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Menards founder gave $1.5 million in ‘dark money’ to pro-Walker group

Plus: MPCA unveils complex rules for protecting wild rice; lawmakers look at a new way to fund businesses; more on the Comcast vs. CenturyLink fight; and more. 

A Menards in Lafayette, Indiana
Creative Commons/Huw Williams
A Menards in Lafayette, Indiana

I know, you’re just as shocked as I am. Investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, now at Yahoo News reports, “A little more than three years ago, when [Menards founder John] Menard wanted to back Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — and help advance his pro-business agenda — he found the perfect way to do so without attracting any attention: He wrote more than $1.5 million in checks to a pro-Walker political advocacy group that pledged to keep its donors secret, three sources directly familiar with the transactions told Yahoo News. Menard’s previously unreported six-figure contributions to the Wisconsin Club for Growth — a group that spent heavily to defend Walker during a bitter 2012 recall election — seem to have paid off for the businessman and his company. In the past two years, Menard’s company has been awarded up to $1.8 million in special tax credits from a state economic development corporation that Walker chairs, according to state records. And in his five years in office, Walker’s appointees have sharply scaled back enforcement actions by the state Department of Natural Resources — a top Menard priority.”

To which Paul Waldman in The Washington Post says, “There’s a danger that reporters won’t find much new and interesting about the 2016 version of our appalling campaign finance system. Since the money will be going both to groups that are required to disclose their donors and those that aren’t, it will take substantial shoe-leather to unearth all the different ties that bind the candidates to the millionaires and billionaires who are investing in them. It may not be a story with all the sexiness of the latest exchange of insults and faux outrage between campaigns. But it’s far more important in the long run. It’s often said that when it comes to campaign finance, the real scandal is what’s legal, and I’m sure most reporters think that’s true.”

And Charles P. Pierce at Esquire chimes in: “Those of us who lived through the Great Beltway Penis Hunt of the 1990s have reason to take the reports of Michael Isikoff with more than a single grain of salt. But nobody ever has said the man isn’t dogged and that he won’t attach himself to a politician’s leg like a pit bull with lockjaw. And now he seems to have taken an interest in the network of corruption that always seems to surround the political career of Scott Walker, the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage its midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin. This is not a good thing for Scottie.” Isikoff was famously relentless on the Clinton-Lewinsky story.   

This wild rice sulfate standard is getting more opaque, not less. MPR is saying, “The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Tuesday called for a ‘new approach’ to regulate sulfate discharges in wild rice waters, shifting from a single standard to calculating safe sulfate levels for each of 1,300 bodies of water. The agency proposed using a formula that would weigh the amount of iron and organic carbon in a lake’s sediment to come up with a sulfate concentration level in the water that would be ‘protective’ of the wild rice.”

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Equity crowdfunding is on track for Minnesota. Adam Belz at the Strib says, “After meeting stiff resistance from regulators in January, a bill that would make it easier for start-up companies to raise capital in Minnesota has survived and moved forward at the legislature, with supporters cautiously optimistic that it will become law. The bill would make legal in Minnesota a new way for entrepreneurs to raise money: equity crowdfunding — think of Kickstarter, except rather than making a donation, the investor actually buys a stake in the company.”

If you’ve about had it with the Adrian Peterson drama, (I know I have), you’ll enjoy Vikings fan Drew Magary’s indignation at Deadspin. “You know, just once in this lifetime, I would like my favorite team to acquire a legendary skill position player who does NOT turn out to be a complete [bleeping bleep]head. The Vikings drafted Randy Moss, and I had to spend a decade justifying his existence to myself when he would sit down and make a salad on the weak side of a running play. Then they got Brett Favre and I enjoyed 95 percent of a pleasant season with him until all the interceptions and dong shots took over. Now there’s Adrian Peterson, and given everything that has transpired with Peterson in the past six months, I find myself genuinely surprised that we didn’t discover he was an insane [bleep]hole years ago.”

In the PiPress, Tom Powers says, “There’s no question that, in the pinball game of life, Adrian’s flippers are set farther apart than most. What’s interesting is that the general nuttiness appears to be spreading. The way it’s going, the Vikings should set a big calliope in front of Winter Park and entertain the passersby on I-494. Just the other day, we had Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf insisting that Peterson is important to the organization because, and this is a quote from the story, ‘He’s represented us on and off the field.’ If Wilf is happy with Peterson’s off-the-field representation, he must have been Caligula in a previous life.”

On the CenturyLink v. Comcast fight, Curtis Gilbert at MPR says, “Before it can sell cable TV in the metro area, CenturyLink needs the blessing of the cities where it wants to operate. CenturyLink contends it cannot comply with a state law that requires cable companies to build out their networks to every household in each city they serve. The company argues the law stifles competition and has been invalidated by the Federal Communications Commission. … The issue is not unique to the Twin Cities. In Seattle, the City Council voted this week to eliminate a variety of cable TV regulations. Companies will no longer be required to offer services to all residents in a given area. But they will have to serve a significant number of low-income residents.”

Simultaneously, Martin Moylan of MPR reports, “If federal regulators back its $45 billion merger with Time Warner, Comcast says a new company, GreatLand, would be formed to take over the cable giant’s operations in Minnesota and 10 other states. The move is meant to ease worries that Comcast and Time Warner combined would control too much of the pay TV and broadband markets in the United States. The potential spin-off, however, makes some regional regulators nervous. Some worry GreatLand’s prices and service quality will be worse than what the estimated 550,000 Comcast subscribers in the metro area have now.” Worse? Is that even possible?

A bombing range? What? The AP says, “A proposal to establish an enormous bomber training area over the Northern Plains that advocates say will improve military training and save money got final approval Tuesday despite concerns about loud, low-flying aircraft disrupting civilian flights and damaging rural economies. The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that it approved a plan to expand the Powder River Training Complex over the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming. The move nearly quadruples the training airspace to span across nearly 35,000 square miles, making it the largest over the continental U.S.”

The little Montevideo girl who wound up in the middle of the state’s protracted medical marijuana fight … has died. Jennifer Brooks of the Strib says, “She was 8 years old. ‘She did a lot while she was here,’ said her father, Jeremy Pauling, who spent much of last year traveling from the family’s home in Montevideo to St. Paul, where he and his wife lobbied lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana, with Katelyn beside them in her wheelchair. Cannabis oil can be used to treat children with seizure disorders in almost half the states in the country now — in some cases reducing their seizures from hundreds a day to almost zero. After months of lobbying by families like the Paulings, Minnesota lawmakers passed a limited marijuana legalization bill here that goes into effect in July.”