By Doug Hissom Special to Published May 30, 2007 at 5:07 AM

For those of you who fear the power of organized labor come election time, a recent Wisconsin Democracy Campaign report should quell some of that concern. The WDC found that business interests still fuel the fire of campaign giving by a large margin over organized labor. WDC found that business interests made $67.4 million in individual and political action committee campaign contributions compared to labor’s $5.8 million between 1995 to 2006 in state office races.

In races for governor and the state Legislature, the ratio of business-to-labor giving was $13 to $1. In the most recent election for governor, WDC found the ratio at $30 to $1. In 1998, when labor favorite Ed Garvey ran against business buddy Tommy Thompson, the ratio was $29 to $1.

WDC says the gap is getting larger due to individual contributions from business interests, as opposed to the tradition political action committee vehicle, which is used by labor. Of course, tallying individual labor contributions could be difficult since there are so many workers compared to business owners.

But workers are not giving the big-time contributions, reports WDC. Limits on PAC contributions also limit labor, while conduits are now the preferred choice of campaign money giving by business interests, since there are not limits on conduits.

As for party preference, WDC sees that both sides of the aisle are getting the money, but in the expected disproportion. Republicans received $43.6 million in business interest money from 1995 through 2006, while Democrats received $25.5 million. Labor gave $501,635 to GOP candidates (giving business an $87 to $1 ratio over labor when it came to giving to the GOP) and $5.3 million to Democrats. 

Voucher costs don’t produce claimed savings: Contradicting reports have emerged as to how effective private school voucher programs are in reducing public school costs. Milwaukee’s school choice program -- the largest of its kind in the country -- consumes roughly $110.5 million in state and local taxpayer funds.

Nonetheless, voucher supporters claim the voucher program saves tax dollars. The recently-released report from the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation claimed taxpayers “saved” almost $444 million dollars over 15 years in 12 programs that offer public funds to send kids to private schools.

But the Friedman report was reviewed by analysts at the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice and it found that figures are being blurred all over the map. The counter report, written by Prof. Bruce Baker of the University of Kansas, cautions that there only 100,000 students, or 0.2 percent of the entire U.S. student enrollment, and that the savings quoted by voucher advocates amounts to only 60 cents per student, or 1/100th of 1 percent of annual public school spending.

Baker calls the findings “trivial at best.”

Wisconsin’s program pays private and parochial schools in the City of Milwaukee $6,501 per student from low-income families. That is covered through $49.7 million in state aid taken away from the Milwaukee Public School system and $60.8 million from the state’s general fund. Despite those hits on the state budget, school voucher backers say school districts outside Milwaukee would lose $36.7 million in state aid if only 75 percent of voucher students would return to MPS.

Klein clarifies County Exec position: Joe Klein, who ran for Milwaukee County exec in 2004, e-mailed us from the Iraq conflict last week after we reported that he had not ruled out another run for exec. Klein has been serving with the Army Reserve in Kuwait and Iraq since last July. He took third in a three-way primary in 2004 while aligning himself with the Green Party, even though the race is non-partisan. David Reimer, who lost to current exec Scott Walker, was seen as the Democrat and Walker is clearly a Republican.

We mentioned here last week that Courthouse wags say Milwaukee County Parks Director Susan Black is considering running against Walker.

Klein says if he were to run in 2008 he would want the support of the Democratic Party.

In an e-mail, he offered his take on some of the issues that will have to be addressed come election time:

  • “We think Scott Walker's views on light rail are wrong. The facts are that trolleys and light rail have a higher capital cost than buses, but a much lower operating cost than buses. The operating cost delta is going to move further into light rail's favor as the price of oil increases. Light rail is a good investment for our community. ... If the public gets beyond the rhetoric and looks at the fact, they will come to the same logical solution and support a light rail system.
  • “We would like to see Milwaukee encourage green solutions to power generation and fuel production. We would like to see an algae bioreactor farm used to absorb carbon dioxide from the new We Energies coal fired power plant.
  • “We would like to see the City and County commit to using BioDiesel in their truck and bus fleets. Other cities and counties do it, why can't we?
  • “We fully support making the Milwaukee River into Milwaukee's Central park, and linking all the Parks with contiguous bike paths and trails. County buses and future light rail should be bicycle friendly. We should have a family weekend transit pass that includes park, zoo and museum admission.
  • “We think that if the Milwaukee Public Museum can't be run privately then we need to de-privatize it.
  • “We must rebuild Milwaukee as the financial, web-publishing, and technology hub for Wisconsin. We need to attract, and locally grow, venture capital. We need to lower the bar for new businesses and encourage the growth of small businesses.”

Klein says if he were to run -- and could raise the money to run -- his campaign would tap advisers from all walks. “We want the best and brightest, not political cronies. ... Unlike Joe Klein, Scott Walker has a wad of cash, the backing of CRG, Sykes and Belling, and a charming smile.”

Klein also has the unique situation in that his and Walker’s children are in the same Boy Scout troop.

Correction: Janel Hines, wife of Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines, no longer works at the Women’s Center as was reported here last week, according to Willie Hines’ office. Janel Hines, however, continues to be listed as an employee of the Women’s Center on the group’s Web site. The Center announced last week that amid financial difficulties it was merging with Community Advocates.

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.