What Wisconsin Is Saying About Republican's Illegal Pay-To-Play Operation

Sep 19, 2016

Last week, documents obtained by The Guardian implicated Gov. Scott Walker and several GOP lawmakers in a pay-to-play scandal surrounding dark money donations during the 2011 recall elections. The donations, made by a lead paint producer to the tune of $750,000, were used to help Sen. Harsdorf and Sen. Olsen retain their seats, who then voted for a provision in the 2013 budget signed by Gov. Walker that gave lead paint distributors retroactive immunity from lawsuits. Here’s what the two largest papers in Wisconsin had to say about the revelations this weekend: 

Wisconsin State Journal: Don’t let fat cats hide their campaign donations

Last week’s leak of John Doe documents showed that Harold Simmons, a billionaire owner of NL Industries, gave three checks in 2011 totaling $750,000 to a conservative group called Club for Growth. Club for Growth ran ads helping Gov. Walker and other Republicans stay in power during the recall elections in 2011 and 2012.

By giving his checks to Club for Growth, rather than to the candidates themselves, Simmons and his company were able to keep their involvement secret.

Simmons died in late 2013, but not before the Legislature had slipped a provision into the state budget granting immunity to lead paint manufacturers from lawsuits seeking damages for lead poisoning.

Lots of wealthy people were similarly giving to Club for Growth, with Gov. Walker actively soliciting donations for the supposedly independent group.

Mining company Gogebic Taconite gave $700,000 to Club for Growth. And the Republicans who run the state Legislature subsequently adopted a mining law that Gogebic Taconite wanted.

Club for Growth got $2 million from John Menard, Jr., Wisconsin’s wealthiest person, and Menard’s home improvement company benefited from state tax credits.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump even gave $15,000 to Club for Growth in early 2012. That detail, along with Simmons’ donations, were part of documents leaked last week to Guardian US, an arm of the British-based newspaper The Guardian.

Nothing prevents wealthy people from getting involved in democracy to try to protect their interests. But they shouldn’t be able to hide their political donations from the voting public.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Public should know who is trying to influence government

The billionaire owner of a company that makes lead formerly used in paint gives Wisconsin Club for Growth $750,000 to help buck up Gov. Scott Walker and GOP senators during a political crisis — the recall elections in 2011 and 2012.

Later, Republicans approve a measure retroactively shielding paint makers from legal liability.

A company that wants to dig a huge open-pit mine in the North Woods gives $1.2 million to Wisconsin Club for Growth around the same time.

Later, Republicans loosen the state’s mining laws.

Are these coincidences or examples of something darker in Wisconsin politics?

There may not have been a smoking gun proving corrupt dealing in Madison in the cache of 1,500 documents published last week by the Guardian U.S., but there was plenty of smoke.

And there was plenty of evidence that big money talks in Wisconsin’s political system.


Voters have a right to know that Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature sought to shield paint makers from liability after Harold Simmons, owner of NL Industries, a producer of lead formerly used in paint, made donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth.

Citizens have a right to know that Gogebic Taconite, which wanted to loosen laws governing mining in Wisconsin, chipped in $1.2 million and then got what it wanted from GOP legislators and Walker.