CAP TIMES: WMC, Gogebic Taconite used dark money to target anti-mining bill legislators

October 15, 2014
Jessica VanEgeren
news photo

The financial power and influence of an out-of-state mining company and business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce were used to directly target two Wisconsin lawmakers who stood in the way of the passage of a new state mining bill.

An article posted Tuesday by ProPublica, a national investigative journalism outlet, and The Daily Beast gives a comprehensive overview of the money WMC and Gogebic Taconite, a Florida-based Cline Group subsidiary owned by billionaire Chris Cline, spent to oust freshman Democratic Sen. Jessica King and run ads against Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center.

The documents on which the article is based show the transfer of money between Gogebic, Wisconsin Club for Growth and political campaigning were accidentally made public by a federal appeals court in Chicago as part of the secret John Doe investigation surrounding Gov. Scott Walker.

The ProPublica-Daily Beast article highlights how so-called dark money groups helped Cline’s Gogebic Taconite company get what it wanted in Wisconsin.

Gogebic gave $700,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 and 2012, according to documents sited in the article. Wisconsin Club for Growth, in turn, passed the money along to other groups. In all, the two groups spent $3 million

Together, the two groups played a critical role in defeating King, who had voted against the initial mining bill.

Estimates compiled by a King campaign consultant show WMC spent a total of $965,000 on TV ads in the race, with the Wisconsin Club for Growth shelling out another $919,000, according to the article.

Roughly 85,000 votes were cast in King’s Senate race against Republican Rick Gudex. She lost by 600 votes.

With King out and Gudex in, a revamped mining bill passed within months of the election.

In a blog post two days after the election, the Wisconsin Club for Growth bragged that it had played a "pivotal role" in the results, airing more than $1.5 million worth of ads in Green Bay "to educate voters on the records" of King and another Democrat who had voted against the bill.

"The mining law we have today would never have happened if Jessica King had won re-election," Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, who helped craft an alternative mining bill with Schultz that went nowhere, told ProPublica.

The mining company and others also had concerns over Schultz. According to the article two lobbyists — Bob Seitz, who works for Gogebic, and Scott Manley, who works for WMC — visited Schultz on several occasions. In addition, the Wisconsin Club for Growth launched a robocalling campaign, urging voters statewide to call his office and tell him to vote for the bill.

According to the article, Schultz confronted the lobbyists about the calls.

"You can tell your buddies, if they're making those calls in my district, they can keep doing them, because they're making me a folk hero!" Schultz told them, according to a staffer who witnessed the conversation.

Schultz was the only Republican who voted against the mining bill.

Schultz told ProPublica that “Gogebic's efforts to hide its influence went beyond anything he'd witnessed since his election to the state Assembly.”

"I've never seen anything like this done by special interests in Wisconsin in 32 years," said the veteran lawmaker.

Schultz is retiring at the end of the year and his Senate district is one of the state's most hotly contested. WMC is running ads in opposition to Democrat Pat Bomhack in the race.

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