Deep inside Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial 144 page budget repair bill is a provision that provides for the sale or lease of publicly owned power plants without a competitive bidding process, which has some political watchdog groups concerned the plants could go to political donors.
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Executive Director McCabe said the provision is very troubling.
“That provision jumps off the pages of the proposal as something that wealthy special interest donors have their eyes on,” McCabe said. “Without competitive bidding you can engineer a sweet heart deal on a power plant and get it at cut-rate prices.”
The only entities responsible for clearing the transactions are the Department of Administration and the Joint Finance Committee, although the JFC plays a passive role in approving the DOA’s contract with the buyer or leaser, according to the budget repair bill language.
Andrew Welhouse, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the possibility of Walker writing the bill so a political contributor gets a bargain on energy plants is preposterous.
“That sounds like a pretty wild rumor. There is so much speculation that’s going on over this, and it really strikes me as one of those speculations that doesn’t add much to the conversation about what this bill might do,” Welhouse said. “The bill stipulates very directly the oversight the Legislature has to ensure the state gets the best deal.”
Although McCabe said he could not be sure, the sudden appearance of a lobbying firm on Doty Street for Koch Industries, owned by wealthy brothers Charles and David Koch, is reason enough to be alarmed.
The firm registered six lobbyists with the Government Accountability Board just two days after Gov. Walker’s inauguration. McCabe said he presumes they will lobby to have the budget repair bill passed and will be major actors in the legislative process.
Koch Industries owns four companies within Wisconsin – tissue, towel and wiper products manufacturer Georgia-Pacific and three other companies that supply, refine and distribute energy resources. Purchasing Wisconsin’s public power plants could increase the Koch brothers’ grasp on Wisconsin energy.
Walker had been criticized by Democrats for dolling out a political favor earlier in his term when he introduced a bill to allow one developer, campaign contributor John Bergstrom, to develop a protected wetland near Green Bay. Koch Industries gave more to Walker than the Bergstrom family.
Koch Industries donated $43,000 through its political action committee – only $125 short of the maximum allowed from a PAC – to Walker’s gubernatorial election campaign. The donation is Walker’s second highest from a PAC, according to GAB records.
But the donations do not end there, says Jay Heck, director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, a group specializing in campaign finance ethics.
Koch Industries also gave $1 million to the Republican Governor’s Association, a national organization who gives money to elect Republicans to gubernatorial offices. The RGA in turn spent $3.4 million on advertisements attacking Walker’s opponents and spent $65,000 on independent expenditures supporting Walker, Heck said.
The Koch brothers’ donations are particularly troubling for Wisconsin union workers, McCabe said. He said union busting and privatization has been at the heart of the Koch brothers’ contribution activities for years and have sponsored countless political organizations that all speak to that central goal.
Koch Industries’ lobbying firm could not be reached for comment.