The day before Gov. Scott Walker first publicly backed $250 million in public financing for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, a limited liability company registered to the son of one of the team's investors donated $150,000 to the super PAC supporting Walker's presidential campaign.
That Jon Hammes, founder and managing partner of the Brookfield-based Hammes Co., supports Walker is old news. It was announced in July that Hammes will serve as national finance co-chairman for Walker's presidential campaign, and he has contributed to Walker's campaigns since his time as Milwaukee County Executive.
A Walker aide told International Business Times in July that it was a "dangerous leap" to ask about taxpayer dollars funding an arena deal from which Hammes could benefit, noting that the proposal had been in the works longer than Hammes had been involved in the campaign.
But while Walker had previously proposed issuing $220 million in public bonds toward financing the new arena, Bucks owners sought $250 million — half of the projected $500 million cost. The current owners and former owner and Democratic former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl were set to contribute the remaining half.
On May 27, HF Securities LLC donated $150,000 to Unintimidated PAC, the super PAC aligned with Walker's presidential bid, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission on Friday. The company is registered to J. Patrick Hammes, son of Jon Hammes. It shares an address with Hammes Company and Hammes Partners II (A) L.P., both led by the elder Hammes.
The same day, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported details of the deal that showed, for the first time, $250 million in taxpayer funding. The following day, Walker publicly backed the plan. He officially announced the deal on June 4.
The $150,000 contribution is a drop in the bucket for Unintimidated PAC, which reported raising $20 million since its April launch.
"But by any reasonable means, $150,000 is a lot of money," said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, noting that individual contributions to candidates are limited to $2,700.
Ryan said the influence of super PACs on elections has led to billionaires "buying access and, in the process, bankrupting our democracy," adding that it's "ridiculous" to say political action committees are truly separated from candidates.
In addition to the HF Securities donation, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce donated $25,000 to Our American Revival, Walker's 527 fundraising committee, on March 20, according to a report filed with the IRS on Friday.
MMAC hired Hammes Co. in January 2014 to determine whether the existing BMO Harris Bradley Center should be renovated or a new arena should be built. MMAC was a vocal supporter of the deal throughout the process.
"It sounds like they're getting a pretty good return on their investment," Ryan said of the Bucks arena.
A Walker spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The arena deal has cleared the state Senate and Assembly with bipartisan support and Walker has said he looks forward to signing it. A Walker spokeswoman said on Tuesday, after the deal passed the Assembly, that it "protects taxpayers from the financial impact of losing the Bucks and opens the door to further job creation and economic growth for our state."
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