Campaign Finance

If our leaders are corrupt, the government agencies they control will be corrupt. With today's lax election rules, it seems commonplace to read about lobbyists buying special favors from our elected representatives - and it's legal. This has a direct impact on our environment, because ordinary citizens can no longer compete for politicians' attention when campaign donations are coming largely from anti-environmental corporations and wealthy individuals.

We must reform our campaign finance laws, or we will continue to see democracy eroded and successful attacks on our environment and public safety.

At the federal level, the Bush Administration worked to dismantle 30 years of environmental legislation and programs. When looking at the corporate campaign contributions, which got him elected, it's easy to see why. Leaders in the oil, gas, mining, lumber and paper industries were Bush's biggest donors.

We must stop this open bribery of our government and begin public financing of elections, to the extent legally possible.

Paying taxes for election campaigns will be far cheaper than our current system of corporate welfare. For information on how you can help, visit the links below.

Corruption in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (WDNR) has prime responsibility for enforcing many federal and state environmental rules, but it is under constant pressure from lawmakers and lobbyists to weaken the rules, or grant variances and exemptions to specific projects or industries.

We have a tendency to blame the WDNR for being weak in addressing problems, and sometimes they deserve it, but more often our blame should be directed at the governor and legislature who control the agency.

The WDNR does what they are told to do or allowed to do. If the WDNR staff feels it is risky to their own careers to step beyond minimum existing requirements, they will do only the minimum and no more. This is normal behavior, and it's unfair to expect these state employees to show exceptional bravery and personal sacrifice in their daily work. (How many of us would be willing to risk our careers and family to make a point?) Of course, we run into quite a few WDNR staff that seems too gleeful about doing poor work, but these are survivors in a bad system.

DNR Corruption

The true problem with DNR is corrupt leadership at the political level. Our elected governor controls the DNR and must support the DNR staff when they try to enforce the law and protect our environment.

At the same time, politicians control the budget of DNR, and legislators sometimes use the budget process to threaten or punish certain departments within the agency. Unfortunately, the DNR staff learns to keep their heads down and their mouths shut to avoid this.

The DNR is still suffering the long-term consequences of a major political attack that occurred in 1995, when the Republicans gained majority control of both the Assembly and Senate in the Wisconsin Legislature. Republican Governor Tommy Thompson and the Legislature slashed the DNR's budget and eliminated roughly 400 staff, and over the following years pushed the agency through two disastrous reorganizations, which shuffled personnel all over the state. Because of this, many of the DNR's most talented and dedicated people left the agency in disgust, and other good people were switched to jobs they were unfamiliar with. Much of the institutional memory was lost, files were misplaced, and chaos ensued for several years.

Since 2010, the Scott Walker Administration has further reduced the effectiveness of the DNR, first, by appointing a real estate developer, Cathy Stepp, as the agency’s head, and then cutting the senior science staff by about 80 positions. In 2017, his administration proposed to do away with the subscriber supported Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine which included articles on climate change and endangered species. While not approving the proposal, the legislature did reduce the magazine from six to four issues each year.

The Governors 2017-2019 DNR budget has been released and it shows a $49.2 million decrease in funding from the 2015-2017 budget. This will reduce staffing by over 100, from 2,641.54 to 2,539.60. The DNR is already struggling to stay on top of their current work load and this will only hinder them further.


Wisconsin Democracy Campaign -

Searchable Campaign Funding Database for Wisconsin -

Lobbying in Wisconsin-Government Accountability Board -

Wisconsin State Elections Board -

2017-2019 Biennial Budget Proposal -

© Clean Water Action Council

P.O. Box 9144

Green Bay, WI 54308

(920) 421-8885

Office location:
A307 MAC Hall, UW-Green Bay
2420 Nicolet Drive
Green Bay, WI 54311