Wisconsin GOPers To Huddle With Corporate Lobbyists In DC After Worker Rights Vote

More details on the upcoming fundraiser for members of the Wisconsin state Senate GOP in the headquarters of a prominent DC lobbying firm are coming to light.

In short, when members of the state Senate caucus that just voted to strip state workers of their collective bargaining rights gather in the downtown DC offices of a lobbying firm founded in part by Haley Barbour, they’ll be among friends.

The BGR Group, the lobbying firm Barbour helped to found in 1991, has long been known for its ties to the GOP. Among its executives are Bob Wood, a former aide to Tommy Thompson, the Republican governor of Wisconsin for 14 years. And on BGR’s past client list is a large energy company – and that’s raising eyebrows with watchdog groups.

On Thursday, the Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonprofit advocate for campaign finance reform, pointed out that WE Energies, an energy utility based in Milwaukee, has spent more than $300,000 on lobbying with BGR since 2009.

Executives with the company gave more than $10,000 to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) 2010 campaign. And WE Energies’ ties to the Republican state Senate caucus run even deeper than that: Heather Leibham, who has worked for the company in state regulatory advocacy, is the wife of state Sen. Joe Liebham (R), who cast his vote against collective bargaining rights this week along with 17 of his Republican colleagues.

Somewhat lost in all the labor-based controversy surrounding Walker’s budget plan has been controversial language in the budget that critics have said could mean a big payday for energy companies in Wisconsin. TPM’s reporting has suggested those fears may be unfounded.

Regardless, Republicans may be stepping on to a political landmine when they arrive at the ritzy offices of one of DC’s most powerful lobbying firms next week.

Watchdogs say the BGR fundraiser — which requires attendees to drop at least $1,000 on the state GOP to get in the door — is another in a long string of examples of optical fails by Walker and the supporters of his budget since the controversy began.

“This fundraiser is far more a celebration and reward to the Wisconsin Republican delegation for its leadership in attacking labor unions and turning back union rights,” Craig Holman of Public Citizen told TPM. “It accurately reflects that the battle of Wisconsin is in fact a highly-funded campaign orchestrated by national political players. Its origins and support span from the Koch strategy conference held in Rancho Mirage to the lobbyist fundraising event held in DC.”

The Republican state Senators are scheduled to land at BGR headquarters on Wednesday.

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