Did Menard Buy Protection From Walker?
Billionaire business man and frequent environmental violator gave $1.5 million in dark money to governor.
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.
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.”