State Policy Network
How Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty saved tailgating in Wisconsin

Football Sunday, tailgating, Packer fans, expensive government-regulated liquor licenses. One of these things does not belong.

In 2017, an amendment was slipped into a bill in Wisconsin that would have essentially ended tailgating in the state famous for diehard fans who don a cheese head and brave the elements to have a beer at Lambeau.

But thanks to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), tailgating in Wisconsin is still legal.  

How did a Badger State football tradition come under such risk in the first place? The answer involves a legislative period literally called “silly season” and crony industry groups.

A permission slip to tailgate

Not all bad policy starts out with bad intentions. In 2017, state legislators wrote a bill to extend the hours of Wisconsin’s wineries past 9:00 p.m. It was a simple and sensible bill that would help a rapidly growing industry serve more event-goers and wine-loving Wisconsinites. But for the Wisconsin Tavern League—the lobbying organization for Wisconsin bars and liquor stores—the bill presented a different opportunity.

At the last minute, a Tavern League-supported amendment was added. It would require private property owners who rent space for parties or events to obtain a state-issued liquor license. The Tavern League said it was intended to make venues that rented spaces for weddings and parties play by the same rules as bars and restaurants. But the amendment impacted another playing field: Tailgaters around Lambeau Field, the home of the Green Bay Packers.

Most of the properties around Lambeau are private homes and buildings that rent out their yards or parking spaces to tailgaters before Packers games. It’s a long-standing tradition that gives some extra income to local homeowners and gives football fans ample room to celebrate their team. But this new rule, if passed, would force any private homeowner who wanted to rent out their driveway to get a liquor license. It’s a permission slip that can often take months to obtain and cost thousands of dollars.

Insert football penalty cliché here.

Because the amendment was added so late, most legislators did not even know it had been attached. The House passed the bill on a voice vote with no debate and sent it to a Senate vote before session ended.

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty saw what the legislature didn’t

But WILL was keeping a watchful eye on the legislation being passed in the Statehouse — even if legislators weren’t. WILL researchers found the amendment and quickly realized how it would impact tailgaters across the state.

WILL researchers—like many policy experts in the Network—were the only ones doing the actual, real-time work required to protect taxpayers from absurd protectionist policies like this one.

WILL’s team quickly wrote a thorough and easy-to-understand legal memo and press release that they sent to every state legislator and major media outlet in the state. WILL’s relationships with both members of the media and legislators enabled the organization to reach and educate key decision-makers to ensure the bill didn’t proceed.

WILL worked with some of the biggest state and national newspapers like the Eau Clair Leader Telegram, Journal Times of Racine, and Washington Examiner to write editorials exposing the impacts of the amendment. WILL experts also did extensive radio interviews across the state to let Wisconsinites know about the attack on Packer/Badger/Brewer nation.

If it weren’t for WILL catching the amendment, developing a strategy, and acting quickly, the bill would likely have passed without any controversy or awareness of its implications.

The week after WILL released their analysis of the bill, one of the leading State Senators in the legislature said that they were “slamming the breaks” on the amendment. The bill was dead. The Wisconsin State Journal said that the bill “appears doomed this session after a conservative group [WILL] raised alarm that it would also block tailgates around Randall and Lambeau Field.”

One think tank can make a difference 

For any one piece of legislation, there can be dozens of politicians, lobbyists, interest groups, and taxpayers influencing its ultimate fate. WILL demonstrated how critical it is to have a vigilant, dedicated free-market voice at every state’s policy-making table to protect Americans’ life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness—including the joy of gathering with family and friends to cheer for a favorite team.

Football and tailgating isn’t life or death (although it can feel like it sometimes), so it may be tempting to make light of policies like this one. But government insiders and crony groups constantly use their influence with state governments to benefit a chosen few at the expense of everyone else. Whether it’s bars and restaurants, retailers, service industries, or any other sector, the result is the same: The connected get more special treatment while consumers and taxpayers are forced to pay more, have fewer options, and less freedom. This time WILL protected football fans in Wisconsin from having a beloved tradition stolen from them. Likewise, SPN members across the country are diligently keeping watch for taxpayers to make sure potentially harmful policies don’t interfere—intentionally or unintentionally—with Americans’ opportunities to build the lives they want in the communities they love.

Organization: State Policy Network