MADISON, Wis. — Just two weeks after Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) “quietly” approved a $6 million tax break for Ashley Furniture, the company’s owner, chairman and their two spouses each made $5,000 contributions for a total of $20,000 to Walker’s campaign, according to campaign finance reports reviewed by One Wisconsin Now.
“The timing of $20,000 in contributions to Gov. Walker made on the same day just two weeks after a $6 million taxpayer-funded tax break was approved for the company by WEDC should raise serious questions,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “That the company’s tax break also involves actually cutting 1,900 Wisconsin jobs is outrageous.”
According to a story which broke in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal, Gov. Walker’s WEDC “quietly” approved a new tax credit for Ashley Furniture at its January 30, 2014 meeting. The tax credit does not even require Ashley to create any new jobs, but “instead grants the company license to lay off half of its current 3,848 Wisconsin-based workers in exchange for an enterprise zone tax credit, one of the most valuable and coveted state subsidies.” Those layoffs would affect over 1,900 Wisconsin workers.
The state of Wisconsin’s campaign finance information system records show on February 17, 2014, just weeks after the tax credit was approved by Gov. Walker’s WEDC, four contributions of $5,000 each were made to Gov. Walker’s campaign from Ashley Chairman of the Board Ronald Wanek, Ashley Chief Executive Officer Todd Wanek and their wives Joyce and Karen.
The $6 million tax credit is not reported in the WEDC public disclosure site. A One Wisconsin Now May 2014 report, ‘W Is for WEDC’ revealed that nearly 60 percent of all WEDC’s economic development policy dollars went to corporations whose owners and employees contributed to Gov. Walker’s campaign. Under Gov. Walker’s administration, Wisconsin ranks last in the Midwest on job creation.
To date, Gov. Walker has received at least $1.2 million in campaign donations from WEDC recipients, as has the Republican Governors Association, which $13 million for Gov. Walker’s campaign in 2010 and 2012 and has spent or allocated $4 million in 2014, including a $3 million media blitz that begins in less than two weeks.
Campaign finance records reveal Ashley’s Waneks are no stranger to Gov. Walker’ election efforts. The four Wanek’s donated a total of $8,000 to Gov. Walker on September 22, 2010. Todd Wanek gave a total of $10,000 to Walker and the Republican Party of Wisconsin in January 2011. Todd Wanek also donated $25,000 to the Republican Governors Association in November 2011 as the Walker recall began.
‘W Is for WEDC’ notes Ashley had previously been approved for two WEDC economic development tax credits in 2013 totaling $735,000. Figures from WEDC at the time of the report showed that while the tax credits were to create 243 jobs, only 20 were listed as being created – meaning the goal is 92 percent unmet. The State Journal story today updated Ashley’s job number to 79 created for one of the WEDC tax credits given. One Wisconsin Now’s report shows this is part of the woeful overall numbers produced by nearly $1 billion in WEDC funds approved, where just over 7,000 of 26,000 promised jobs have been realized from WEDC money. Likewise, the report shows Ashley has been fined $8,200 for six Occupational and Safety Administration fines.
“We’ve seen Gov. Walker use our tax dollars for companies that outsource Wisconsin jobs overseas and give over $500 million in tax dollars to companies that have given his campaign over $1 million. If we were looking for a return to the days of corruption, cronyism and incompetence, then Gov. Walker’s got a ‘Wisconsin Comeback’ for you,” Ross said.