Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Did Menard Buy Protection From Walker?

Billionaire business man and frequent environmental violator gave $1.5 million in dark money to governor.

By - Mar 25th, 2015 12:00 pm
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Governor Scott Walker Signing Right to Work Legislation (Photo from Governor's Office)

Governor Scott Walker Signing Right to Work Legislation (Photo from Governor’s Office)

Yesterday, a story by Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News, reported that billionaire John Menard, the richest man in Wisconsin, found the perfect way to support Gov. Scott Walker. Menard, who is “famously publicity-shy — rarely speaking in public or giving interview,” Isikoff notes, “wrote more than $1.5 million in checks to a pro-Walker political advocacy group that pledged to keep its donors secret.”

Has that won Menard favorable treatment from Walker? As Isikoff reports, “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,” referring to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which has been shadowed by constant problems and controversies since its creation. “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,” Isikoff adds.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was told that Walker was too busy to speak to the media about this, but a JS reporter managed to ask the governor a question after a meeting of the state Building Commission and he denied being involved in any actions that favored Menard. “I haven’t engaged in any of that and there’s going to be lots of stories going forward,” Walker said.

Menard has been the poster boy for environmental violations in Wisconsin. As I’ve previously written, Menard and his home improvement chain have had more run-ins with state Department of Natural Resources than any other Wisconsin company. Menard and his company were ultimately fined $1.7 million for 21 violations. Menards was fined for disposing hazardous waste in 1994, charged by the Minnesota Attorney General in 2003 with manufacturing and selling arsenic-tainted mulch, fined $2 million in 2005 for having a floor drain that DNR officials believed was dumping chemicals into a tributary of the Chippewa River, and hit with an administrative order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for damaging a stream that ran through its property in South Dakota.

The company extended its string of violations in January 2011, when it was ordered to pay $30,000 in fines and court costs for dumping a pallet of herbicide on a parking island. Perhaps the classic example of Menard’s style was a 1997 violation, when he was caught using his own pickup truck to haul plastic bags filled with chromium and arsenic-laden wood ash to his own home to dispose in his household garbage.

Forbes’ latest list of the world’s billionaires ranks Menard as the 142nd richest person in the globe, with a net worth of $9.4 billion.  In 2013, Menard won national attention and plenty of gossip after a titillating suit (that is still ongoing) accused him of “intentional inflection of emotional distress, battery, attempted battery, assault” and “attempted assault” against Tomisue Hilbert, the wife of Stephen Hilbert, a longtime business associate of Menard’s.

Isikoff suggests Menard’s contribution to Walker, “and other hefty secret donations to nonprofit groups closely aligned with Walker…could loom larger as the Wisconsin governor emerges as a top-tier candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.”

The story quotes Bill Allison, senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based based nonprofit group that tracks the influence of money in politics, decrying the stealth donation by Menard to the governor: “This, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with the dark-money world we live in. Here’s somebody who obviously has issues before the state, and he’s able to make a backdoor contribution that nobody ever sees. My sense is [political] insiders know about these contributions. It’s only the public that has no idea.”

6 thoughts on “Back in the News: Did Menard Buy Protection From Walker?”

  1. Fran says:

    I don’t think it will be an issue. Hillary Clinton accepts donations from governments that cut the heads off of homosexuals so Dem’s will try to clamp down the “where’d you get your money from?” convo as much as possible.

  2. Tim says:

    Fran, are you afraid of knowing who gives politicians money?

  3. David says:

    Fran…. I don’t think you have to worry about the “dems”. The Repubs in the primary will do the work for us.

  4. jake says:

    The quid pro Quo is so obvious. The pay to play, the cronyism,etc…it’s obvious that Walker cultists don’t care about principles or character.

  5. David Ciepluch says:

    The control of and bought off elected officials and their appointees is obvious to many of us citizens. And the implementation of corporate written laws through ALEC such as voter ID, smashing unions, limiting due process of citizens over corporations, removal of state laws and making statements that there is already coverage by federal laws are all obvious actions of the payoff. The WI Supreme Court is no better than Walker and his complete lack of credibility, honesty, and trustworthiness.

    The is corporate control of governance and 21st Century fascism.

  6. vic feuerherd says:

    While we’re at it, let’s check the state’s Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and see how many consumer complaints about Menard’s have been summarily dismissed.

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