MADISON, Wis. — Recently published documents from the 2012 John Doe investigation of political corruption in Wisconsin reveal that huge donations from corporations and individuals went to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, a group that sponsored election advertising in 2011 on behalf of key Republican state Senators. State laws were then changed to benefit the donors and three state Senators at the nexis of the campaign cash and public policy, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen and Tom Tiffany, all subsequently supported giving elected officials like themselves a special exemption from John Doe investigations of political corruption.
One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross commented, “Senators Harsdorf, Olsen and Tiffany went the extra mile not just for big money donors but also for themselves. They changed state laws to benefit the corporations pouring money into the efforts to elect themselves and their fellow Republicans, and then they changed state law to make it harder to investigate their sleazy deals.”
As members of the Joint Committee on Finance, Senators Harsdorf and Olsen voted to insert a last second provision into the 2013 state budget that granted retroactive immunity from legal liability for the poisoning of Wisconsin children with lead in paint to the corporation of a $750,000 donor to the Wisconsin Club for Growth. The motion was the final “999 motion” of the 2013 budget deliberations (see 6b). The company in question, NL industries, was the largest manufacturer of lead used in paint in the nation.
In an email providing talking points from Club for Growth Wisconsin head R.J. Johnson to Gov. Walker for a call to donors, the efforts of the Club in the recall elections for key state Senators were detailed. Walker was instructed to note, “We needed to hold four of the six Republican Senators facing recalls last week in order to maintain our conservative majority in the state senate. With your help and against the odds, we beat back the national unions and held our majority …” Specific recall elections efforts of the Club for Growth Wisconsin that Walker was directed to highlight included attacks on the the opponents of Harsdorf and Olsen.
Sen. Tiffany, was the lead author of the bill to change state law to benefit an out of state mining company, Gogebic Taconite. Drafting records for the legislation revealed the company was intimately involved in the drafting of the bill to facilitate their building of a four-mile wide pit mine in Northern Wisconsin. And, according to the most recently published documents, they contributed $1.2 million to the Wisconsin Club for Growth and the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
In the most recent legislative session Tiffany was the lead author of, and Harsdorf and Olsen voted for, legislation to protect politicians from investigations of corruption. The measure, 2015 Senate Bill 43 signed into law as Wisconsin Act 64, exempted elected officials from John Doe investigations of alleged crimes like misconduct in office, bribery, and violations of campaign finance, elections, state ethics and lobbying laws.
“There’s a pretty simple explanation to why Tiffany, Olsen and Harsdorf were so keen to change state laws to make it harder to investigate political corruption — they’re at the center of it with their willingness to change state laws for the benefit of dark money donors,” concluded Ross.