Robb Kahl – Transportation Construction Kingpin…and Democratic Assembly Candidate?

There is an Assembly race progressives should be very concerned about. The story has been under the radar, with many engaging campaigns throughout the state. The outcome of the primary next week could mean that even if a Democratic candidate wins, representation in the 47th will be anything but progressive. If the front-runner in the Democratic primary wins, a powerful special interest group (and the candidate) stands to profit greatly.

Former Mayor of Monona Robb Kahl is running as a Democrat in the 47th Assembly District, encompassing a large portion of Monona and part of McFarland. Democrats were highly critical of Republicans running “fake” Dems in recall elections; it appears that Kahl is a real fake Democrat – begging the question – just what do Dems stand for in the post-recall world…and what will Kahl do with his influence if he wins?

Kahl served four terms as Mayor of Monona, resigning before running for a fifth term. That’s not all – from the candidates’ bio:

Robb currently is Executive Director and General Counsel for a non-profit labor and management organization that serves as a watchdog and educational entity that protects workers and taxpayers rights by monitoring public construction projects for compliance with the various applicable state and federal laws.  Robb is also a small business owner, with five employees working with him at Generations Title in Monona, a company he started with one employee in 2006.

The “non-profit labor and management organization” is the Construction Business Group (CBG). The benign description on the candidate website hardly does the organization justice, nor Kahl’s role as a transportation construction kingpin in Wisconsin. A role he has, and will, continue to profit from even while in public office. Just to be sure, Kahl received an opinion recently from the GAB that he could maintain his position as Executive Director of CBG if he wins an Assembly seat.

It is of minor interest that Kahl has donated twice to JB Van Hollen, a total of $600. Of greater interest are his dealings with CBG, his lobbying efforts, and his relationship with Governor Scott Walker. CBG exists to lobby for legislation that revises prevailing wage laws, and gives private contractors advantage and access over public works contracts awarded by counties and municipalities.

While still Mayor of Monona, on January 8, 2009, Kahl registered as a lobbyist for CBG.  In the 2009-2010 session, Kahl and CBG spent over $230,000 lobbying for private contractor access to public works and prevailing wage modifications. The mayor/lobbyist was already “lobbying” JB VanHollen for a favorable ruling in 2008, requesting an opinion that favored private contractors in public works contracts. Van Hollen denied the request in 2009. Kahl was working for CBG, the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), and Terry McGowan while serving as mayor of Monona in 2008 – 2010; overseeing landmark road construction projects in the city.

On December 18, 2010, Kahl sent an email stating he would not seek re-election as mayor after four terms. IUOE Financial records from 2011 show that in that one year, Kahl was paid $154,536 as “Public Relations Coordinator” (see schedule 12 of the report). 2011 was a banner year for Kahl, CBG, and IUOE.

On April 21, 2011, Kahl and McGowan met with Scott Walker – the IUOE PAC gave $12,000 to the Walker campaign. The Walker budget includes provisions favorable to private contractors’ efforts to gain public road construction contracts away from public employees and county road crews. They also gained modifications to prevailing wage laws, opening loopholes for private contractors to bypass aspects of the law and pay lower wages; using less skilled workers than previously allowed. Progressive Dems were strongly opposed to these provisions.

October 6, 2011 – Kahl is appointed by Scott Walker to the Wisconsin Commission on Transportation Finances and Policy. At this time, Kahl is still a registered lobbyist paid by CBG and IUOE. There is no mention of any potential conflict of interest, nor is this currently disclosed on Kahl’s campaign website.

November 28, 2011 – a commentary from Kahl quietly appears in the LaCrosse Tribune lauding the benefits of the transportation budget provisions he lobbied in favor of, and profits from:

The state budget, which passed four months ago, included provisions that set parameters for public sector vs. private enterprise on highway construction. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, is now calling for the repeal of those provisions, saying the new law ties the hands of county highway departments.

What Kahl failed to mention, conveniently, is the new system actually DOES take local decision-making away. Local budgets are slashed, and prohibitions are placed on local governments ability to utilize public employees and resources. Instead, turning taxpayer dollars over to a select few contractors whose interest is not the public good – but maximum profit. Kahl is now part of the Walker Transportation Administration, as he profits from his own policy decisions and lobbying efforts.

March 26, 2012, Kahl withdraws his lobbying registration for CBG. Just four days later, on March 30, he announces his candidacy for the 47th AD. Kahl’s “big money” donors list is a who’s who of corporate money in politics…here are a few:

Jason Childress – $100 – prolific Foley and Lardner Lobbyist, formerly for Koch Industries. Still lobbying for Smart Government Inc – the lobby arm of the Greater Milwaukee Committee…champions of municipal privatization.

Terry McGowan – $500 – Lobbyist/President IUOE

Stephen Brown – $500 – Owner of Steve Brown Apartments, gave $5,000 to McCain/Palin in 2008.

John Burke – $500 – President of Trek Bicycles

Shane Griesbach – $100 – Draws a salary of $114,522 (2011) as Executive Board Member of IUOE local 139; also serves on Outagamie County Board.

Glenn A. Solsrud – $500 – Real Estate Developer who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in low-income housing credits from WHEDA. 1999-2000 received $124,000 in low-income housing credits from HUD. Has given thousands of dollars to Ron Kind campaigns as a thank you. 

Robb Kahl appears secure in the knowledge that the GAB will let him slide on any pending conflicts of interest if he is elected to the Assembly. His entire political career for the last four years has been just that – he has and will continue to profit personally and professionally ( and politically it would seem) from direct business dealings.

What is sad, is that supposed “progressives” Mark Miller and Peter Barca have championed Kahl – especially in courting support of labor. This after Kahl’s CBG and IUOE have thrown its public sector brothers and sisters over the political abyss. Can there be any doubt Kahl will do the same thing – in spite of his campaign rhetoric? Just what do these Democrats stand for?

Robb Kahl did not return two calls to his cell phone asking for an interview.


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6 thoughts on “Robb Kahl – Transportation Construction Kingpin…and Democratic Assembly Candidate?

  1. I live in the 47th district, and from what I understand, Amanda Hall is the only other Democratic candidate. And I hear that David Soumis is running as a green candidate, although I haven’t heard or seen much about that. We haven’t gotten the impression that either of them is mounting a very serious campaign. It looks pretty much like Kahl has it sewn up, with a list of endorsements as long as your arm.

  2. Help, I am in this guy’s district, and been wondering who to vote for. Amanda Hall – did not respond to the League of Women Voters questionnaire? Not terribly savvy!

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