Investigators: Menards owner secretly gave $1.5 million to Scott Walker group
Wisconsin's wealthiest person secretly gave more than $1.5 million to a conservative group at the center of a stalled John Doe investigation into Gov. Scott Walker's recall campaign, according to a report published Tuesday.
That's more than twice as much as a previously disclosed contribution to the Wisconsin Club for Growth from a mining company that investigators said in court documents illustrated the potential for political corruption.
According to the Yahoo News story — which cites three anonymous sources familiar with the transactions — the 2011 and 2012 contributions from John Menard Jr., owner of the home improvement retail chain Menards, "were uncovered among hundreds of emails and internal documents seized by state prosecutors in the course of a wide-ranging criminal investigation into whether Walker's campaign committee violated state campaign finance laws."
The story, written by former Newsweek and NBC News correspondent Michael Isikoff, does not include or quote from any emails that mention Menard or his reported donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth.
Wisconsin Club for Growth attorney Andrew Grossman issued a statement that did not address the donations.
"The other side wants to promote some kind of conspiracy theory where a contribution to the Club to help it weigh in on public policy is somehow transformed into an arrangement with the Governor, but they have absolutely no support for it at all because that never happened," Grossman said.
A spokesman for Menard, Inc. did not respond to a request for comment.
Walker is considering a run for president in 2016 and has been crisscrossing the country in recent months raising money and laying the groundwork for a campaign. The stalled John Doe investigation, widely discussed and reported in Wisconsin, has so far not been a major topic in national coverage of his potential candidacy.
Asked about the story as he left a state building commission meeting Tuesday, Walker said, "I haven't engaged in any of that and there's going to be lots of stories going forward." He then walked away as an aide told reporters that he would not take questions.
The story notes that Menards has been awarded $1.8 million in tax credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and suggests that the company may have benefited from an overall reduction in environmental enforcement actions by the Department of Natural Resources.
But Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick pushed back against the notion that those represent a quid pro quo benefit for the company.
"Governor Walker was not involved in either contract with Menard, Inc.," she said in an email. "These were handled between the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and Menard exclusively."
Walker is chairman of the WEDC, a public-private entity he created during his first term. The board he leads doesn't review awards unless they total $10 million or more.
Scot Ross, executive director of liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, challenged the notion that Walker, who is chairman of the WEDC board, can distance himself from the Menard awards.
"Is Walker going to get away with telling people that he has nothing to do with the allocation of WEDC dollars?" Ross said.