Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said Tuesday he plans to discuss with Democrats their concerns about the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and is interested in addressing “sincere, legitimate problems,” but he isn’t proposing his own plan yet.Ok, that last statement is total gibberish, but the fact that Robbin’ Vos would even admit that “legitimate issues have been brought up” shows that WEDC is being exposed to the masses as a no-job-creating slush fund that we all knew it to be.
He said WEDC not proactively contacting Kraft Heinz as other states did in the months after a merger was first reported could be one of the issues discussed with Democrats. It’s unlikely such contact could have saved Oscar Mayer, but similar situations could arise in the future.
“Legitimate issues have been brought up,” Vos said in an interview. “We have taken steps to fix many of those, but I’m not saying it’s perfect and I’m not saying that there are not things that we could additionally do.”
Vos’s comments come on the heels of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin joining the long list of Wisconsinites asking for a federal investigation of WEDC. Baldwin’s request comes after months of inaction from Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel (likely related to the fact that it would involve investigating people and organizations that helped get Schimel elected a year ago), and is based on WEDC’s irresponsible use of federal grant money, along with other sketchy lending decisions.
In a Nov. 6 letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Baldwin asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review a $500,000 WEDC loan to a struggling Milwaukee company, Building Committee Inc., owned by a top donor to Gov. Scott Walker.Let’s not also forget that WEDC got clipped early on in its existence for trying to use federal dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as Scott Wittkopf at Badger Democracy revealed over 3 years ago. The Walker Administration tried to have WEDC be the agency to handle millions of HUD dollars, only to be slapped down by HUD because WEDC did not have the authority to handle this money, because it’s privatized nature meant that the state wasn’t responsible for it. As a result, the Walker Department of Administration had to take over the funding and administration for the grant funds.
The State Journal reported in May that Walker’s top Cabinet secretary pushed WEDC officials to provide the company more than $4 million. But it didn’t get more than the original half-million dollar loan after the agency learned owner William Minahan had promised a luxury car creditor he would repay debt with state funds.
Baldwin referenced a letter Wisconsin Democratic lawmakers sent to Lynch after the State Journal investigation.
The Madison Democrat also cited a Sept. 21 letter from members of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin calling for an investigation into more than $1.1 million WEDC loaned to Green Box NA Green Bay and $2 million the agency loaned to Oneida Seven Generations Corp. Both loans are in default, and in the case of the Oneida Seven Generations Corp. the state used federal stimulus money, which Baldwin highlighted.
Wittkopf asked questions in that article which still linger today.
Are we witnessing the unraveling of a “shell game” to operate WEDC as a quasi-governmental agency with no oversight or accountability; investing state funds and resources for private profit at public expense?3 years and numerous audits later, we still are in the dark over the decision-making process at WEDC (well, except for the obvious connections between GOP donors and taxpayer-funded awards), and in regards to just where all the money is and what it is going for.
Has DOA bypassed the HUD concerns and oversight of WEDC by acting as the “state authority” and virtual rubber stamp for any program administered by WEDC through DOA?...
It is apparent that WEDC is a hastily contrived, singular vision agency put together with no consideration for statewide public impact. While it may serve the corporate development elite in the state, it is keeping the general public (which fund its existence) in the dark as to its activities and investments.
Then add in that the State Assembly is poised to pass a campaign finance bill on Monday that would hide who donors work for, and make it more difficult to “follow the money” when it comes to taxpayer-funded handouts from organizations like WEDC. See, in WisGOP World, the problem with such a setup isn’t the lack of transparency or the possibility of corruption from having so little oversight. Instead, it’s because with campaign finance information revealing the workplaces of donors, it’s too easy for journalists and citizens to connect the dots and see what a taxpayer-backed slush fund WEDC really is.
And since Schimel or any other Republican won’t dare try to kill this golden goose of boodle, the Feds must step in, and conduct a full and open investigation of WEDC, and sooner than later. Even if Robbin’ Vos tries to “rebrand” WEDC or modify in some form to keep the heat from getting too close to him and his bosses, that doesn’t mean all of this sketchiness should be thrown down the memory hole. In fact, the flop sweat coming from WisGOP leadership in light of Dem demands for action is all the more reason to think there is a serious pay-for-play scandal brewing, and that it may connect a lot of the earlier corruption and John Doe-related money-laundering that has already come to light.