Thursday, September 25, 2014

MMAC oligarchs, JournalComm media, and railroads make their way into Walker "inner circle"

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) had a big document drop yesterday that yanked back the curtain on just who gets to be part of the "in crowd" to GOP decision-makers at the state level. And I know this will stun you, but the Walker Administration and Wisconsin corporate oligarchs are heavily mentioned as part of this story.

The New York Times followed up on the document dump, and fleshed out the details surrounding a conference held by the Republican Governors’ Association in 2013, and its tax-exempt sister group the Republican Governors’ “Public Policy Committee”. The Public Policy Committee is an especially nice touch, as it’s one of those 501-c-4 dark money “social welfare” groups that allow donors to have their information hidden (until groups like CREW out them) . And just like with American Express, membership in the RGA’s inner circle has its privileges.
With Congress producing so little legislation, governors’ offices have become attractive targets, Mr. Wertheimer said. Last year, the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee allowed corporate donors to make their cases on how to carry out the Affordable Care Act; discuss hydraulic fracturing, an oil- and gas-exploration method regulated at the state level; and hash over state budgets just as coffers began to loosen….

One 2009 document states the benefits of a Governors Board membership, for a $50,000 annual contribution or a one-time donation of $100,000, saying it “offers the ability to bring their particular expertise to the political process while helping to support the Republican agenda.”

Board members received two tickets to “an exclusive breakfast with the Republican governors and members of their staff”; three tickets to the Governors Forums Series, where “a group of 5-8 governors discuss the best policy practices from around the country on a particular topic”; and a D.C. Discussion Breakfast Series, among other events.

If they bump up to Cabinet Membership — $100,000 annually or a single payment of $200,000 — contributors also receive two invitations to "an exclusive Gubernatorial Dinner," an "intimate gathering with the Republican governors and special Republican V.I.P. guests" at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington.
Blogging Blue gives a good list of the Walker staffers and campaign personnel that were at the 2013 RGA retreat in California - often attending the same seminars (no coordination there, noooooo).
Among those who were slated to attend the conference and retreat in California in July 2013 were Walker’s Chief of Staff Eric Schutt, Secretary of Administration Mike Huebsch, campaign manager Stephan Thompson and political adviser Keith Gilkes. Also listed were Deputy Chief of Staff Rich Zipperer, senior advisers Eileen Schoenfeldt and Waylon Hurlburt and Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health Services Kevin Moore.
This list leads to some obvious questions.

Who paid for those staffers to fly out there? Is it like how the fake David Koch promised to fly Gov Walker “out to Cali and really show you a good time?” And isn’t this bribery of a public official if they’re going on the “treat” of a group lobbying them?

If they weren’t being bribed or paid back for their “good works” in helping out their corporate benefactors, and they’re out there on the taxpayer’s dime, wouldn’t this be an improper use of taxpayer dollars? And doesn’t this sound a lot like how Walker’s security detail got to accompany him on 110 out-of-state trips, causing taxpayer costs for security to triple? There are a lot more questions that need to be answered with this revelation, but other than the Gannett-associated Appleton paper, I don’t see a lot of Wisconsin media reporting on this today… far.

Then when you read the documents from this 2013 conference, you get an idea why some of our local media don’t want to talk about this. In addition to the typical Koch, health insurer, oil and pharmaceutical organizations that ponied up $250,000+ to be “Statesmen” of the RGA (as opposed to, you know, hiring people and paying them a better wage), take a look at these three guys.
Steve Baas, Director, Governmental Affairs, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce

Buddy Julius, The Firm, LLC, Guest of Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce

Robert Garvin, Wisconsin Energies, Guest of Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.
Yes, that’s the same MMAC that has Steven Smith, CEO of Journal Communications, sitting on its Board of Directors. And you wonder why the J-S and AM 620 has become a cesspool of right-wing garbage, with no piece of GOP-aganda ignored? And you wonder why they don’t want to talk about this type of influence-buying? Look no further than their membership to the “independent” group of right-wing oligarchs in the MMAC.

Down at the “Cabinet” level of $100,000-$250,000, we get some more local flavor.
Andrew Johnsen, Assistant Vice President, Government Affairs, BNSF Railway Company

Mark Martinez Area General Manager, Johnson Controls, Inc.
We know what a big player Johnson Controls can be, particularly in energy and manufacturing policy, and that explains their interest in shaping some things, but why does BNSF sound familiar in these parts? Oh yeah, here’s why.
In Wisconsin to promote the importance of transportation infrastructure investments, [U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony] Foxx met with state and local leaders as well as representatives of Citizens Acting for Rail Safety (CARS), a group organized in the last year in response to increased crude oil shipments as well as the BNSF railroads’ plans to add a second set of tracks through La Crosse….

CARS also presented Foxx with photos of BNSF bridges along the Mississippi River showing cracked and crumbling concrete. One bridge in Stoddard appears to be supported by stacked timbers.

“What I’m about to show you scares the living crap out of me,” said Guy Wolf, who called on Foxx to order an immediate independent inspection of the bridges.

Railroads are required to inspect their bridges each year, but those inspection reports are not available to the public. The Federal Railroad Administration reviews the railroad inspection plans, but it does not send out structural engineers to perform independent inspections.
Hmmm, now why would BNSF want to lobby states about policy? Couldn’t have anything to do with getting around maintenance rules and possibly getting bailout money for those repairs from taxpayers, could it?

And the BNSF and other rail lines have been in the news in Wisconsin for other reasons, as heightened frack sand shipments are leading to the rail lines becoming massively congested, and you can bet BNSF doesn’t want fracking limited in any way, as it’ll lower some of their revenue stream. Bill Lueders summed up the changes in this article from two months ago.
Chippewa Falls resident Patricia Popple, an activist opposed to frac sand mining, recalls that train traffic in the area was once much less frequent, and the trains were shorter.

Now, she said, “They go through here any hour of the night and day … and have to sound whistles every time they go through an intersection.”

Jeff Plale, the state’s railroad commissioner, [speaking of sketchiness] confirms that more trains really are chugging through Wisconsin. He said there is “no question” that a 63 percent increase in state freight rail revenue between 2002 and 2012 was caused in part by the rapid growth in frac sand mining in western and northwestern Wisconsin.

Rail transportation of frac sand is fueling another increase in train traffic in Wisconsin. Last week, The Associated Press and the La Crosse Tribune, citing newly released figures, reported that three dozens trains loaded with flammable crude oil extracted by fracking now rumble through the state every week.
The congestion is also slowing down passenger rail for Amtrak in the area, since they have to share the tracks and railways such as BNSF own them (and handle a lot of the maintenance). If only there would have been some kind of project that could have added rail lines and relieved some of that congestion, paid for entirely by the feds….

Is there any doubt that “pay-to-play” and "politics and power by any means necessary" are the top agenda items in the Wisconsin right-wing world? Not jobs, not balancing the budget, not improving quality of life. As they say in Goodfellas, it is “Eff you, PAY ME!,” from GOP politicians, their top advisors, their donors, and their allies in the media. That's what directs their course of action, not silly ideas like "public good" or "ethical decency."

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