Audit: 14 percent of Wisconsin lobbyists may be unauthorized

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) More than 14 percent of Wisconsin's lobbyists may be engaging in unauthorized arm-twisting of lawmakers, according to an audit released Thursday by the state Ethics Commission.

No one was named in the report by the commission, which planned to follow up by contacting the lobbyists in question for an explanation of what happened. Those found to be in violation of state law could face thousands of dollars in fines.

Mike Wittenwyler, an attorney for the Association of Wisconsin Lobbyists, said he expects most of those identified did not intend to skirt the law. Instead, he said the mistakes were likely to be blamed on "process and paperwork" and not bad intentions.

"Stealth lobbying is not the intent here," he said. "It's more than likely someone in the system didn't do something in a timely basis."

The audit looked at the 539 lobbyists licensed to work trying to persuade members of the Legislature to support or oppose various issues, bills or other efforts during the first six months of 2017. Of those 539 lobbyists, 78 apparent violators were found. That is more than 14 percent of all lobbyists.

The report also found that of the 691 registered interest groups that employ lobbyists, 74 appeared to have engaged in unauthorized lobbying, or nearly 11 percent.

State law requires anyone who is paid and spent at least five days during a six-month period lobbying the Legislature to register with the Ethics Commission.

The audit looked at reports lobbyists filed showing how much time they had logged versus when interest groups submitted the required paperwork and payment indicating they had been hired.

Wittenwyler cast doubt on whether any of the identified lobbyists intended to operate in secret.

If they wanted to do that, he said, they would have never been flagged in the audit because no one would have attempted to register them. He said the most likely scenario is that there were clerical errors or someone was identified as a potential violator for lobbying for a few days, but not the required five, when registration is required.

It's also possible that lobbyists are registering late, he said, which would be a violation.

How much violators could be fined is under discussion by the commission.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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