matter of when it returns to the middle and perhaps to the left of middle. But as far as your conjecture regarding the unity of the Dem party, I don't agree. I think they are lost at sea. It is going to take some real honesty discussion and hard work by the Dems to find a new more relevant message to voters. They can't be what they once were and expect to win. They need a something other than a victim or anti Walker narrative. And some bold leadership.


Let us know when when you don't predict a "landslide" for a Democrat because going back to 2010 you're record on state elections is closer to Baghdad Bob's.


It is a weird lament for a Dem to mourn the loss of lobbyist's attention. It has been a recurrent theme that Dems are above such tawdry special interest politics. But lo and behold, such is not the case. Berceau gets points for honesty. Dems have a lot of soul searching to do. They have to regain connection to middle class and swing voters. The next six months will tell the tale, unless Walker spontaneously combusts and makes the race moot.


Why would a lobbyist talk to a dem. The Non-Partisan atmosphere created by the republican majority in the ,Capitol, created a dysfunctional state legislative branch. We've all seen over the last couple of years where the republicans in power wouldn't think of listening to, voting for or even scheduling an item brought up by an elected democrate in this state. Anything a lobbyist wants won't go anywhere if an elected democrate brings it up. The republicans are only interested in what ever they bring up, thus lessening democracy in Wisconsin.


When any party is in the minority, it works the same. However, most lobbyists know that the worm turns.

spooky tooth

As long as the Koch brothers own the republican party, the big issues like ending public schools, destroying the environment, no minimum wage laws and busting unions will come from ALEC.


Well, it is common knowledge that dollar for dollar, a Republican is your best deal by far.

Crow Barr
Crow Barr

river--you mean "Easiest to lubricate?" I agree!


You mean that the unions, trial lawyers, environmental groups, et. al. were getting screwed by the Democrats?


I would prefer the lobbyists talk to NONE of our legislators and just went away... but you got to start somewhere.


how would you suggest people redress their grievances? singing in the rotunda?


How about seeing how many people the Capitol can accommodate as a bed and breakfast? Extort businesses to put signs in their windows? Chase GOP legislators around outside(and inside) the Capitol?


Actually... singing in the rotunda gives me hope and healing...
when connecting with a higher power and purpose (vs. blaming and bashing).
Rep. Chris Taylor and I muse about getting Repubs and Dems together in the rotunda to sing Michael Jackson's 'We Are The World'.
While I've made many such invitations, it hasn't happened yet.
However... I HAVE had many fulfilling group sings with others.

Many cultures (e.g. Iroquois, Ho Chunk) used such singing (plus drum, dance, pipe, chant, and fire) to support peace and reconciliation ceremonies... to transcend ego fear and judgment. For the Ho Chunk, our Madison (Dejope) isthmus was a sacred site for such ceremony... where our current capitol (Temple of the People) now stands. For the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), their Legend of the Peacemaker says such singing was key in creating The Great Law Of Peace for five warring tribes... later becoming a model for our U.S. Constitution.


MultiVortex has it right. It is all about who has the power. Of course, liberal Democrats have long been known for playing the victim and wish the lobbyists were talking to them.


While finger-pointing is normally counter productive, I think the Dem legislators were asleep at the wheel when the "redistricting card" was created.


What could they do about it when they were the minority in all branches of government?


During the 2009-2010 biennium, they had overwhelming control of both Houses and they had the Governorship. I'm pretty sure that they knew that 2010 was coming


Yes, tt33, the Democrats were aware of the calendar.

Apparently, they underestimated the ruthlessness and the lack of integrity and fairness of the Republicans, but now, it's been exposed to all of us.


They knew that the year 2010 was coming, but they were obviously totally oblivious to what was coming with it. Yes, they were fools not to adopt a non-partisan redistricting commission when they had the chance, because they were so arrogant and cocksure of themselves.

Will the GOP fall into the same trap in 2018?


Richard - if the WI GOP is like it is now in 2018...yes.

They will not pass up a chance to increase their power and hold...are you seriously suggesting that they would pass?


The Democrats may not have tackled the issue because they thought that they could benefit from it. They had big margins in both houses and the Governorship. Had they known how badly they were to lose in 2010, I'm sure that they would have addressed the issue.

The GOP will most certainly fall into the same trap. Politicians are politicians.


How were the Democrats "asleep at the wheel" during the redistricting process when the Republicans hired a private law firm, using tax money- to draw the boundaries in a location outside the capitol and refused to allow Democratic legislators to see the maps?

This is at the same time that they are contacting the RNC and getting the boundaries okayed by them and asking Republican legislators to sign secrecy agreements about their meetings on redistricting.

The Democrats did protest and the Republicans refused to share information. What should they have done? Broken in the offices of Michael Best & Friedrich to look for the proposed redistricting plans, like the Watergate break-in of the 1970's?

The Republicans did something shameful and abused their power. It shows the importance of divided government to stop corruption.


They had a chance to redistrict during the Doyle era and passed.


why wasn'.;t there a law suit?


@rnprn--Yes, there was a lawsuit, which resulted in a very slight adjustment in the redistricting line in a Milwaukee Co. district. Good point, tho'. The democrats were definitely wide awake during redistricting

Lexus Peterson

Umm, the Madison part has nothing to do with it. It's the D part. People are equally disinterested in a Dem from Green Bay than one from Madison. But nice try on trying to add madison hate. That always amuses me when people try to do that since most Republican staffers live in Madison.


Probably not the most surprising thing that no one is going to talk to a Madison based legislator. What would be the point? It would kind of be like lobbying the pope to convert to Islam.


No, it really is about who is in power. If Dems were in control, the lobbyists would be all over them. It's sad overall. I can't believe average Americans support either party still, especially Republicans. Then again, a lot of people like to harm themselves through bad diets, drugs, poor work habits, poor relationship skills, so I guess it's no surprise the majority of Americans vote for abusive oligarchs.


Not for many things. Suppose we're talking about how to increase Wisconsin's profile in appealing to high-tech startups? Democrats are just as likely as Republicans to (a) want to do that, (b) have good ideas for doing it, and (c) being willing to work with interests groups trying to make it happen.


oh man...the irony is thick here


I dream of a government without need for lobbyists and power plays...
with incentive for ALL the people to serve the soul of people and planet...
and vehicles to assist...

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