Matt Rothschild
Campaign Cash

WMC, Big Agriculture Pushes to Privatize DNR

They spent more than $47 million on campaigns and DNR becomes passive on pollution.

By - Dec 5th, 2016 10:17 am
Governor Walker delivers remarks at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce's Business Day in Madison. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Governor Walker delivers remarks at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s Business Day in Madison, 2013. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

A plan to privatize some of the work on state permits for shoreland construction projects and manure spreading on large factory farms has drawn praise from the state’s largest business and agriculture groups.

The plan to reorganize several Department of Natural Resources (DNR) functions would create a program to certify engineers, agronomists, consultants and others, who are hired by the permit recipients, to do the information gathering and background work for the permits. The DNR would retain final authority over granting the permit and inspecting permit holders.

The plan released by DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp comes after years of budget cuts and demands by Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature to make the DNR more business-friendly. The DNR said it will implement the plan in phases between now and early 2018, and that some portions of it may require legislative approval.

In recent years, conservation organizations have accused the DNR of being lax on the enforcement of environmental laws. Last summer, a Legislative Audit Bureau report found backlogs in the DNR’s wastewater program for factories, municipalities and large farms. The audit also said the agency issued notices of violations to polluters in just 33 of 558 instances serious enough for such citations under DNR policies.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization, praised the plan in a Wisconsin State Journal report as “making the department more efficient.” WMC is traditionally one of the top outside electioneering spenders. The group has spent more than $27 million since 2006 on electioneering activities to support Republican and conservative candidates for legislative and statewide offices.

In addition, WMC’s 3,500 members span more than a dozen special interests groups, including agriculture, business, manufacturing, natural resources, tourism, and construction. Special interests represented by WMC contributed more than $14 million to current legislators and $32.9 million to Walker between January 2011 and August 2016.

The plan also got a thumbs up from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, the state’s largest agriculture organization, which told the Associated Press the plan would reduce duplicative work by the farms and the DNR. “You’re hiring a licensed professional to do his or her job,” the federation’s Paul Zimmerman said. “Those licenses have to mean something. The idea is to free up staff time.”

The group’s political action committee spent $1.3 million between 2000 and 2016 on outside electioneering activities mostly to support GOP legislative and statewide candidates. The PAC has also made direct contributions to both Democrats and Republicans totaling about $295,000 since 2000.

Matthew Rothschild is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Categories: Campaign Cash, Politics

12 thoughts on “Campaign Cash: WMC, Big Agriculture Pushes to Privatize DNR”

  1. Casey says:

    Cathy Stepp needs to go and a real conservationist needs to be appointed regardless of political leanings. Cathy Stepp’s family runs are developers, its like the fox watching the hen house.

  2. Big Al says:

    So will there be anyone within the DNR to review the submitted paperwork? And will these internal reviewers be experienced enough to spot problems? If there’s no one within the DNR that can thoroughly review the submissions, then you might as well admit that you’re going to accept whatever the applicant puts down.

    People hire CPAs to prepare their tax returns; that doesn’t mean the returns are perfect or even correct. There’s plenty of CPAs willing to file whatever you want as long as they get paid, and those problems aren’t discovered until years down the road after the IRS audits it (if they ever do). And in that case, the IRS does have internal people to review the submission. You can question the IRS’ intelligence, but if it’s wrong government can usually recoup the money later; the DNR can’t always reverse the pollution without lots of money.

  3. Virginia says:

    This sounds like one more example of how Wisconsin having THE BEST GOVERNMENT MONEY CAN BUY.

    Wisconsin will be “friendly to business” for a while until the Race to the Bottom makes it unappealing to anyone but to those with no qualms about polluting natural resources and privatizing every aspect of government meant to serve the greater good.

    Historically, Wisconsin has been THE nation’s birthplace of environmentalism on several levels. John Muir was born and lived here before eventually moving to California. “Ecological restoration” began here in 1934. Sen. Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day in 1970, which began the modern environmental movement.

    The value and impacts of all that heritage is being rapidly erased. And it will affect all who enjoy its once-protected natural resources.

  4. Jason says:

    Why is no one ever bothered when our local government dumps hundreds of millions of gallons of blended brown number two’s into Lake Michigan but when the private sector wants a seat at the table with government it is an outrage?

  5. Aggie says:

    Jason’s logic, if the local government has an wastewater overflow due to extraordinarily high rain events, then big businesses and farmers should be able to make their own rules regarding hazardous waste. Seems logical, right… Plus, once they rewrite the rules, what they do won’t even be illegal. Problem solved.

  6. Jason says:

    Aggie, I am sure you will be the first to pony up $100 to all of Milwaukee’s lead pipes that appear to be effecting the cognitive abilities of our local children. It seems Flint Michigan is to be thanked for unraveling the underfunded and out dated public water works of Milwaukee. How long before Flint did our public servants know about the effects of lead poisoning on its citizens?

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    Oh the private sector just wants a seat at the table. What a relief. They are so restrained in their requests. Here I thought they wanted to completely rewrite the rules in their favor and totally neuter or eliminate regulations. Oh wait that is what they want and Jason is full of it, as per usual. And of course he doesn’t address Aggie’s point at all. Dodges and spins instead.

  8. Jason says:

    Vince, my point is many on the left get out raged at the private sector for making a profit and partnering with government, yet when government does something so blatant such as lining their own pockets against the need to provide a service or hiding the truth from the public, well as long as it is government it is okay.

  9. Aggie says:

    I’m not sure what article Jason is reading? I don’t think that anyone is mad about private businesses or farmers making money or partnering with the government, we just don’t want them polluting our groundwater in order to do it. I am equally outraged at any individual or group that thinks they should be able to profiteer by destroying our natural resources. Removing the authority from the DNR and putting it in the hands of the people they have been overseeing is ludicrous. Its like saying we should let people making the most money write the tax laws or the oil companies determine our energy policy….. oh wait, nevermind.

  10. Vincent Hanna says:

    No one here said that Jason, so your point is irrelevant and off-topic. This has nothing to do with private businesses making a profit. We have a governor whose administrations has weakened the DNR to the point where it’s nonexistent. They want to do away with regulation and oversight. That’s what this is about. You are way off-topic.

  11. Ernest Martinson says:

    Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce could also push to privatize industrial agriculture. By that I mean to end public investment through the farm bill in CAFOs and feed grains.
    The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation has a thumbs up to privatizing some state permitting. On the other hand, it continues to seek a hand out from the public through the farm bill, the USDA, and the DATCP.

  12. Even though he was DNR Secretary during the Thompson Administration, George Meyer is a trustworthy critic of the proposed DNR reorganization. As director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, he knows all too well that corporate money can only serve to degrade our environment.

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