Tag: buying influence

Under Scott Walker’s failed leadership, Chicago-style pay-to-play politics is alive and well in Wisconsin

According to a Yahoo News report by Michael Isikoff, John Menard, Jr., the wealthiest individual in Wisconsin and founder of the Menards chain of big-box hardware stores, donated a whopping $1.5 million to Wisconsin Club for Growth, an right-wing political organization that apparently violated campaign finance laws and is currently subject to an ongoing criminal investigation, in support of Scott Walker’s efforts to fend off a 2012 recall attempt against him:

John Menard Jr. is widely known as the richest man in Wisconsin. A tough-minded, staunchly conservative 75-year-old billionaire, he owns a highly profitable chain of hardware stores throughout the Midwest. He’s also famously publicity-shy — rarely speaking in public or giving interviews.

So a little more than three years ago, when Menard wanted to back Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — and help advance his pro-business agenda — he found the perfect way to do so without attracting any attention: He wrote more than $1.5 million in checks to a pro-Walker political advocacy group that pledged to keep its donors secret, three sources directly familiar with the transactions told Yahoo News.

In return for donating to a pro-Walker front group, Menard got corporate welfare and weaker environmental regulations:

Menard’s previously unreported six-figure contributions to the Wisconsin Club for Growth — a group that spent heavily to defend Walker during a bitter 2012 recall election — seem to have paid off for the businessman and his company. In the past two years, Menard’s company has been awarded up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from a state economic development corporation that Walker chairs, according to state records.

And in his five years in office, Walker’s appointees have sharply scaled back enforcement actions by the state Department of Natural Resources — a top Menard priority. The agency had repeatedly clashed with Menard and his company under previous governors over citations for violating state environmental laws and had levied a $1.7 million fine against Menard personally, as well as his company, for illegally dumping hazardous wastes.

This is the kind of corrupt, pay-to-play politics that one would normally associate with Chicago, but has become far too commonplace in Wisconsin under the failed leadership of Scott Walker and his Republican cohorts. It’s 100% clear to me that John Menard bought influence in the Walker Administration in Wisconsin by donating money to an outside group that supports Walker’s political campaigns and apparently violated campaign finance laws by accepting money that Walker illegally solicited from the mining company Gogebic Taconite (GTac).

If elected president, Scott Walker will bring corrupt, Chicago-style pay-to-play politics to the White House, which is something America simply can’t afford.

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How frac sand mining companies are buying influence at the local level in Wisconsin

In the small cities of Blair, Wisconsin and Independence, Wisconsin, which have fewer than 3,000 people combined and are both located in Trempealeau County in the west-central part of the state, frac sand mining companies are getting around a county-issued temporary moratorium on sand mining, which serves an even more dangerous industry of fracking for oil and natural gas, by asking the two cities, which have weaker regulations on sand mining that supercedes the county’s regulations within the borders of the respective cities, to annex mining sites.

In the case of Blair, a sand mining company is literally bribing local officials into annexing their mining site into the city:

Sometimes there’s cash upfront. One company offered $1.5 million to the City of Blair — population 1,379, plus two mines — if the city annexed another site.

Cities like Blair and Independence also offer more-permissive rules for mines than the county. “We let them work 24 hours, ‘round the clock, you see, where the county don’t,” says Blair’s mayor, Ardell Knutson. Rules around noise can also be less strict.

This is not simply frac sand mining companies getting creative. This is outright bribery of local elected officials to annex sand mining sites into municipalities that have weaker regulations than the county or town (as townships are known as in Wisconsin) regulations that the mining sites. This flagrant corruption is putting the health and quality of life of many Wisconsinites at risk, as sand mining sites that operate continuously make it difficult, if not impossible, for nearby residents to sleep in their own homes, and sand mining sites put workers and nearby residents at risk of contracting silicosis, a breathing disorder caused by inhaling silica dust.

I’d like to thank James Rowen of the Wisconsin progressive blog The Political Environment for bringing this to my attention.

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner tries to buy a secret political agenda, alienates potential Democratic allies

A couple of weeks before being sworn into office as Governor of Illinois earlier today, Republican Bruce Rauner and his ultra-wealthy political allies put $20 million of their own money, half of that coming from the new governor himself, towards an attempt at buying themselves an unstated political agenda that, more than likely, will benefit Rauner and his fellow rich people, if anyone at all, and screw over poor, working-class, and middle-class Illinoisans in more ways than one.

Aside from the fact that he’s trying to buy his own political agenda, there’s two major flaws with Rauner’s plan to buy a political agenda: he has given very few specifics on what his agenda will consist of, and he’s alienated Democratic allies that he would need in order to get his agenda enacted into law.

The first major flaw with Rauner’s scheme is that he’s given only a few generalizations of what his state budget proposal and other items of his agenda will look like. Regarding the state budget, Rauner has gone into very little detail on what his budget proposal will look like. During the gubernatorial campaign last year, Rauner refused to give even a general idea of what kind of budget he’d propose if elected governor. Additionally, Rauner campaigned on general platitudes of “shake up Springfield” and mostly ran against Democrats as a “candidate of no” throughout the campaign. I have a strong suspicion that Rauner is hiding a far-right political agenda that will alienate both Democrats and Republicans.

The second major flaw with Rauner’s scheme is that he’s alienated the Democratic allies in the General Assembly that he’d need in order to get whatever his agenda is enacted into law. Since Democrats have a narrow supermajority in the Illinois Senate and a slim supermajority in the Illinois House, Rauner would need a coalition of every or nearly every Republican state legislator and enough Democratic state legislators to get majority support for his agenda in both houses of the General Assembly, meaning that Rauner has very little, if any, room to alienate people. As it turns out, Rauner’s scheme has already alienated the kind of Democrats he’d need to get his agenda passed. Jack Franks, a Democratic state representative from Marengo who represents a state house district that, if I recall correctly, voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, blasted Rauner for trying to buy a political agenda, saying that many Democrats fell for Rauner’s vows to work with them until him and his rich buddies threw down $20 million to try to buy a political agenda. Since Franks is from a conservative constituency and was a vocal critic of the previous Democratic governor, Pat Quinn, on many issues, Franks is the kind of state legislator that Rauner would need on his side in order to get whatever his agenda is enacted.

I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if Bruce Rauner’s first term as governor ends up being his last, since Rauner appears to have already made too many political enemies by trying to buy a secret political agenda with his money and the money of his ultra-rich pals.