By Steve Jagler Special to Published Nov 10, 2006 at 5:24 AM
The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) may promote itself as "the state's largest business association," but in reality, it has become a mere shill for the Republican Party.

That was never more evident than in Tuesday's elections. Less than a month before the elections, the WMC proudly announced that 76 state legislators will receive the "WMC Working for Wisconsin" awards their stances on business issues.

"These legislators have advanced common-sense legislation and pro-business policies supporting lower taxes and job creation," said James Buchen, vice president of government relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. "They deserve our thanks for fighting to build a stronger economy for our families, our communities and Wisconsin's future."

All 76 legislators were Republicans.

Furthermore, the WMC used its members' dues to pay for thousands of dollars of television commercials criticizing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and Kathleen Falk, candidate for attorney general.

You'd think that if the WMC leadership felt so compelled to buy TV commercials that they would at least generate commercials to promote pro-business stances on the issues.

Instead, one WMC commercial criticized Falk for being weak on crime. "It's about keeping our neighborhoods safe and protecting our families ... But Kathleen Falk still favored early release for burglars, arsonists, even plea-bargained drug dealers, just to balance a budget."

What did that commercial accomplish for Wisconsin's businesses?

Another WMC commercial criticized Doyle for not helping Wisconsin's families.

"Hello governor, Wisconsin calling," the female narrator said in the commercial. "We need you to stop vetoing laws that help our families ... You vetoed critical funding for nursing homes. That's our parents and grandparents."

Actually, Doyle had vetoed a $15 million increase in 2005 to nursing home reimbursements and redirected that spending to Wisconsin's schools.

Again, what did that commercial accomplish for Wisconsin's businesses?

To a larger point, don't you just hate those political commercials, run by both sides of the aisle, that close with, "Call so-and-so and tell him that ..." Like anyone wants to do that.

Behind the scenes, a check of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign records shows that WMC staff members have donated thousands of dollars to GOP candidates in recent years.

Through its public outcries, its TV commercials and its campaign donations, the WMC has become a naked proponent for the Republican Party.

This is not to say that Doyle is a dream come true for the state's business community. He is not. There is something to be said, however, about balancing a budget after inheriting a deficit -- without raising taxes. And a case could be made that Doyle's boisterous support for biotechnology in Madison could provide building blocks for the future of Wisconsin's economy. Maybe just a nod, a wink, toward Doyle by the WMC would provide at least a whiff of objective credibility.

However, the WMC can longer claim any sense of nonpartisanship going forward. It has drawn its line in the sand.

In doing so, the organization's leadership is ignoring or dismissing the fact it is spending thousands of dollars to counteract donations given by many of the state's most high-profile business leaders.

For instance, the list of donors to the Doyle campaign (at reads like a who's who of Wisconsin chief executive officers: Sheldon and Dave Lubar of Lubar & Co.; Dennis Kuester, Mark Furlong and other top executives at Marshall & Ilsley Corp.; Ted Kellner of Fiduciary Management Inc.; Curt Culver of MGIC Investment Corp.; Jay Williams of The Private Bank Wisconsin; Margaret Henningsen of Legacy Bancorp; Robert Cera of Associated Bank-Corp.; William Beckett, Chrysalis Packaging & Assembly Corp.; Joel Quadracci of Quad/Graphics Inc.; Aldo Madrigrano of W.O.W. Distributing Co. Inc.; Barry Mandel of Mandel Group Inc.; Mark Irgens of Irgens Development Partners LLC; Patrick Siegel of Siegel-Gallagher Inc.; William Petasnick of Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital; G. Edwin Howe of Aurora Health Care; Gale Klappa of We Energies; Paul LaSchiazza of AT&T Inc.; and several top executives at Miller Brewing.

From the WMC leadership's point of view, those folks were just wrong.

- Steve Jagler is the executive editor of Small Business Times in Milwaukee (
Steve Jagler Special to

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at