Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Despite document dump, still smells like a cover-up at WEDC

Gov Scott Walker made a couple of rare in-state appearances today, and I don't think they did much good in helping his plummeting poll ratings. He first appeared to give a wet kiss to the NRA by signing a law removing a waiting period to buy handguns (nice timing on that one). But it was at a second appearance at a photo op (promoting major events in golf that will be coming to Wisconsin in the next 5 years) where Scotty had to answer some real questions regarding the recent revelations about the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), an agency he created in 2011 and on whose board he is the chair.

You may remember that WEDC revealed on Friday afternoon that it improperly gave out $124 million in loans in its first 18 months of existence, including many alleged projects that fell far short of the promised amount of job creation. Remarkably, our usually timid media tried to follow up with the Gov on this story today, and as he usually does when he's got to say something off the cuff, Scotty flailed around making excuses and sounding foolish.
Walker, speaking at an unrelated event in Hartford, defended the embattled Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. by insisting it "didn't cut corners."

“Obviously there’s been a few cases where they weren’t as highly effective as we’d like,” Walker said.
Actually Scotty, the report says that corners WERE cut. That's why $124 million was listed by WEDC as being inappropriately handed out. And "they weren't as highly effective"? On what metrics? The fact that these projects promised to add 6,100 jobs and it only added 2,100? That you were supposed to hand out more money to corporations?

Or perhaps Scott Walker is pulling a Freudian slip, and that the laws of WEDC were intended to have money handed out without oversight or evaluation of the business plan, and not get noticed by auditors and open records requests. Scarily, this is a possibility, and that's a whole lot more damning.

And our Governor sure didn't seem very Unintimidated when it came to talking about the WEDC slush fund, literally walking away from confronting the issue.

The two Democratic members on the WEDC Board, State Rep. Peter Barca and State Sen. Julie Lassa, are demanding changes at the top at WEDC, asking that CEO Reed Hall resign, as the two Dems said they had no confidence in Hall's leadership. Barca and Lassa said the document dump on Friday afternoon was actually a further cover-up, because while giving the impression of releasing information, the WEDC release didn't give all the details that were asked for.
We were not informed that a formal underwriting process had not been conducted for these awards or any awards that came before the board, and we certainly were not informed of the fact that officials from at least one of the companies had apparently made tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to the Governor’s campaign committee.

“The awards the Governor’s spokesperson referred to amount to only three of the 27 awards that we recently learned did not receive formal staff underwriting. The three awards we did approve – without any knowledge that they lacked underwriting – were Enterprise Zone designations, the only kind of award that ever received board review at the time. The board only received information in closed session regarding the companies and projects involved, how large the award would be, and how many jobs the company had promised to create or retain....

“This kind of response demonstrates once again that WEDC and the Governor are more concerned about using misinformation to manage their PR crisis than they are about getting to the bottom of the problems with this agency.

“Instead of again misleading the public, we would rather WEDC and the Governor focus their energies on quickly getting us all the records we requested – including any awards they made over the objections of underwriters, Community Development Block Grant activity under WEDC and now the Department of Administration, and details of loans under $200,000 that were approved without staff review.”
The reactions of Walker, Barca and Lassa reiterate that WEDC will not fix its many problems on its own, and the Walker Administration and Attorney General Brad Schimel will avoid taking anything but baby steps and misdirection to keep the heat off of a slush fund that has benefitted many of their donors. That's why there must be a full-fledged FEDERAL investigation into the WEDC slush fund, and the alleged cover-up by WEDC staff in releasing information to the Dem board members makes it all the more apparent that there has been some huge levels of fishiness going on at the Tommy Thompson building, with a whole lot more details that need to be brought to the public's attention.

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