March 25, 2015

Last year, court documents revealed that prosecutors said that Scott Walker was at the heart of a "criminal scheme," in which he, his campaign and top lieutenants were trying to skirt campaign finance and election laws. The gist of the scheme was that Walker would help raise funds for conservative groups, especially Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCfG), which would use that money to help advance his campaign. (Walker has admitted that he had solicited funds for WCfG, but denies any knowledge of it in the next breath.)

A couple of months after this, it was revealed that a mining company, Gogebic Taconite, had donated $700,000 to WCfG. In return, Walker reduced environmental protections by signing into law a bill that was written by the mining company.

Now, Michael Isikoff, writing for Yahoo News, has come out with a blockbuster report showing that the mining company wasn't the only one in Walker's pay for play scheme:

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.

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.

Walker's spokeswoman, of course, denied that Walker had anything to do with this bit of quid pro corruption (emphasis mine):

Laurel Patrick, Walker’s press secretary, strongly denied that the governor had provided any special favors for Menard and said Walker was “not involved” in the decision to award his firm tax credits, which were approved by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation for expansions of existing facilities in order to create jobs. (She also noted that Menard’s firm had been awarded $1.5 million in tax credits in 2006 under Democratic Gov. James Doyle. State records show these were reduced to $1 million when the company failed to meet its full job-creation requirements.)

Patrick declined, however, to respond to any questions about the Menard contributions. Citing a “pending legal” investigation into Wisconsin Club for Growth fundraising that will be argued next month before the state Supreme Court, AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Walker’s political organization, Our American Revival, said she also could not answer any questions about the Menard donations, including whether the governor had solicited them, was aware of them or had ever discussed state business with Menard.

Oopsie! Perhaps Patrick forgot that Walker is the Chairman of the WEDC.

Walker created the WEDC for exactly this type of pay for play, despite the repeated warnings that these quasi-private/public schemes never end up well. In an ominous move, Walker want's to take away legislative oversight of WEDC and have it completely under his control and run by his political appointees. Methinks that the above stories gives us a clearer understanding why Walker would want this.

While it is good that Walker's corruption is finally having the light of day shown on it, it comes as nothing new to us in Wisconsin, where Walker has a long history of this sort of unethical and illegal behaviors. As I noted then, the only surprise is that Walker hasn't gotten any better at concealing his corruption. Then again, he's always been a slow learner.

It is also worth noting that lawsuits regarding the John Doe probe is scheduled to be heard by the Wisconsin Supreme Court later this year. Four of the seven justices have had extensive help from WCfG, which, according the Supreme Court of the United States, is grounds for them to recuse themselves. That said, given the prevalent and pervasive corruption that Walker and his dark money supporters have foisted upon the state, I wouldn't hold my breath for them to do the right thing either.

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