Walker and Menards: Gov's dark money exploits worse than previously reported ... $1.5 million worse

Michael Isikoff, pictured here, is an award-winning national investigative journalist who has worked for Newsweek, NBC, the Washington Post and other news media. Yesterday Isikoff broke a literally huge Scott Walker story. His report shows just how reckless and damaging the U.S. Supreme Court's recent "money is speech and anonymity is cool" rulings on campaign finance have almost by themselves turned our democracy into a kleptocracy and even oligarchy. And how Walker is at the heart of darkness.

Were you outraged to learn that the Gogebic mining outfit last year secretly dumped $700,000 into Wisconsin Club for Growth, a pro-Walker political action group, after Walker himself prodded the contribution?  http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/walker-wanted-funds-sent-to-w...  Well, this is much worse.

The lead paragraphs of Iskioff's expose:

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 ... .

... The contributions by Menard, made in 2011 and 2012, were uncovered among hundreds of emails and internal documents seized by state prosecutors in the course of a wide-ranging criminal investigation into whether Walker’s campaign committee violated state campaign finance laws — including those requiring public disclosure — by funneling large donations to outside, nondisclosing advocacy groups, such as the Wisconsin Club for Growth, with which they were believed to be closely coordinating their efforts... .


This is even more troubling than that, because the Menards chain is notorious for violating environmental quality standards in Wisconsin and other states. Wikipedia's entry on Menards gives a lengthy run-down here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menards  including:

  • Wisconsin DNR officials have cited Menards at least 13 times since 1976 for ignoring or violating state regulations related to air and water pollution and hazardous waste.[8]
  • In 1994, Wisconsin obtained a civil judgment against Menards for the unlicensed transportation and disposal of ash produced by incinerating "CCA"-treated lumber. Wood treated with CCA contains chromiumcopper, and arsenic – both chromium VI and arsenic are categorized by the US EPA as carcinogens. It is considered hazardous waste and requires proper disposal in a licensed landfill. The company was fined $160,000.[8]
  • In 1997, John Menard was found using his personal pickup truck to haul plastic bags of chromium and arsenic-laden wood ash to his home for disposal with his household trash. Menard pleaded no contest to felony and misdemeanor charges involving records violations, unlawful transportation, and improper disposal of hazardous waste. Menard and his company were fined $1.7 million for 21 violations.[8]
  • In 2003, the Minnesota attorney general charged that Menards manufactured and sold arsenic-tainted mulch in packaging labeled “ideal for playgrounds and for animal bedding.” Warning labels from the CCA-treated wood were found in the mulch. The EPA recommends that CCA-treated wood not be converted into mulch.

Meanwhile, Walker has greatly scaled back the DNR's pollution enforcement, turning that agency into a parallell commerce department that enables firms to more readily get the okay to dig up wetlands, forests and other natural areas -- even our state parks! -- without having to get so many pesky environmental approvals.  http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/environmentalists-kohler-collide-...

Note that one controversy in the 2006 gubernatorial election involved Menards' plan to build a gigantic warehouse in a seasonal Wisconsin wetland used by migrating swans. Then-Gov. Jim Doyle defused the issue by giving millons in state aid dollars to the firm for enlarging its corporate HQ, instead, after Menards threatened to leave the state.

Critics, however, charged that this was a "pay to play" move because Menards previously had given Doyle's campaign an open contribution of (raise your pinky to your lips) twenty! thousand! dollars!

See, that was Menards mistake right there, giving out campaign donations that the public actually can track. Now it gives much larger sums to political enablers in secret, or at least this million-five donation was secret until insiders tipped off Isikoff.

And since that donation three years ago? Well, for one thing, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which Gov. Walker brought into being and now chairs, has given Menards tax credits to expand its facilities yet some more.

The biggest laugher in Isikoff's piece is the Walker administrations' non-reply to Isikoff's questions about the $1.5 million contribution. A Walker spokeswoman declined to comment, citing a pending legal inquiry. That would of course be the very same, secret John Doe inquiry that -- until stalled by conservative lawsuits -- was looking into this donation.

The Doe also was looking into more widespread collusion (which, according to documents already made public Walker apparently himself sometimes orchestrated) between campaigns and supposedly "independent" groups, including Club for Growth and the Walker campaign.

Boy, for guys like Walker, that secrecy thing sure is handy! Except, of course, when it's in your interest to have your seeming co-conspirators complain about government secrecy in an attempt to keep your secrets to yourselves.

So if, like Menards, you're a big Wisconsin business and feel that abiding by pollution-control laws is just too costly and distracting, simply dump a million or so dollars into political action outfits that have helped Scott Walker retain his title as the most environmentally uncaring and reckless governor in modern Wisconsin history. Oh, and also: the most money-grubbing governor, ever.

It's that easy.


March 24, 2015 - 10:06am