Less than a month after the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. board approved a $6 million tax credit for Ashley Furniture Industries, the company’s owners gave $20,000 to Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election campaign.
The State Journal reported Sunday the board — led by Walker, who is chairman — approved the tax credits on Jan. 30 for the Arcadia-based company, though the award hasn’t been formally announced because a contract between the state’s flagship job-creation agency and Ashley has not been finalized.
The award was premised on the company investing $35 million in a headquarters expansion and keeping at least 1,924 of its current jobs in the state — or half of its current employment levels — over the next five years. Typically, the agency makes awards to companies retaining 100 percent of their employees or creating jobs.
About two weeks after the WEDC vote, on Feb. 17, Ronald and Joyce Wanek of St. Petersburg, Florida, and Todd and Karen Wanek of Arcadia, each gave $5,000 to Friends of Scott Walker, state campaign finance records show.
Ronald Wanek is founder and board chairman of Ashley. His son Todd is president and CEO of the company, which is privately owned.
An Ashley spokeswoman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment from the Waneks.
Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for Walker, said in an email: “Political contributions are in no way tied to tax incentives provided by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Decisions related to investments or awards are contractually required to meet certain objectives.”
The Waneks previously gave $10,500 to Walker’s campaign going back to 2010, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
Donations to others
They also gave $18,500 to Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, from 2002 to 2006; $8,000 to Republican Gov. Scott McCallum in 2000 and 2001; and $20,500 to Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson between 1993 and 1998.
The company and city of Arcadia have received 10 awards from WEDC and the Department of Commerce since 1988, but the $6 million tax credit approved in January would total more than all the others combined.
In a statement Sunday, liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now said the timing “should raise serious questions.” The group’s executive director Scot Ross said in an interview that he’s not claiming anything illegal took place.
“They just got a $6 million tax break that allows them to cut half their jobs and two weeks later they give Walker $20,000,” Ross said. “I think it speaks for itself.”
The company said in a statement Friday it plans to donate the $6 million tax credit to the city of Arcadia to move a creek that flooded the downtown in 2010. The creek project would allow Ashley to move forward with a 480,000-square-foot expansion and keep its headquarters in Wisconsin.
“The loss of Ashley’s contributions to the regional economy of west central Wisconsin would be catastrophic,” the company said in the statement.
Patrick said the administration has worked with Ashley in the past — as have previous governors — and will continue to do so.
Walker, a Republican, is running for re-election. He is being challenged by Democrat Mary Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive and Commerce secretary who is a current Madison School Board member.