Thursday, July 23, 2015

Is Hammes the real reason Walker backed the Bucks arena?

With the Bucks arena scheduled to have its final debate in the State Assembly next week before hitting Gov Scott Walker’s desk, let’s take a look at why a GOP presidential candidate would want to openly support a multi-million dollar handout to a sports team a few months before the first primaries. As we’ve found out over the last few days, it may well have to do with a connection Walker has with his campaign’s recently installed co-chair of finance, Jon Hammes.

I've previously mentioned this article by David Sirota and Andrew Perez in the International Business Times, which noted how Hammes stands to be a big winner if the Bucks arena becomes reality.
However, before Walker proposed the arena deal, Hammes had donated more than $15,000 to his gubernatorial campaigns, according to state campaign finance data. Federal records also show that over the last decade, Hammes has donated almost $280,000 to Republican candidates and third-party groups -- including more than $14,000 to the Wisconsin Republican Party. Hammes Company in 2010 donated $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association, which that year spent heavily in support of Walker's first run for governor. Jon Hammes also contributed $500 to Walker while he was a Milwaukee county executive.

Hammes became one of the part owners of the Bucks in 2014. A little more than three months later, Walker unveiled his proposal to spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a new arena for the team. The team currently plays at BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee….

…Hammes’ firm also was contracted by the local chamber of commerce to evaluate new stadium proposals. The company has expertise in that area, having been involved in the construction of the New York Giants’ stadium and the renovation of the Green Bay Packers’ home at Lambeau Field in Wisconsin.
That seems to answer the question why the allegedly “free-market conservative Governor (HEY! I hear your WEDC jokes!) sent a proposal to the State Legislature that would have shelled out $488 million to help build an arena for billionaire owners of Milwaukee’s NBA team. You really think these things are all coincidence? If so, then if the Bucks move to Vegas (as is rumored if the arena doesn’t go through), Hammes should go along with them, because he’d make a killing at the casinos and sports books with that kind of "luck."

I’ll also forward you to this article from Journal-Sentinel real estate reporter Tom Daykin from 3 weeks ago, which goes over Hammes’ recent land dealings in downtown Milwaukee.
An investment group led by developer Jon Hammes has purchased a large vacant downtown lot near a Park East site where Hammes proposed to build offices.

The 1.5-acre parcel, 210 E. Knapp St., was sold by BMO Harris Bank to HFJV LLC for $1 million, according to state real estate records posted Friday. The vacant lot is bordered by E. Knapp, N. Water and N. Market streets.

That property is just east of a 2.6-acre site between N. Water St. and the Milwaukee River, north of E. Knapp St., where Hammes has proposed developing three or four offices buildings--if the project can land tenants and financing.
And hey, whaddya know? All of those sites are just a few blocks across the Milwaukee River from where the new arena would be. And it’s within a block of a lot that Hammes’ group bought in November, after Walker’s re-election, but before Scotty’s original Bucks plan was released in January.

Remarkably, Daykin’s article brings up the new Bucks arena being nearby, but in the week since Sirota and Perez’s report in the International Business Times, neither the Journal-Sentinel nor the Wisconsin State Journal has said a word about the Walker-Hammes connection, and how Hammes stands to make a huge profit off of developments associated with the arena. Sure makes you wonder if these guys are avoiding the issue on purpose, as a way to curry favor with Jon Hammes, the other Bucks owners, and related big hitters in the state. There especially seems to be the case with the J-S, as their headquarters are located just blocks from the new arena and they would get a nice bump from increased property values around the new arena. In addition, radio station WTMJ 620 is the Bucks’ flagship, and they would likely get increased readership for their paper from having an NBA team.

Dave Zirin summed up this sketchy cronyism in an article he wrote yesterday morning for the Nation, and how it ties directly back to Scott Walker’s SOP, and the scumminess of his puppetmasters.
This absence of shame—coupled with an adolescent’s ardor for Ayn Rand—has long been Scott Walker’s defining characteristic and we are witnessing it again in his slavish pursuit of Bucks-bucks. Take a step back, and the man’s cheeky chutzpah provokes a near awe: Walker has—amidst a highly scrutinized presidential campaign—chosen to bankroll a billionaire backer with corporate welfare who in return will head his presidential financial operation. The optics of this are patently corrosive enough as is, but it’s even worse than that. Walker and the Wisconsin state legislature will pay for it by slashing roughly the same amount of the cost of the stadium from the state’s higher education budget. Over a quarter-billion for the arena and a quarter-billion siphoned from higher ed, and the giving of absolutely no fucks in how it all looks.

This isn’t politics. This isn’t differing economic philosophies. This isn’t even simple hypocrisy. This is trolling-as-governance, and Scott Walker is an expert in this art. This is what compels him to compare trade unionists to ISIS or stand up for the Confederate flag before the Charleston dead had even been put to rest (and then flip on the issue again), or rail against marriage equality while his own children cringe in shame, or stand up for the sanctity of Native American mascots. These qualities undoubtedly make him attractive to a section of the Republican base, the ones currently waving Confederate flags north of the Mason-Dixon Line and hosting Muhammad-drawing contests. He is attempting something audacious: trying to win the Republican nomination solely by relying on a coalition of the “jackass” wing of the party. One can already see his finance team approaching all egg avatars to join the Walker team.
Hey Dave, as an aside, if you’ve read comment sections in local papers or Facebook, and took a gander at some of the criminal complaints in the John Doe investigation, it’s pretty clear Scotty’s boys have been paying posters to front for him for years.

Zirin’s ending sentences are more accurate than he even knows, because it really does sum up the "262 wing" of the Wisconsin Republican Party these days ( Hi, Speaker Vos! Which public records are you wishing to hide today?).
At least we know why Hammes sees a kindred spirit in Scott Walker: They both share an absence of shame and an utter absence of fear that anyone will hold them to account.
Let’s see if they get held to that account in the next 5 days, before the Bucks bill is schedule to hit the Assembly floor on the 28th. I already oppose public funding of the arena because I think there are about 100 other needs in Milwaukee and Wisconsin over the Bucks. Now add in the recent dot-connecting by Sirota, Zirin, and other journalists on this Hammes-Walker connection, and it’s got the stench of Chicago-style corruption on top of the foolish use of tax dollars.

No Dem in the Assembly should go along with this crooked scheme, and that includes the reps from Milwaukee. Even if Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry promises to raise big money for them like he has for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, this thing is being done in the wrong way, and I would not associate myself with it.


  1. Don't forget Hammes developed the "New" The Edgewater Hotel in Madison, currently beset by millions in construction liens and a million plus lawsuit by the general contractor.

    1. Oh, I know all about that, and that he and his buddy Bob Dunn are trying to get another $40 million or so out of the City of Madison for the Exact Sciences/ Judge Doyle Square project.

      Hammes knows the real way to make money in the 2000s- have friends in high places.

  2. As usual, your blog rocks. I could add some things about the MJS silence, as me and some other folks have had unpleasant interactions with an editor who likes to remove Vos' names from stories and then not allow access to the earlier quotes. I posted this yesterday to some friends on FB:

    "So Wisconsin people, who exactly does Robin Vos know in the media? On the day the State Journal "breaks" the story that he was behind the open records changes:

    1. The State Journal doesn't even have the story on their *own* front page anymore

    2. The Journal Sentinel edited Vos' name out of the headline and reframed the story to be about Walker. This isn't the first time Vos has benefited from MJS revision.

    What the hell is going on? Am I imagining this?"

    There really is no shame.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Chuck. The JS definitely wanted to bury the Vos part of tge story, but they were all over Walker not granting OR requests. Likewise, Phil Hands had a big cartoon today ripping Vos in the State Journal, so I think they're staying on it.

      I do agree that we need to stay on them in both the OR story, and in this Hammes-Walker connection in the Bucks arena