The Million Dollar Bill

January 24, 2013   by Rebecca Kemble

Shortly after 9pm last night, Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) abruptly adjourned the one and only public hearing on a controversial mining deregulation bill after being called out as the second largest recipient of campaign donations by groups that lobbied for a similar bill last session.

Sen. Tom Tiffany and Sen. Glenn Grothman, recipients of large campaign donations from mining deregulation advocates.

Sen. Tom Tiffany and Sen. Glenn Grothman, recipients of large campaign donations from mining deregulation advocates.

Of the nearly $1 million in campaign donations to 20 Senate and Assembly mining committee members by interests backing mining deregulation, $74,000 went to Sen. Tiffany, according to Victoria McMurray who cited Wisconsin Democracy Campaign finance records. Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) was the biggest recipient, cashing in nearly half a million in campaign contributions, while Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) came in third with $52,000 in donations.

Tiffany interrupted McMurray’s testimony, telling her to, “write a letter to the editor” before calling the last person to testify, who had already been informed she was next. (Click here for the video.) As soon as Celeste Lorigan finished speaking, Tiffany brought the gavel down on the hearing declaring it adjourned, despite a prior agreement with Rep. Fred Clark (D-Baraboo) to allow the minority party a closing statement before adjournment.

Both Tiffany and co-chair Rep. Mary Williams (R-Medford) were escorted out the the hearing room by State Troopers and Capitol Police officers.

The hearing ended much as it began twelve hours earlier: In chaos with a highly visible police presence and the co-chairs struggling to maintain a tight grip on the proceedings. Williams spent nearly five minutes at the beginning of the hearing reciting a litany of rules, restrictions and prohibited behavior that included interpretive dance, singing, pictures and props.

The corporate influence and biased nature of the proceedings were evident throughout the day. According to Williams’ rules, the bill’s sponsors would be given 10 minutes to speak, and the Department of Natural Resources would be given 5. Everybody else was supposed to restrict their remarks to 2 minutes, with time allowed for committee members to ask a maximum of two questions.

But it was no surprise when the CEO, Chief Engineer and lobbyist for Gogebic Taconite – the company that is proposing to blast a 1,000 foot deep open pit mine 21 miles long and half a mile across at the headwaters of the Bad River near the shores of Lake Superior – took up nearly an hour of the committee’s time. GTac was also allowed to show pictures and graphs – something others were prohibited from doing.

Several hundreds of people had traveled to Madison – many from the extreme northwest part of the state – in order to have their say on the bill, but fewer than 60 got the chance. Advocates for the bill were given pride of place at the beginning of the day. For the final three hours only those opposed to the legislation remained, and there were hundreds still in the queue.

Even though this was the only hearing on the bill, two organizations that are major stakeholders in mining permitting processes in Wisconsin were not formally invited to testify. They had to sign up and wait for their two minutes just like everybody else.

When her turn came, Rebecca Grasser of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said, “I don’t know if there was some mix up, but we weren’t invited to testify.” The Army Corps has a large amount of authority in Wisconsin regarding the regulation of discharges into wetlands and navigable waters that are considered “waters of the United States.” They are on record as saying that the scope of deregulation in this bill would likely require the Army Corps to require a parallel permitting process for a mining company, instead of a collaborative one with the Wisconsin DNR.

Shirl LaBarre registering Recall Jauch campaign at the GAB March 25, 2012. Photo by Whitney Steffen

Shirl LaBarre registering Recall Jauch campaign at the GAB March 25, 2012. Photo by Whitney Steffen

Also not invited was the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the member organization of the 11 Ojibwe tribes that have natural resource management rights based on treaties that govern the entire northern third of the state.  By executive order, Wisconsin state agencies are required to consult with tribes on any matters that would affect their rights in ceded territories. But there has been no consultation with them regarding the bill, even though the proposed mine would be located in ceded territory and near the border of the Bad River reservation.

The Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity, whose Wisconsin state director is an ex-Chief of Staff for one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), organized buses to bring mining supporters in from Milwaukee and the Fox Cities area. Many of them filled out slips registering for the bill, but only a few testified.

Other Republican political operatives masquerading as ordinary citizens were also given privileged spots in the testifying lineup. Most notable was Shirl LaBarre, who said, “I’m just here as a wife and a mom and a third generation plumbing family.” What she neglected to mention was that the owner of GTac, coal billionaire Chris Cline, organized $7,000 in contributions for her failed 2010 campaign for Assembly. She also did not disclose her leadership role in a failed attempt to recall Sen. Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) who has opposed mining deregulation.

Rep. Mark Honadel (R-Oak Creek), one of the three co-sponsors of the bill also received direct campaign donations from Cline and his associates in 2010.

Other testifiers in favor of the bill were lobbyists for the Operating Engineers Union, United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, and the National Rifle Association whose lobbyist said that GTac had approached the NRA two years ago with plans to turn the reclaimed mine site into a long-range shooting facility.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Rep. Clark requested Sen. Tiffany to reconvene so that he could make a statement on behalf of the minority party, as previously agreed to. When Tiffany refused, Clark was reduced to shouting above the din: “Clearly, this hearing was insufficient. Please consider scheduling another hearing in northern Wisconsin.”

Million Dollar Bill

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13 Comments on “The Million Dollar Bill”

  1. tedvothjr January 24, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    Thanks once again, WCMC, only real journalists in Madison. My Grandfather McClintock is proud of you. I’m proud to know you. Keep up the stellar work…

  2. tedvothjr January 24, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    My letter to the State Yournal, & al, on their story– I started to say ‘story’, then started to change it to ‘article’, then realized that ‘story’ was the better word, the mot juste, after all– on this same hearing…


    Biased, piss-poor ‘yournalism’ on your part, State Yournal. But you’re (all, you, too, CCs) owned by the big corporate interests

    Her’s the URL for the true story by the only live, fighting journalists in Wisconsin, should any of you yournalists be interested in what really happened:

    By the way, I’m increasingly taken with my fortuitous poetry: ‘piss-poor yournalists’.


    Jesus is LORD.

  3. Mike Kostich January 24, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Great reporting. I’d be interested in a follow-up story showing how some of the contributions broke down, from which groups.

    It would be good to point out that the biggest reason Alberta D. showed such a huge amount was her recall race against Sandy Pasch.

    But that recall race was an investment opportunity for proponents of the mining bill, who knew they had to keep control of the legislature to make good on their business plan.

    …Business plan: Step 1.) Buy the legislature and the governor’s office. Step 2.) Write your own mining bill, with a money-back guarantee that re-writes the protection rules and absolves you of all environmental responsibility. Step 3.) Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching, listen to those cash registers ring.

  4. Charles Humfree January 24, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Are the Koch Brothers (sounds like a coffee) really running Wisconsin? How do private interests dominate public hearings. Are legislators actually bought in Wisconsin? Does Republican equal automatic support for monied interests? By the way, Jesus is another myth!

    • David Groh January 26, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

      Charles do you believe what you just read? How about the video? Check out the “Wisconson Democracy Campaign”. Their job is finding out and publishing where campaign money comes from. The mining company spent a million dollars on the campaigns of the people that ran this meeting and they were given time and privilege to talk and show graphs. The tribes were not given any extra time at all. The US Army Corps of Engineers will have a lot to say about this mine and they were not invited to testify. That is not a myth. It is not hard to draw some sort of a conclusion from this. The conclusion I draw is that it is not a myth that private interests dominated this hearing. That gal in that video was cut off because she suggested our elected leaders might be bought. I think she is right.

  5. Peter Formiller January 24, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    I saw Sen. Grothman today at a 15-minute “hearing” on Senate Bill 2, which will change how a bill becomes law after the Governor signs it. Presently, it is sent to the Secretary of State who must publish it within 10 days. Act 10 was challenged in court during the 10 days. When SB 2 becomes law, the Assembly and Senate can pass the bill after hours and if the Governor signs it before midnight, the law will already be in effect when the people of Wisconsin wake up in morning.

  6. Peter Formiller January 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

  7. Kathy in Indiana January 25, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    Sounds like Wisc wouldn’t be a nice place to visit or live in for that matter. You have got huge problems there.

    • Political Fodder January 26, 2013 at 3:28 am #

      Coming to a state legislature near you. People all over the United States need to be vigilant and do their best to fight these bills and bring attention to the fact that these bills are in fact being written by corporations, not legislators. I believe that we need to start seriously flooding the US Department of Justice with requests for a RICO investigations. The ALEC politicians & ALEC corporations are working in concert to pass legislation that will rig our elections in such a way that the people’s voice will be silenced. We need to stop their agenda.

      • tedvothjr January 26, 2013 at 6:05 am #

        I NEVER thank my employees for letting me talk to them if they’ve made themselves my enemies, unless I thank them specifically for their obedience to their duty to me… This is the old inbred deference to the king coming out, when in fact we are the king and they are our servants…

  8. A. Jane Schrameyer January 25, 2013 at 9:17 am #

    My late husband and I worked on the Mining Moritorium Bill. We had a Republican govenor at that time, too. And Senator Darling was up to her old tricks also. We didn’t have the internet to use , but we used telephone trees all over the state to communicate. There were meetings where we were stiffled and some closed hearings. But we prevailed and we kicked out Exon and we finally won, with the help of the American Indian Tribes coming together.

  9. tedvothjr January 26, 2013 at 6:09 am #

    I saw Grothman in the Capitol yesterday and asked him ‘How’s, the lying, thieving, and murdering going?’ He didn’t understand at first so I repeated myself. How long are we the sovereign people gonna stand for this?

  10. Don M. January 26, 2013 at 7:59 pm #

    Sounds like Michigan. Sort of makes you proud to live in the land of the “bought and paid for”, doesn’t It?

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