Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Hypocrisy of the WMC

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce wants no judge recusals -- except when it benefits them.

By - Oct 6th, 2016 02:08 pm
Lucas Vebber. Photo from the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce's website.

Lucas Vebber. Photo from the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce’s website.

The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has a long history as one of the big dogs among state lobbying groups, and with the decline of the state teachers union, is arguably now number one. So it’s extraordinary to see just how partisan and ideological it has become in the last five years or so.

Years ago the WMC was more careful to cultivate both sides of the aisle in the state legislature. After all, there is nothing partisan about the state economy; we all want a growing economy and more jobs. And while Republicans are typically more pro-business, there have always been Democrats who take a pro-business line. One of the biggest tax breaks in state history, the Machinery & Equipment Exemption, was passed by Democratic Gov. Pat Lucey. And while Gov. Jim Doyle and his Secretary of Commerce Cory Nettles championed a big business giveaway through the CAPCO bill, Republican Glenn Grothman, then a state senator, successfully maneuvered to kill it.

One sign of how ideological the WMC has become is its lobbyist Lucas Vebber, who was hired by the group after spending nearly three years as an aide to Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. Vebber did a series of tweets dumping on Mayor Tom Barrett which were so inflammatory that Right Wisconsin packaged them into a story. Vebber’s attack might have made sense if he was still serving the GOP caucus, but seems ill-advised for someone serving a group trying to get support from all political leaders in the state for business priorities. Barrett works regularly with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and many business leaders in Milwaukee probably wouldn’t appreciate Vebber’s diatribe.

Vebber popped up in the news again today, in a rather bizarre story published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The headline, “Judge’s donations spark controversy,” is rather overstated, if not downright silly. The big controversy is over a $50 donation — I kid you not — that Dane County Circuit Court John W. Markson made to the environmental group Clean Wisconsin. Markson made a ruling favoring Clean Wisconsin’s position, that the state DNR must impose conditions on the expansion of Kinnard Farms (which is adding more than 2,000 cattle at its farm in Kewaunee County) in order to safeguard water resources.

Markson’s ruling came last July and it has been public knowledge since December 2015 that he has made annual contributions of $50 to Clean Wisconsin. Any “controversy” that arose was contained in a column by the right-wing Media Trackers group back in July, which hasn’t gotten any traction. But on Friday Markson made a ruling that the DNR should pay Clean Wisconsin and Midwest Environmental Advocates for their legal fees, which prompted the Journal Sentinel to write this story.

I should add there is nothing wrong with the reporting by Lee Bergquist, an old pro and straight arrow who has covered environmental issues for years, but it has the feel of a story the newspaper ran just to appease its conservative critics. I doubt any readers will get upset about a judge’s $50 charitable donation. And the awarding of legal fees is standard practice and would only have been controversial if Markson had not made the award to Clean Wisconsin while also ruling in favor of Midwest Environmental Advocates.

But there was one person who found this controversial. Lucas Vebber, who emailed this salvo to the newspaper: “It wasn’t enough for Judge Markson to refuse to recuse himself when it came out that he was helping to fund (a) radical environmental organization that had a case before him…These actions raise significant questions about the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and they cannot be allowed to stand.”

Seriously? A $50 donation raises questions about the integrity of our judiciary? It’s not just how small the amount is, but also that recusals are normally demanded when judges receive a contribution, not when they donate to a non-profit.

This objection, moreover, is by the group that wrote the rule adopted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court that opened the door to justices refusing to recuse no matter how large a campaign contribution they received. Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce spent millions of dollars on campaign donations to elect Justices Michael Gableman, David Prosser, Annette Ziegler and Pat Roggensack, then convinced them to support a recusal rule that is nationally notable for its lax standards, and then benefitted from the decision by these justices to refuse to recuse and rule in favor of killing a John Doe probe of illegal campaign coordination by the WMC and other defendants. Yet the WMC is outraged that a circuit court judge gave $50 to an environmental group.

As for the idea that Clean Wisconsin is a “radical” group, that only reveals the extreme ideological tilt of Vebber and the WMC. They have adamantly opposed the federal EPA rule that requires reductions in emissions by electric utilities. But as a Wall Street Journal poll found, two-thirds of Americans support the rule.

It’s the WMC that has maintained the radical position, issuing exaggerated statements on the potential economic impact, such as Vebber’s claim it would be an “economic and jobs disaster for Wisconsin.” But as Bruce Thompson has reported the impact on jobs amounts to 0.3% of the economy. Meanwhile, the rule is an opportunity for the state to embrace home-grown alternative energy production of wind and and solar and grow jobs here, rather than exporting them to states who sell coal and natural gas.

It is frankly bizarre to hear the WMC promote Wisconsin’s reliance on coal produced in other states even as companies across the state are embracing conservation, solar power and other alternative technologies, because it reduces their costs.

But perhaps the best measure of how radical the WMC and Vebber are is their decision to give their “Friend of the Environment” Award back in August to Menard’s, the home improvement chain that has had more environmental violations than any company in the state. It’s a smelly bouquet to John Menard, who serves on the WMC’s board of directors, and further proof of how out of touch with reality the state’s top lobbying group has become.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

10 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Hypocrisy of the WMC”

  1. PMD says:

    Their selective outrage is as sad as it is predictable. Does the JS story even mention the hypocrisy considering how much money WMC has given to State Supreme Court justices? It feels like they are a division of the governor’s office in this administration.

  2. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    I’d argue the Walker Admin and WisGOP Legislature could be a division of WMC. And you wonder why this state’s economy is floundering with these mediocre white corporates in charge?

    Good catch Bruce. In typical GOP fashion, WMC is playing the “our rules don’t apply to you” game on this recusal question. These dingbats were ranting about their “First Amendment rights” on Monday after SCOTUS bailed on taking the John Doe case.

  3. tim haering says:

    Happy Friday, Bruce. WMC is not hypocritical, just unprincipled. They evince the expected Randian self -interest. For years, I worked for and championed TOmmy THompson, while using SECC payroll deduction to contribute to Planned Parenthood. Am I hypocritical? Before marrying, my wife and I got HIV testing at a PLanned Parenthood. I was merely appreciating their variety of services. Have a swell weekend. Have a big sloppy Kopps burger. GOd, I miss Wisconsin.

  4. Daniel Golden says:

    WMC,The NRA, ALEC, all of these well funded right wing groups have leveraged huge amounts of corporate money into taking over our government and even altered societal thinking. Now greed is acceptable and even admirable .Unions, liberals and progressives are the enemy that must be vanquished at all costs. Because of the hundreds of millions of dollars of corporate money from right wing loonies like John Menard, the Kochs, etc. and the repeated failure of the corporate media to point out the historical failures of their economic and political theory, we are left with the horror show that is Donald Trump. Trump would not be the political candidate of what used to be a respected political party absent the toxic influence of these groups and their radical right financiers.

  5. Cory Nettles says:

    Why don’t you do your homework and get your facts right. Neither Governor Doyle nor I ever supported CAPCOs. Our opposition to them was well documented, as was our support for what became the alternative policy prescription known as Wis. Act 255.

  6. Bruce Murphy says:

    The CAPCO plan was promoted by Ted Kanavas and Nettles, who met with me and the JS editorial page editor to sell the idea in 2003. I did at least three stories with national experts noting problems with the plan. Here’s one copy of story I did which notes that the plan was basically a CAPCO with cosmetic changes:

  7. Benny Nota says:

    Dude looks about 15 years old.

    About the intellectual maturity level of a 15-year-old too.

  8. Marc Eisen says:

    So you know: Cory Nettles referenced his involvement in the CapCo debate in a 2004 interview with Mike Klein of the Wisconsin Technology Network….

    WTN: How would you change your approach to any of your department’s initiatives if you could go back to do them again?

    CN: As a matter of process, I can’t think of a specific issue where I think that we just didn’t serve that up right. One of the things I’ve learned is that when you serve up some legislation like the CapCo legislation, there are any number of competing ideas and interests that exist as you go through the process in seeing whether a bill will become a law. The governor’s team did a fine job of researching the issues, understanding the issues, raw interpretation of information and input from everybody who wanted to provide it – from reading everything that we received, from meeting with everyone who wanted to meet with us, by listening and talking with them. I think we were exemplary in the way that we went about that process. Now we are just a player in that process and there are others who didn’t have the appetite for CapCo legislation or the political urge to put that CapCo legislation through.
    But, I think we did our part in terms of really giving that idea a very full day, improving on the ideas that were presented by virtue of all the information we received and then saying, “This is what we’re willing to do, as its relates to the power the governor has and if the legislature passes this legislation, Gov. Doyle will sign that into law because that will be a good bill.” So we did as much as we could to get that done. There’s nothing that I can think of that I would change in terms of how we would serve that up. I think we went as far as we could in terms of trying to create a total venture capital package that was a good, comprehensive, and balanced.
    Is any package ever going to be perfect? Absolutely not. Can it be incrementally tweaked or improved on in some way? Absolutely yes! We fell very good, that under Gov. Doyle’s leadership and with the requirements that he gave us. We served that package up and a lot of the specific pieces got through the total process. We feel good about that. We don’t have unbridled control of the legislative process. But, we feel good about how we proceeded in terms of the public debate and framing of the policy issues.

  9. john says:

    Bruce Murphy nails it again. ..and here’s another beauty from WMC (via the AP):

    “Wisconsin’s largest business association is attacking a Democratic state Senate candidate for proposing a gas tax increase even though the group has supported an increase for months.”


  10. Bill Kurtz says:

    Why don’t we just close the State Capitol building, sell off the prime real estate (it could give everybody in the state a 50 cent property tax cut!) and move state offices up the street to WMC headquarters. It would reflect reality.

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