Top Ten Badger Democracy blogs of 2011…

To all Progressives fighting the good fight – a New Year wish for our state and nation, to forward the traditions of good government of and by the people. A progressive replacement for the corporatic scourge that has hijacked representative Democracy. As a reminder of what we are fighting, and fighting for – a reminiscence of the ten most read Badger Democracy blogs from 2011.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for taking part in Democracy.

1.Walker Cronyism Places State Patrol Troopers Under Fitzgerald in suspect situations

2. State Employee Fired after sending “Voter ID” email

3. Kaukauna School Board and Scott Walker have something in common…

4. Beyond the polls…moderate Wisconsin Republican voters are ditching Walker as radical right panics

5. The Big Five Lies in the Walker Budget

6. Top Ten Reasons to Recall Rebecca Kleefisch

7. Scott Walker’s Coronation is complete…Act 21

8. The ALEC-Koch pipeline to Wisconsin Legislators and the mining bill

9. Scott Walker has failed Wisconsin – the Labor Day edition

10. Walker emails expose knowledge of Foley and Lardner work on radical municipal governance legislation

Solidarity Forever – and see you for the recall election in 2012!

 

 

Higher Fiscal Stress for Wisconsin Municipalities under new bill…more ALEC influence in Wisconsin

Post-Retirement benefits for newly hired municipal employees in Wisconsin would virtually end, under new legislation making its way through committees in the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly.

AB219  has already been passed out of the Assembly Committee on Urban Affairs by a partisan 6 (R) to 3 (D) vote, and is in the Assembly Rules Committee – meaning it could be calendared at any time.

SB240 has had its first public hearing in Leah Vukmir’s Senate Committee on Health, and Republicans control that committee by a 3 to 2 margin. State Senator Leah Vukmir (R – 5th) is the ALEC co-chair for the Committee on Health and Human services, and State Senator Mary Lazich (R-28th) is also a member of that ALEC committee. State Senator Terry Moulton (R-23rd) is also known to be a member of ALEC.

The current bills have their origins in ALEC, as found in an ALEC_statement on_State_and_Local_Government_Pension_and_OPEB_Plans from the Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” documents. The ALEC statement of policy on post-retirement benefits clearly aligns with the language found in the bill authored by Vukmir, and heard in a Senate Committee dominated by ALEC members.

The bill would make post-retirement benefits virtually unaffordable to Wisconsin municipalities, as it requires local governments to amortize funds (have retirement benefits fully funded into future years) far into the future for new hires, putting an enormous fiscal burden on already stressed local governments. Currently, these benefits are funded on a pay-as-you-go basis, and have been solvent for decades. Senator Vukmir’s office characterized this legislation as another “tool” to enable local governments to manage their fiscal challenges.

Curt Witynski gave testimony on behalf of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, registered against the bill. The League is a non-partisan group representing municipalities across the state, and across political lines. Mr. Witynski’s statement to the committee characterizes the fiscal stress created by this bill:

 “For example, if Beloit were to fully fund its post-employment benefits for police and fire employees, the cost would be $6.7 million, instead of the city’s current $2 million pay-as you-go-cost.  While the bill applies to newly hired employees only, eventually it will apply to all employees.  Given the recent increase in retirements and the age of our workforce, this may happen sooner than anticipated.  To give committee members a sense of the magnitude of the problem, if Eau Claire were to fully fund its post-retirement benefits for all employees, it would have to set aside $48 million.  Eau Claire could not afford to comply.”  

And the long term effects:

 “Municipalities will be forced to drop post-employment health coverage for new employees.  This will be difficult if impossible to accomplish for police and fire employees, which retain full collective bargaining rights even after the changes made by Act 10.  Communities will need to bargain the issue and it is unlikely that police and fire unions will give up the benefit without receiving something in exchange from the municipality.  Even if municipalities eliminate the post-retirement health benefits for new non-public safety employees, communities will still be required to create a large reserve to cover the cost of post-retirement health benefits for new police and fire employees.”

As ALEC Model Legislation goes, more bad governance for Wisconsin. The end effect of this legislation could be to force municipalities into privatizing services, to save money to fund emergency services’ post-retirement benefits. The GOP of “less government” has again introduced a bill that is centralized government with less local control. The benefactors of this legislation will be the private service companies awaiting a fiscal crisis in Wisconsin municipalities. These companies bought and paid for this legislation, and the people of Wisconsin will be the losers.

Lost jobs, lost wages, lost benefits, lost public services with full public accountability. More reason for an overwhelming recall of Scott Walker, and the emergence of a New Progressivism in Wisconsin, and the nation.

Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald has “strayed”…not the Government Accountability Board

According to Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R – Horicon), the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) has “strayed” from its nonpartisan mission and should be replaced. Fitzgerald has stated that he felt the previous highly partisan ethics and elections boards “…worked fairly well,” and he “…liked that system.”  Speaker Fitzgerald supported and voted for the formation of the GAB in 2007 to replace the highly partisan elections and ethics boards; both of which were ineffective in light of the Caucus Scandal and other campaign finance controversies. This latest partisan power grab by Fitzgerald is furthur evidence that he is the one who has strayed from good governance, not the GAB. 

Created as Act 1 of the 2007 Wisconsin Legislature, the GAB received unprecedented bi-partisan support (only 2 votes against the bill between both the Senate and Assembly). The GAB has received both state and national acclaim for its non-partisan election oversight. In a 2010 article, “The Persistence of Partisan Election Administration”, Daniel Tokaji (Senior Fellow in Election Law at Moritz College of Law) cites the Wisconsin GAB:

 ” The best American model is Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board, which consists of retired judges selected in a way that is designed to promote impartiality.

Speaker Fitzgerald forgets the outcry from Progressives and Democrats (including this writer) to the GAB handling of the Kathy Nickolaus  incident during the Kloppenburg/Prosser election and recount. Lest we forget; Ms. Nickolaus is still County Clerk in Waukesha County, David Prosser was certified as the winner of the election, and the investigation found no “criminal misconduct” on behalf of Ms. Nickolaus. In spite of remaining unanswered questions regarding numerous election irregularities in Waukesha County; no one on the left considered dissolving the GAB for a more partisan system as an option.

 It is, in fact, Speaker Fitzgerald who has strayed from his purpose as an elected legislator and Speaker; not the GAB. Throughout this turbulent year, the GAB has continued to hold hearings completely open to the public – taking open testimony from opponents and proponents of its decisions. The GAB has also followed the letter of the law in its decisions, even while being under assault from the Walker Administration when their opinions are contrary to the GOP agenda. During a Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) hearing, the GAB faced an overtly partisan threat to its autonomy – by being forced to create “Administrative Rule” which Scott Walker (under Act 21) could overturn. Speaker Fitzgerald supported this action against the GAB.

Speaker Fitzgerald spokesman Jeff Jagler confirmed for Badger Democracy that he was standing by his statements regarding the GAB, though no bill is yet in the works. Fitzgerald is “looking at the situation.” When asked what specific rulings or Board Members Fitzgerald takes issue with, Jagler indicated the Speaker “has not specified that”, but he would ask for clarification. As of this writing, no return call has been received with further detail from Fitzgerald’s office.

Speaker Fitzgerald’s actions in this case are completely contrary to his sworn oath to uphold the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin, and reek of partisanship at its worst. It raises valid questions – who does Fitzgerald serve, and is he fulfilling his obligation to Wisconsin, or to an ideology? Fitzgerald’s campaign contributions reveal a great deal of support from outside his district.

 Of the top 100 contributions, only 2 are from his district. 17 of the top 100 are from out-of-state, including Foley and Lardner (Maryland), Gogebic Taconite (Florida), M&I Bank (Illinois), Plum Creek Timber (Washington), AT&T (Virginia), Payday Loan Store (Illinois), and WalMart (Arkansas) – all at the individual maximum $500 level for an Assembly Candidate. While Jagler states that Fitzgerald is getting a large number of emails in support of his proposal, he did not commit to making those emails available outside of an Open Records Request – which would take weeks. Rest assured, Badger Democracy will submit that request today.

In calling for the replacement of the GAB, Fitzgerald is violating his oath to uphold the Wisconsin Constitution. Created by a nearly unanimous, bi-partisan vote, the GAB continues to act in accordance with the law, and outside any partisan agenda. The GAB operates openly, legally, and transparently (can Rep. Fitzgerald say the same?) to uphold existing campaign and election law. Speaker Fitzgerald himself, in calling for an end to the GAB, has strayed from the true obligation of an Assembly Speaker – to represent the greater interest of the people of Wisconsin.

Watch Fitzgerald and the GOP closely. Should Fitzgerald introduce Legislation to eliminate the GAB, the duty of the remaining GOP lawmakers ought to be the removal of Fitzgerald as Speaker. GOP lawmakers who helped form the GAB out of an overtly partisan elections board would have a duty to stand up and vote for Fitzgerald’s removal as Speaker for such an egregious partisan action(are you listening, Mike Ellis).

In this political reality, the GOP would take no such action. Threats inside the GOP to its own caucus to toe the line, or face Tea Party primaries in their next election are keeping Republicans in lock-step. It is this type of politic which makes the recall of Scott Walker a constitutional necessity. As the minions of Scott Walker and the Fitzgeralds continue to stray from the greater good for Wisconsin, are there any more Dale Schultz’s out there…or is he the lone sane Republican left in the Wisconsin Legislature?

And the author of the mining bill is…no surprise

A source at the Legislative Reference Bureau has confirmed for Badger Democracy that Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) is the author of the Mining Bill. Honadel received money from Gogebic Taconite in his last campaign and is an American Legislative Exchange Council(ALEC) member. Links to Government Accountability Board information, Campaign Contributions, ALEC information, and lobbyists can be found in the December 11 Badger Democracy blog “The Alec-Koch Pipeline to Wisconsin Legislators and the Mining Bill.”

Badger Democracy is awaiting a reply to a related Open Records Request.

 

 

 

Koch Industries gets defensive about Badger Democracy expose on “Kochfacts.com”

The Badger Democracy expose (“The ALEC-Koch pipeline to Wisconsin Legislators and the Mining Bill“) revealing the money and lobbying ties from Wisconsin Legislators pushing the Mining Bill; to Gogebic Taconite, ALEC, and Koch Industries has prompted Koch Industries to post a “Debunking Conspiracy Theories in Wisconsin” blog on Kochfacts.com. Seems Progressive blogs in Wisconsin are hitting a nerve.

The rebuttal from Koch Industries characterizes Badger Democracy as an “obscure, secretive blog” in Wisconsin. The facts, as Koch sees them, are as follows (cited to clear the record “before another lie gains traction“)…

“Koch has no mining operations in Wisconsin, no plans for any such operation, no financial interest in the proposed iron mine in the state, and has taken no position on any Wisconsin legislation related to mining.  Koch companies have never been involved in lobbying for this bill, either directly or through any other party.”

This response on Kochfacts, a Koch “fact check” site operated by Koch Industries itself, proves one of the points in the Badger Democracy expose. That Koch Industries funds, writes, and promotes self-serving private media; with no regard for the actual facts. After reading this rebuttal, I had questioned whether it’s author had even read the entire piece, or followed the links to sources. For clarification, here are the highlighted facts about Koch from the expose:

1. Koch Industries is one of the political interests in Wisconsin that has “…created an expressway of influence to Wisconsin Legislation for co-opting state resources – creating record profits for themselves (which they will ultimately pay little tax on)…”  The money and lobbying interest Koch Industries is unleashing in Wisconsin (both direct and indirect) is unprecedented. Through their sponsorship of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), Koch has direct access regular citizens do not have to Legislators. Names of Lobbyists registered for Koch Industries are linked in the previous Badger Democracy blog. Also noteworthy – just because Koch lobbyists have not registered in support of a bill, does not mean they do not work toward passage of the bill as a function of other lobbying efforts (such as Wisconsin Mining lobby). Is Koch Industries implying they do not ideologically support de-regulation of mining permitting laws? That would be a first.

2.  “Among Koch subsidiaries are companies who would profit greatly from the establishment of iron ore mining in the Badger State, primarily through materials and systems for mining operations. Not to mention the potential for Koch to bring its mining operations directly to Wisconsin.” – This is absolutely true. There are several subsidiaries listed in the link that could supply materials and/or equipment for current or future mining operations. Is the Koch reaction to this assertion a pledge to NEVER engage in or profit from future mining operations in Wisconsin? Considering the permitting process may soon be de-regulated,  any such claim from Koch would be disingenuous at best.

3. “The Koch brothers have perfected “shadow spending” to influence politicians and the electorate. Their methods (practiced for decades) can be summarized in three steps. Establish and fund third-party, biased media…; establish and fund conservative “think tanks” to promote favorable research outcomes; and establish and fund legal groups to write scripts for lawmakers and file favorable briefs on behalf of right-wing interests.” Again, all of these points are well documented. The extent of their spending on these interests may never be fully disclosed, as Koch Industries is a private company. Hamilton Consulting  lobbyists, being paid by Koch Industries, virtually brag about the influence they have had on the most extreme policies of Scott Walker (Act 21) on the Great Lakes Legal Foundation policies website.

4. Koch Industries funds ALEC. ALEC corporations write and approve “model legislation” that is pushed and influences member legislators – many of whom are far right-wing Wisconsin GOP Legislators. Again, the average taxpayer does NOT have this access. Enough said.

Badger Democracy never directly or indirectly implied that Koch Industries owns any part of the mine. The Koch influence was accurately cited as financial and through legislative agenda and ideology through ALEC.

Finally, a broader point. Those who have followed Badger Democracy (and thank you) will know that this is not a secretive or covert blog. I have written fully credited pieces for Isthmus, appeared in person on radio (Sly in the Morning, Sara Schultz Show), and spoken in person to Drinking Liberally Waukesha and Leftist Cocktail Party events in Madison. Readers have access to post comments – whether you agree or disagree, and have access to my email address in the “about” section of the blog. There are not numerous writers – just one. I take full responsibility for every post, and therefore, source and cite every reference to insure accuracy.

There you are, Koch Industries. I have given you a forum on my blog – even though you completely mis-characterized Badger Democracy and the expose on the Mining bill. I will not likely have the same opportunity on your website. Now who is being secretive? And by the way – if Badger Democracy (and the other Progressive Blogs in Wisconsin) is so “obscure,” why did you feel it necessary to write a response?

This link is being forwarded to Koch Industries media contact – melissa.cohlmia@kochps.com (316)828-3756.

 

The ALEC-Koch pipeline to Wisconsin Legislators and the Mining Bill

The Mining Bill released by Assembly Republicans late last week is clearly a case of Legislative patronage to a corporate sponsor – in this case, Gogebic Taconite Mining, LLC. Not surprising, but more disturbing, are the covert links to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Koch Industries, and closer to home, Hamilton Consulting in Madison. All three have created an expressway of influence to Wisconsin Legislation for co-opting state resources – creating record profits for themselves (which they will ultimately pay little tax on) and untold burdens on middle class taxpayers and the environment. The investigation starts with high(or low)lights of the bill itself.

The intricate and lengthy bill will receive its first (and only) scheduled public hearing a mere six days after its release, at State Fair Park in West Allis, in front of Mary Williams’ (R) Committee on Jobs, Economy and Small Business. The nature and members of this Committee assure a fast track approach by GOP leadership – more on that later. As much has been written in other media about the bill, here is a “Top 10″ impacts on policy in the bill:

1. The new law would supersede any rule-making authority the DNR now has regarding mining permitting and regulation.

2. The new law would rescind the requirement for a public informational hearing prior to the release of the Environmental Impact Statement, regarding the content of the EIS.

3. The new law rescinds the requirement for a “contested-case hearing.” This hearing is conducted under Administrative rule, with testimony under oath, and allows for cross-examination of testimony.

4. DNR will have a 360 day deadline to act on a permit request. If this window expires, the permit is automatically granted. DNR would no longer have consideration of the “quality of information” submitted in a report, and may not reject a permit based on that question. DNR may request clarification, but this does not delay the process within the 360 day window. A national study shows the average time for a mining permit review to be 2-4 years (source – US Army Corps of Engineers).

5. The new law does not allow for a person aggrieved by a DNR decision regarding permitting to a “contested-case hearing” under administrative rule. The only remedy is in the courts. additionally, the new law states that no citizen may file suit against a permitted mining operation.

6. The new law would loosen the regulations for surface water withdrawal. The DNR would be unable to interfere with the drawing of surface water if doing so would “limit or interfere with the needs of a mining operation.”

7. The new law would allow a mining company to request exemption for any law under the permitting process. DNR would have 15 days to respond.

8. The new treatment of the Occupancy Tax would take 50% of the net tax to go into the state general revenue fund. Under current law, 100% stays in the community, and is administered by a local board.

9. Conditions regulating contracts, leases, and record keeping transparency are rescinded.

10. Weakens (virtually eliminated) DNR rule making authority in regard to ferrous mining. The new law also only applies to ferrous mining permitting.

ALEC Influence – None of these deregulating, anti-environmental measures are original to Wisconsin. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its corporate sponsors have been forwarding this type of pre-approved, corporatic vetted model legislation to right-wing lawmakers for years. As has been the pattern for sweeping policy bills under current GOP leadership, the Mining Bill is a conglomeration of several pieces of ALEC Model Legislation. Primarily, the bill utilizes elements of the Resolution_on_Environmental_Justice_, Performance_Based_Permitting_Act, and Groundwater_Protection_Act.

The ALEC connection and influence in Rep. Williams’ committee could be a primary reason for the bills placement in said committee. Of the nine Republicans in the Committee on Jobs, six are known ALEC members. They are Kapenga, Klenke, Knilans, Kuglitsch, Loudenbeck, and Petryk. Undoubtedly, these six members would recognize immediately the influence of ALEC on this bill – and the power, money and influence behind this legislation. Assuredly placed for quick passage in this ALEC-friendly committee.  

Koch money and agenda – Koch Industries has a greater interest in the Wisconsin Mining Bill than its investment in ALEC. Among Koch subsidiaries are companies who would profit greatly from the establishment of iron ore mining in the Badger State, primarily through materials and systems for mining operations. Not to mention the potential for Koch to bring its mining operations directly to Wisconsin.

  More draconian is the Koch political philosophy, exercised with great consistency.  The Koch brothers have perfected “shadow spending” to influence politicians and the electorate. Their methods (practiced for decades) can be summarized in three steps. Establish and fund third-party, biased media (such as MacIver Institute in Wisconsin); establish and fund conservative “think tanks” to promote favorable research outcomes; and establish and fund legal groups to write scripts for lawmakers and file favorable briefs on behalf of right-wing interests. All those elements are in play in Wisconsin for Koch Industries, and there is one firm acting as the access point for this influence on Wisconsin Legislation – Hamilton Consulting.

Hamilton Consulting is located at 10 East Doty in Madison – the same building as Koch Industries lobby. The direct line to ALEC in Hamilton is Amy Boyer. Boyer has recently become the Wisconsin co-chair for ALEC. Her influence in legislating doesn’t stop there. Boyer is a lobbyist at Hamilton Consulting, whose clients include Koch Industries, Xcel Energy, Manitoba Hydro, and The Wisconsin Mining Association. There are other lobbyists at Hamilton with like clients – Robert Fassbender and Andrew Engel are both registered for Koch Industries and Wisconsin Mining. In addition to writing the scripts for lawmakers on behalf of Koch/ALEC; Hamilton Consulting supports the legal research happening in Wisconsin on behalf of right-wing corporate interests through the Great Lakes Legal Foundation.

The Great Lakes Legal Foundation (GLLF) lists many of the same legal staff as Hamilton – Robert Fassbender, Andrew Cook, and Emily Kelchen. The board of GLLF includes Hamilton/Koch lobbyist Fassbender, James Buchen (Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce WMC), Raymond Taffora (Michael, Best, and Friedrich) and Nickolas George (WMC). GLLF is so intertwined with ALEC, GLLF links to a study funded by ALEC titled “The EPA Regulatory Train Wreck” on their “Policy Projects” page, and staff attorneys have presented at ALEC conferences.  While all the activities of Hamilton Consulting and GLLF demonstrate a direct link and affiliation with ALEC and the Koch political machine, how has this affected the development of complex mining legislation? Follow the money.

According to Democrat sources in the Assembly, the process of drafting this mining legislation has been kept extremely secret and behind closed doors. In May, BizTimes reported that Mark Honadel (R-Milwaukee) would be introducing mining legislation to ease regulations and the permitting process. This confirmed source information that Honadel is a key figure. Two other names surfaced – Mary Williams (Committee on Jobs Chair – see above) and Jeff Fitzgerald.

Both Honadel and Fitzgerald are members of ALEC. Williams’ district is the closest geographically to the proposed Gogebic Taconite minesite controlled by a Republican – and her campaign finance report shows significant contribution from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and energy lobbies such as XCel energy represented by Hamilton Consulting.  As for Honadel and Fitzgerald – the campaign contributions by Gogebic in 2010 are telling.

The ALEC members Honadel and Fitzgerald both received significant contributions from the mining company Gogebic Taconite. In fact, several executives of the company made the maximum $500 individual contribution for the 2010 Assembly election cycle. Fitzgerald received $1500, and Honadel received $2500. Fitzgerald, as Assembly Speaker to push the bill through a favorable committee, Honadel to use his ALEC influence to author, and Williams to act as willing accomplice representing a geographic area impacted by the mine.

All the players were placed through use of corporate money and influence; and Hamilton Consulting, GLLF, ALEC, and Koch provided legislative, legal support and guidance through the process for willing GOP lawmakers. Scott Walker and the GOP are proceeding all-out to pass this mining bill, which will turn out to be a long-term disaster for the environment and Wisconsin – due to the nature of the bill being considered. The bill benefits the aforementioned Corporatics, not the people of Wisconsin.

In fact, in the end, should this mining bill pass, it will likely cost the state more than the supposed 700 jobs could ever make up for. It will be a replay of Wisconsin history, when Robber Barons such as Byron Kilbourn made land grabs to build railroads at the expense of the people and the state – generating massive wealth for a handful of industrialists. This action prompted the rise of Progressivism in Wisconsin back then – perhaps this is the start of its return…

Time to end the new Robber Baron era. And it starts (again) in Wisconsin.