Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Did Bucks Investors Pay Off Walker?

One publication says yes. But most donors to his presidential campaign are secret.

By - Jul 30th, 2015 11:14 am
Jon Hammes at a fundraiser for Ald. Nik Kovac. Photo by Michael Horne.

Jon Hammes at a fundraiser for Ald. Nik Kovac. Photo by Michael Horne.

Back when he was a Milwaukee County Executive, Scott Walker was opposed to spending any county money on a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. And after he was governor, he continued to resist the idea, until very late in his reelection campaign. At his second debate against challenger Mary Burke, Walker suggested he might support some state funding.

What accounted for the change of position? The International Business Times offers an explanation: Walker was rewarding his political supporter, Jon Hammes.

“Real estate mogul Jon Hammes, who has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and causes, is a prominent member of the investor group that owns Milwaukee’s NBA team,” the publication reported. “Last week CNN reported that he also will serve as the Walker campaign’s national finance co-chairman.”

A Walker campaign aide told the publication it was “a dangerous leap” for International Business Times to suggestion any connection between this and Walker’s support for the Bucks. “The stadium deal has been in the works much longer than he [Hammes] has been involved with the campaign,” the aide added.

“However, before Walker proposed the arena deal, Hammes had donated more than $15,000 to his gubernatorial campaigns, according to state campaign finance data,” the publication reported. “Federal records also show that over the last decade, Hammes has donated almost $280,000 to Republican candidates and third-party groups — including more than $14,000 to the Wisconsin Republican Party. Hammes Company in 2010 donated $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which that year spent heavily in support of Walker’s first run for governor. Jon Hammes also contributed $500 to Walker while he was a Milwaukee county executive… Hammes became one of the part owners of the Bucks in 2014. A little more than three months later, Walker unveiled his proposal to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a new arena for the team.”

The story has been ignored by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But the inquiry seems a fair one, given the canny way the Milwaukee Bucks owners methodically added minority investors with clout in the political community. While the lion’s share of the Bucks franchise is owned by Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan, the team also added smaller investors, including Hammes, ManpoowerGroup executive chairman Jeff Joerres; Husco International executives Gus Ramirez and Austin Ramirez; Ted Kellner, the executive chairman of both Fiduciary Management Inc. and Fiduciary Real Estate Development; Keith Mardak, CEO of Hal Leonard Corp.; Milwaukee Brewers executive Teddy Werner; Milwaukee media and marketing firm owner Craig Karmazin; Kapco Inc. president and Lakeshore Chinooks owner Jim Kacmarcik; commercial real estate owner Mike Kocourek of Lake Geneva; Wisconsin Energy Corp. CEO Gale Klappa; and Palermo Villa Inc. CEO Giacomo Fallucca.

In addition, the team brought on a group of African American investors, including fast-food-restaurant owner Valerie Daniels-Carter; Cory Nettles of Generation Growth Capital; Johnson Controls Inc. executive Chuck Harvey; former Miller Brewing executive Virgis Colbert; and Michael Barber, CEO of a GE Healthcare unit.

That’s a lot of prominent people to lobby politicians to support the Bucks bailout, but also a potential list of contributors for Walker, who is the most successful campaign fund raiser in Wisconsin history.

I checked the names of all those investors in the campaign donation records at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and didn’t find much. Jeff Joerres’ wife Sarah Joerres gave $7,500 to Walker, including $5,000 in Sept 2014; Ann Hammes of the Hammes Co. gave $10,000 a few days before the gubernatorial election; and Giacomo Fallucca, Jack Fallucca, Laurie Fallucca and Angelo Fallucca, all of whom listed their business as Palermo Villa, together contributed more than $15,000 to Walker over the years.

For someone like Walker, who raised $30 million for the 2012 recall race and at least $20 million for his 2014 reelection bid, that’s chicken feed. But I was only able to check the records for his publicly-accessible campaign. Walker, as we know, prefers that people contribute to third party groups with which he coordinates.

Walker assured tight coordination by having R. J. Johnson as a key campaign consultant, even as as Johnson was chief consultant for the Wisconsin Club for Growth. The now-terminated John Doe probe found there were many emails showing Walker secretly fundraised for the Club for Growth, that his staff advised the governor to “stress that donations to (Club for Growth) are not disclosed,” and detailed meetings Walker had with donors who soon contributed to Club for Growth, including a check to the club with a memo line saying the check was for Walker. Donations to such groups also have no limitation on the amount donors can give.

In the case of Walker’s presidential campaign, which effectively started almost the day after his reelection as governor, there really was no option but to give to third-party groups. Because Walker ran for president for more than six months without announcing he was a candidate or forming a campaign committee. But he was collecting tons of money through a non-profit called The “Unintimidated” political action committee, which allows unlimited donations that can all be made in secrecy. (It’s more than a little ironic that the “Unintimidated” phrase, taken from the title of his book touting Walker’s brave willingness to stand up publicly for what he believes, is now the name of a group that operates in total secrecy.)

A second non-profit formed by Walker, Our American Revival, has a different structure that allows unlimited contributions by donors but is required to periodically reveal contributions and expenditures. Walker has raised $6 million through this group so far but has raised far more, some $20 million, through his Unintimidated PAC.

It’s worth noting that the Bucks three biggest owners, Edens, Lasry and Dinan, are together worth more than $5 billion. They could have given generously and secretly to Walker’s support group, in order to help assure the huge 30-year taxpayer contribution to the team. Then you add millionaires like Klappa, Joerres, Kellner and others who are Bucks’ minority investors. It would hardly be a surprise if some of them contributed to Walker. That’s how the political game is played.

Except that now it’s played much differently, in secret. At least in Wisconsin, as a result of the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, it’s now legal for campaigns to coordinate with groups registered as “independent” advocacy groups, and thereby benefit from unlimited secret donations. So we’ll never know who contributed the $20 million to Walker’s secret PAC or what kind of favoritism they might be seeking from him. That, frankly, is far more disturbing than the one connection — involving Hammes — that we do know about.

39 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Did Bucks Investors Pay Off Walker?”

  1. PMD says:

    Would Lasry and Edens donate to Walker? I suppose people with that kind of money would donate to him if they believed it would help their cause, but according to Open Secrets, they’ve only donated to Democrats. Edens only has two donations, Chris Dodd and Reshm Saujani. Lasry, however, has 120+ donations listed and seems to have donated to nearly every prominent Democrat imaginable. So maybe paying off Walker was a bipartisan endeavor.

  2. tomw says:

    Whether it’s Walker and the Republicans or Hillary and the Democrats, we now live in the age of mushroom politics – keep us in the dark and feed us BS! Our brave corporate and political leaders are terrified that somehow, someone will discover that they really do support this or that idea. If we selected medicl care like we select political “leaders”, we’d all be dead by 40 because all we’d want to hear is “it’s ok to have three martini’s and a cigar at every meal if it makes you feel good just be sure to pay my bill”. Leadership is having the courage to offer ideas and directions that improve the society not just what gets votes or what people with money or loud voices want.

  3. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Walker, it is a Barrett/Abele deal what did they get. This sure doesn’t solve any of Milwaukee’s problems which are many. Stupid priorities.

  4. Jake says:

    60% of WEDC funds went to republican and Walker Donors.WCD is not only a liar but delusional thinking that the WI he lives in is a pay-to-play crony capitalism state.

  5. Bill Kurtz says:

    Lasry is indeed a major Democratic donor. When he and Edens were introduced after buying the team, he said he’d invite Bill Clinton to the Bucks’ season opener. Clinton didn’t make it for that, but he stopped by a Bucks practice last fall when he made an appearance for Mary Burke.

  6. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    In milwaukee county it is the Left that has been paid off for years with easy jobs, big salaries and bennies, and little work. Corruption personified. Natrually WEDC money would go to businessmen not drug dealers, who are Republican.

  7. M says:

    Great dot-connecting Bruce!

    How clever of the Bucks owners to create a massive lobbying contingent by giving bigwigs of all stripes an ownership stake. (Did any of them officially register as lobbyists?) However, it was unfathomable for them to consider giving taxpayers an equity stake–despite being the biggest investors in their enterprise by far.

    Two Bucks co-owners (chair Ted Kellner and Jeff Joerres) are also board members of the Bradley Center. Isn’t that special–and convenient?!! Did Walker appoint them?

    Is this what they mean by the term “all mobbed up”?

  8. tim haering says:

    I wish Chance luck in his upcoming new career tending garden for OAR. May his benefactors continue to find wisdom in his generic proclamations. “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well — and all will be well — in the garden.”

  9. PMD says:

    Not just businessmen and not just Republicans, but businessmen and Republicans who gave money to Walker. Not that you care WCD. You have a serious, incurable case of Selective Partisan Outrage Syndrome (SPOS).

  10. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    It is a giant lie that the GOP is run by big business and financed by them and the Dems get their money from sanitary workers. Fact i that Hillary, Bill, Obama are all in league with the big money. Obama spent billion against McCain’s 200 million, Hillary and Bill have made billions from big businesses for their foundation(slush fund) and for their campaigns. For every buck the Kochs spend, Buffett, Soros, Gates spend on the Left.
    Trolley and arena is prime example. Realtors, MMAC and big money people want those while 46% of road are junk, crime is exploding, kids cannot read, human trafficking, 16 heroin deaths in week, abandoned houses, etc lose.

  11. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Bruce has it right on this. The white, male, liberal, racists that run this community, buy the local politicos like Barrett, Abele and get their toys while kids are getting killed every day.

  12. PMD says:

    “The white, male, liberal, racists that run this community, buy the local politicos like Barrett, Abele and get their toys while kids are getting killed every day.”

    That’s the third paragraph of Bruce’s story right? Quoted verbatim?

  13. Bill Kissinger says:

    Since campaign finance is shrouded in secrecy in today’s America, let’s just stipulate that our political leaders are commodities on the open market. What is shocking is how little money it takes for these moguls to buy a governor and a boat load of legislators and local municipal executives. This project demonstrates that there are few, if any honorable men or women in government. Also evident is an even more brazen form of self-dealing on the part of so-called civic leaders. How in the world can Milwaukee face the challenges of poverty, progress and public investment when its business community is interested only in lining their own pockets at the public expense? How many of the investors named in your article pay taxes in the city or county of Milwaukee? How easy for them in their WOW enclaves to place almost 100% of this burden on Milwaukee’s poor and middle class.

    As I watched this sad tale spool out, i wondered if even one single voice would make itself heard on behalf of the voiceless majority of Milwaukee residents who will be paying for this project for decades to come while deriving no benefit whatsoever. That voice was never heard.

  14. Ace of Suds says:

    It seems as though Common Ground was trying to make itself heard on behalf of the majority but was no match for the big boys identified by this article.

  15. Observer says:

    I guess all the racists left Wauwatosa for Milwaukee once it stopped being a sundown town.

  16. M says:

    Well-stated, Bill K., about those in WOW enclaves. Nonetheless, this arena deal will primarily benefit three Manhattan-based billionaires, and only tangentially a few locals. The Bucks’ principal owners are being given 30 acres of now-public land for free to own/control. Any development will be at their discretion, in their time frame, and to suit their greatest return–not any community need or benefit.

    It’s one thing to hand over public land for an NBA arena deceptively pitched as a “public good” (but which will entertain fans). It’s completely outrageous to cede public land to real estate speculators purely for their own profiteering based on proposals that may or may not take shape by 2027 according to Abele and Bucks owners. When MSOE (and others) bought Park East land, they paid full appraised price and completed construction within a year or so!

    The Bucks are only committing to more parking facilities and their practice gym on Park East, and to building cannibalizing bars and restaurants on 4th Street. Other development could happen someday, but 12 more years is a long time to wait. That’s how long since the Park East freeway was razed, and people call that an eternity.

  17. T says:

    Bruce: As usual, good reporting and analysis. Another story idea: Why did the Senate Democrats roll over and allow this to happen? They could have stopped it. Public money for billionaire New York hedge fund magnates. It’s unbelievable. Why did the Democrats roll over and apparently get nothing out of it? They didn’t even make the vote close and force a vulnerable Republican or two into a bad vote. I am a Democrat. I haven’t been this disgusted with the Dems. in a long time.

  18. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    This deal ranks with sake of Manhattan Island and the Brooklyn bridge, “we go tooken”” Bad! Dems led the fight to pas out our hard earned money, badly needed for crime fighting to NY hustlers.
    Never trust anyone from Chicago east.

  19. M says:

    T., I second your suggestion for Bruce. Wanting to get the vote over with so you can go on vacation is not a good enough excuse.

    And mouthing ridiculous claims about jobs and tax revenue (floated by lobbyists) does not cut it either (Lena Taylor more than doubled the tax revenue estimate by the Fiscal Bureau). A few tweaks by Dems made a horrendous bill merely an awful one.

    Will the Common Council role over just as easily?

  20. scottie says:

    Really? Of course there’s something crooked going on. I personally dont give a damn about politics, I’m just glad the bucks will have a place to play.

  21. Andy says:

    I can’t wait for this arena to be built. It is going to be great for our city.

  22. Observer says:

    WCD, this is a Republican bill offered by our Republican Governor. In case you missed the last election, the Republicans have a veto proof majority in Wisconsin.

  23. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Bill was bought and paid for by the Realtors and MMAC, benefitted Abele and Barrett, didn’t do Walker any good. Hurt him.

  24. PMD says:

    So if MMAC and Barrett are responsible, it was bipartisan right?

  25. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Scottie, they have place to play. WE obviously have lots of extra money laying around to do this. Look at Journal today, only 12% of inner city kids can read. Don’t need any money there, the hell with those kids, Right? or the murder rate, heading towards 100, 250 cops short. No need there or 36% or our roads are killing our cars. No need there, Bucks couldn’t play in street, the ball would never bounce. heroin?? 16 deaths in one week. No need there.

  26. Tony Muhammad says:

    Bruce, I believe you are Milwaukee’s – pause – Wisconsin “TOP” investigator reporter. Have I mention that lately. Great article tis is! You really connected the dots that more than like convinced Gov. Scottie mind to authorize taxpayer give away to this hocus-pocus East Coast scam.

    By the way – reading the comments posted by Wisconsin conservative digest – I could blink an eye then swear I made those comments. WCD your right on with your comments, and I agree 110%…

    Disclosure; I do not tow political lines with either party.

  27. Andy says:

    So….. I just read this again and this article really is speculative at best. You are really scrapping the bottom of the barrel here. Urban Milwaukee must be getting a ton of clicks on these Bucks articles. Enjoy grasping at straws.

  28. M says:

    Here’s an article with corroborating detail on how the Bucks/MMAC got the arena deal done. Those scuttled open-records-law changes would have kept us from knowing facts about past and future legislation.

  29. Martin Kutzler says:

    The question of payoffs for a new stadium is sophomoric at first blush and intellectually lazy when one thinks of the question for more than five seconds. I am more troubled by what I think is envy masquerading at “social justice.” A tone of, if someone is wealthy, they must have obtained their wealth at the expense of others. Silly and juvenile.
    The idea that someone like messrs. Lasry or Edens would throw Walker or any politician a few thousand dollars in order to curry favor is laughable. No, if you want to get noticed you “bundle” and Lasry has made that practice a definite art. Does it make him evil? No, of course not. Bundling for pols is a rich man (or woman,,,see the owner of New Glarus brewing for that) game that the rest of us watch and hope that the big daddy warbucks is playing for our team.

  30. M says:

    Martin, money influencing/corrupting politicians is an age-old story. To think it’s irrelevant in this case seems wishful thinking at best.

    So how do you define social justice? Or envy? Did someone say Bucks owners obtained their wealth at the expense of others? Well, I suppose Common Ground has pointed out that Wes Edens owns a mortgage company they say has preyed on local residents.

    Is it envy for local businesses/citizens to be concerned that the city intends to subsidize with many millions a for-profit “entertainment” mall to create more “revenue streams” for Bucks owners–just because they demand it?

    Creating un-level playing fields actually messes with the free market. Public policy that rigs the system to make the wealthiest richer and hollows out the middle class is not economically sustainable. Even numerous billionaires acknowledge that fact. Demand is created by people with money to spend.

  31. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Martin you are right on bundling but this deal was bought and paid for by MMAC and Realtors. Legislators forget that no amount of money overcomes voting for bad policy.

  32. Martin Kutzler says:

    Dear M,
    I’ll give you a real life example of social justice. Relax now, I know liberals go crazy when the one-percenters do society a favor. My understanding is this, tear down and clean up of the BMO/Bradley Center will be borne by the Bucks. Also, removal of the old underground supports for the Park East Freeway and a sewer line that will be rerouted will also be paid for by the Bucks ownership group.
    These are not expenses that you just breeze through on an expense report, these are big ticket items that the city, county and state are delighted to now walk away from.
    I think the deal to hand over millions of dollars in clean up expenses to these captains of industry is prudent and socially just.

  33. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    After you read all the BS about development etc and good for society etc, the facts are that we are handing 500 million or so to the guys from NY, billionaires while at the same time we have a crime wave, lousy schools, bad roads, human trafficking, heroin epidemic, beat up playgrounds, abandoned houses. This is nuts.
    Fact is we have been taken to the cleaners. We are lousy negotiators, they are best in country. they are organized, know what they are doing, have all the facts, do not show us the contracts between NBA and the Bucks, and our guys are neophytes in this world of big business. None of them have done much more than buy a house and car in their life..

  34. M says:

    Martin, here’s the City’s Terms Sheet Re: Park East:

    City Obligations:
    “F. Facilitate coordination between Bucks, Milwaukee County, the State of Wisconsin and MMSD to remove footings in the Park East Land and to relocate a sewer in the Park East Land to Juneau Avenue. The parties understand that the Wisconsin Department of Transportation will relocate the sewer located in the Park East Land. City will fully cooperate and coordinate with the State of Wisconsin and Milwaukee County to relocate the sewer and will pay for any city-related incremental costs arising from the upsizing of the state-owned sewer that is located on the Park East Land.”

    The Bucks owners will not pick up the whole tab, as you describe, for PE site prep, perhaps even none at all. If a private entity pays for part of it, that payer may be a third-party developer who will also pay the Bucks owner a commission/equity stake of the deal. Bucks owners demanded all this free public land so they could increase their “revenue streams,” not for altruism. It’s about real-estate speculation–not philanthropy. I don’t see any connection with anything relating to “social justice” issues (such as civil rights, equitable access/treatment, marriage equality, etc.).

    I’m also baffled about the ref to liberals and one-percenters. I imagine Lasry & Edens, major donors/bundlers to Democrats, would qualify as liberals. Some try to portray them as MKE’s saviors, even though successful reclamation and redevelopment projects have been happening for 30-plus years in downtown and Menomonee Valley. Those projects have been led by nonprofits like MV Partners and Urban Ecology Center as well as private developers.

    MSOE has also invested much to revive downtown. A county doc said they were expected to pay market price for their PE land ($1M per acre) expressly because they are a nonprofit–even though they do pay taxes on the parking garage they built. MSOE also created–at no cost to the city–a park next to their soccer field in PE.

    Contributing to the greater good is simply a given in a well-functioning society.

  35. Observer says:

    Gee Wisconsin Conservative Digest, I thought all the business’s are fleeing Milwaukee for Waukesha?

  36. Gee says:

    “A Walker campaign aide told the publication it was “a dangerous leap” for International Business Times to suggestion any connection between this and Walker’s support for the Bucks. ‘The stadium deal has been in the works much longer than he [Hammes] has been involved with the campaign,’ the aide added.”

    Well, yes, that’s absolutely true . . . about the (also awful for taxpayers) deal on the stadium.

    But we’re talking about an arena. (Well, most of us are, although some commenters are just as confused . . . or as deliberately deceptive).

    Bruce, was that “Walker aide” not confronted on this deceptive response and asked to address not the ballpark but the Bucks’ arena?

  37. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Bruce expose the fact that MMAC and Realtors bought and paid for this by buying everyone. They are after me.

  38. Bruce Thompson says:

    WCD, What do you mean by “They are after me”?

  39. Tony Muhammad says:

    WCD – I second the question, What do you mean by “They are after me.” ?

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