Favoritism and corruption, and, in this case, their toxic residue will literally flow into the clean waters of northern Wisconsin.Editorial Board The New York Times (8/31/14)
The New York Times (Last year, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and the Republican-controlled State Legislature approved the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine, a gash in the northern part of the state that could be as long as 21 miles, a half-mile wide and 1,000 feet deep.
The mine legislation was bad enough from an environmental point of view: It allows the operator to fill streams with mine waste, eliminates public hearings and reduces the taxes the operator would have to pay.
It turns out to be even more shocking from an ethical viewpoint. Newly released documents show that the mine operator, Gogebic Taconite, secretly gave $700,000 to a political group that was helping the governor win a 2012 recall election. Mr. Walker had urged big corporations to give unlimited amounts, without fear of public disclosure, and many companies that wanted favors from the state happily obliged. Once the recall failed, the favors began to flow, even at the expense of the state’s natural resources.
The group that received the money, along with millions of dollars in other donations, was the Wisconsin Club for Growth, an “independent” conservative spending organization that state prosecutors say was actually controlled by R.J. Johnson, one of Mr. Walker’s closest campaign aides. Mr. Walker and his aides brazenly violated state campaign finance regulations barring coordination between independent groups and candidate campaigns, first by rounding up the money and then by telling the groups how to spend it.
“The governor is encouraging all to invest in the Wisconsin Club for Growth,” Kate Doner, a paid fund-raising consultant to the Walker campaign, wrote in a 2011 email to Mr. Johnson. “Wisconsin Club for Growth can accept corporate and personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure.” She added that the governor wanted all the advocacy efforts to be run by one group, the Club for Growth, to “ensure correct messaging.”
The new documents were released as part of a state investigation into whether Mr. Walker violated Wisconsin campaign laws. Prosecutors have said the timing of the mine approval, following the donation, suggested a clear quid pro quo, a favor in exchange for dollars.
“Because Wisconsin Club for Growth’s fund-raising and expenditures were being coordinated with Scott Walker’s agents at the time of Gogebic’s donation,” according to a prosecution statement in the case, “there is certainly an appearance of corruption in light of the resulting legislation from which it benefited.”
Mr. Walker says he didn’t solicit the mining company donation, and, in any case, he already supported the easing of regulations on mining. But his depiction of himself as above fund-raising doesn’t fit the record. Ms. Doner urged Mr. Walker to personally solicit money from the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other wealthy Republicans, and a timeline submitted by prosecutors showed that donations came into Club for Growth within a few weeks or months after the governor met with the donors. It’s hardly a coincidence that the governor’s union-busting, tax-cutting agenda is the same as that of the right-wing millionaires [Actually, it is multi-billionaires. DC Editor] who helped keep him in office.
Unlimited secret donations pervert American politics, at the state and national levels. They inevitably produce the appearance (and often the reality) of favoritism and corruption, and, in this case, their toxic residue will literally flow into the clean waters of northern Wisconsin.