By Doug Hissom Special to Published Aug 17, 2007 at 5:15 AM

Lobbying activity for the first half of 2007 has been released by the state Ethics Board and, surprisingly, the state's big business lobby -- Wisconsin Manufacturer's and Commerce -- did not rank at the top of the list.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association led the way, spending its dough fighting efforts to pass a universal health insurance bill. The state Senate approved the measure in its version of the state budget, but the GOP-led Assembly wouldn't even take up the issue.

The state Ethics Board reports that the WHA spent $434,240 working 2,647 hours on its issues. The WHA must have substantially higher-priced help than second-place Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which spent a mere $366,674 for 3,452 hours of influence peddling.

Conversely, Citizen Action, which favors universal health care, registered its lobbying at 7,554 hours -- tops in the state -- but seems to spend decidedly less on its help, paying them $212,299.

A quick check of the 65-page report shows that Phillip Morris must be the place for lobbyists to work, since it spent $309,353 for 374 hours worth of glad-handing. The tobacco company was likely spouting the evils of smoking bans and high cigarette taxes.

In the category for best place to volunteer, the Naturist Action Committee registered its lobbying activity at five hours with no pay. In a potentially related matter, Citizens for a Scenic Wisconsin clocked 28 hours and no expenses for its cause.

Heat crazed: August is the month when most politicians hit the road for vacation.

It's also a month when weird stuff starts rattling cages. Take this statement from state Sen. Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield) on Tommy Thompson's bizarre presidential campaign: "Tommy Thompson is one of the most creative political minds of his generation. As a candidate for president of the United States, as well as governor of Wisconsin, Tommy has been an idea factory and his ideas have been implemented to the benefit of not only Wisconsin, but the entire nation. Long after his withdrawal, Tommy Thompson is sure to have a lasting impact on this presidential campaign and will continue his positive influence on national policy for many years to come."

Kanavas never served in the Legislature when Tommy was governor, although he was a Thompson appointee for the purposes of redistricting the state in 1990. Thompson's idea factory netted him a $4.6 million income in 2006.

Sound sleeping information: For those of you who have nightmares that somehow the Charlie Sykes and Mark Bellings of our fair city truly represent our mores and beliefs, here's some hope. The Bay Area Research Center ranks Milwaukee as the 40th most liberal city in the country, based on voting patterns. Madison was ranked No. 33. Detroit was first, followed by Gary, Indiana. In the conservative column, Milwaukee came in at No. 197 in a list headed by Provo, Utah, and Lubbock, Texas.

Bob who? In this week's "What could they possibly be thinking?" category, the presidential camp of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani touts that it signed up former Wisconsin Sen. Bob Kasten to be the campaign's state chairman.

"There is no one better than Senator Kasten to help spread the mayor's positive vision for our country in Wisconsin and continue his already strong support in the state," says former GOP state executive director Rick Wiley, a deputy with the mayor's campaign.

Kasten seems like a strange choice; he hasn't been seen much in these parts after getting stomped in 1992 by Russ Feingold in one of the biggest upsets in state political history.

Kasten lives in Washington, D.C., and enjoys being a consultant for the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, which espouses disdain for taxes and regulations. The institution has argued that regulations of cigarettes by the EPA are burdensome and scientifically unsound.

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.