This week, we joined many of our Democratic Assembly colleagues in calling for the Dane County district attorney to investigate new evidence of corruption by Gov. Scott Walker, the dark money group Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCFG), and the many corporations that funneled secret, unlimited money into the 2011 and 2012 recall elections.
Previously secret documents released by The Guardian reveal that Walker, his campaign and these corporations circumvented Wisconsin’s longstanding corporate contributions ban. Corporations that gave big fat checks got big fat favors in an apparent pay-for-play scheme. In response, Walker sent a warning to district attorneys that further investigation into this pattern of corruption could threaten funding for their offices, violating Wisconsin ethics and misconduct laws.
Wisconsin led the nation in banning corporate donations to candidates or their campaign committees — with good reason. Courts recognized that candidates who benefited from corporate cash could be at risk of quid pro quo corruption, where corporations receive policy favors for donations.
In the face of recall elections, Walker and his campaign came up with a scam to get around this prohibition. He raised unlimited, secret corporate money for Republican recall efforts and funneled it to an entity he and his campaign essentially controlled, WCFG, which had no contribution limits or disclosure requirements.
The leaked documents reveal that Walker and WCFG shared staff and fundraising strategy, and coordinated election activities so closely that they were one and the same. Walker clearly thought of WCFG as his campaign entity, referring to its donors as his donors and his organization. In taking and making these donations, WCFG and corporate donors also appear to have violated Wisconsin law, which allowed these donations only for independent political expenditures.
The governor's trek around the country to solicit corporate donations for WCFG was wildly successful — $500,000 from Contran Corporation, $930,000 from Gogebic Taconite, $35,000 from Texas EZPawn, and $65,000 from Schneider National flooded in.
No wonder corporations jumped at the chance to donate to Walker. With Republican control over our government, they would reap big rewards. The owner of NL Industries, a lead pigment corporation, donated corporate funds through Contran Corporation, which he also owned, to WCFG in close proximity to two bills being passed by legislative Republicans attempting to knock out lawsuits from dozens of lead-poisoned children. Additionally, Gogebic Taconite contributed to WCFG and then rewrote our state’s mining laws to allow them to develop an open pit mine in northern Wisconsin.
Perhaps Walker saw the writing on the wall with The Guardian leak that revealed these potential new crimes. He immediately sent a message to district attorneys to beware — should they investigate, funding for their offices may be at risk.
This legislative session, the goveror and legislative Republicans changed the rules to legalize much of this behavior. They gutted Wisconsin’s strong campaign finance laws, destroyed the nonpartisan watchdog Government Accountability Board that previously investigated them, and excluded political crimes from secret John Doe corruption investigations.
If we don’t stand up to the governor’s veiled threats and corruption, the big losers once again are the people of Wisconsin. Under the current governor and Legislature, we will see more of the same, and the voice of the people will continue to be drowned out by the tidal wave of corporate cash buying our elections and making our laws.
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, are members of the Wisconsin Assembly.
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