Wednesday, July 13, 2016

WEDC gag order par for course for secretive Walker Admin

Gee, these actions don't seem sketchy in the least.
The proposal could have barred members of the Wisconsin Economic Develop Corp.'s board of directors from publicly divulging information about its taxpayer-funded operations and subjected them to discipline if they spoke to reporters.

Shortly after the Journal Sentinel posted a story about the proposal online Wednesday, WEDC Chief Executive Officer Mark Hogan told his fellow directors that he was shelving the proposal based on "feedback I have received from various board members."

Christa Westerberg, an attorney and vice president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, said the policy had seemed to put more emphasis on the uncompensated board members than on WEDC itself and its two-year budget of $65 million.

"That (discipline) provision I find troubling because it seems like the focus of the policy is the conduct of the board members, not the agency," Westerberg said. "If anything, we need more oversight of the agency, not less."
Props to the Journal-Sentinel's Jason Stein for drawing attention to WEDC's attempt to hide information from the public (interesting that they dig for this story, but ignore the M&A tax giveaway details), and the fact that GOP donor Mark Hogan pulled the proposal after WEDC Board members gave "feedback" is a dead giveaway on how this came down.

These orders came from the Walker Administration, and like many WisGOP maneuvers on open records, it was an attempt to sneak through the changes before anyone could figure out what they were trying to do. It's reminiscent of how the Walker Administration tried to exempt WEDC from open records laws when it came to giving information about a prospective grantee's finances. Because when you're handing out millions in taxpayer dollars to businesses, what right do the people have when it comes to evaluating their financial fitness?

That proposal was pulled back as it was brought to the public's attention via a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo (sound familiar?). I mean, it's not like there are stories in the paper which describe how a GOP mega-donor might not give all the needed information on a business that has no track record, and get more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars from WEDC.
Paul Piikkila, of Appleton, admitted committing conspiracy to defraud his employer Horicon Bank of more than $700,000, according to a plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee. Piikkila originally pleaded not guilty and a hearing on his change of plea is scheduled for July 22.

As part of the deal, Piikkila agreed to testify in the case involving De Pere businessman Ron Van Den Heuvel, who pleaded not guilty to a 13-count grand jury indictment related to the case filed in April....

According to the plea agreement, “all of the witnesses agree that Ron and Kelly Van Den Heuvel lived a high-end lifestyle including an expensive house, another residence in Florida, expensive automobiles, a live-in nanny, expansive use of credit cards and a private plane. All this despite little evidence of actual business activity by any of Ron’s business entities.”...

Van Den Heuvel was able to secure more than $1 million for one of his many companies, Green Box NA Green Bay, from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. in September 2011. Van Den Heuvel didn’t disclose previous lawsuits in his application, and a WEDC staff review stated the application’s only weakness was that it was a startup.The agency gave Green Box more time to repay the loan in September 2014 before declaring the loan in default in early 2015. A judge has placed the company in receivership, but so far the money has not been repaid.
And this is far from the only time that the Walker Administration has tried to hide from the public, whether it be in the notorious 999 motion that tried to gut the state's open records law 1 year ago this month, and Walker's lame attempt to change open records law in court (which was also shot down in the "Wisconsin Idea" case this May).

That's what makes this whole lame attempt to hide WEDC information and put a gag order on WEDC Board members such an absurd two-fer. Not only does it reiterate that WEDC is nothing more than a GOP slush fund, but it also reiterates the Walker Administration's contempt for the people who pay the taxes that pay for WEDC's handouts. And it's likely to continue as long as this Reign of Error continues, because the members of this administration from the Governor on down continue to try to deceive and hide from the public that pays their salaries, instead of changing their way of doing (monkey) business.

Which also helps explain why Walker's approval rating continues to be below 40%, I suppose.


  1. When the living hell does this get Investigated?

  2. This directive came from the Walker Administration, and it would be great to find out exactly how it all came down. It was a variation of some of the things they tried to do last year, after Walker said he wanted WEDC to transition away from loans toward tax incentives.

    Interesting to see Steineke's reaction to the scheme; the Tea Party contingent is not the unified Walker lap-dog force it once was. That's tough for Walker since he is so desperate to rehabilitate his image.

    1. I caught that too. And it's not the first time the Assembly GOPs in particular have spoken up against Walker in recent weeks. Tells me that they're concerned about losing big in the Fall, and that Walker isn't interested in sticking around Wisconsin for very long.

      I wonder if Scotty will bring up the "nimbleness" of WEDC when he speaks at the GOP Convention next week?