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Watchdog: Seller of EpiPen heavily lobbied Wisconsin GOP

Citizen Action of Wisconsin says Mylan, the seller of EpiPen, “contributed thousands of dollars to GOP state legislators in Wisconsin and spent tens of thousands on lobbying to influence the Legislature to help it increase its market in Wisconsin. The legislation is helping Mylan build the monopoly it needs to overcharge for the medication.”

Since 2014, Mylan’s corporate PAC made thousands of dollars in contributions in Wisconsin exclusively to Republican state legislators, focusing on those who serve on the Senate Health Committee, according to CAW based on data compiled by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Mylan also spent $42,000 between 2013 and 2014 and $24,500 between 2015 and 2016 lobbying in Wisconsin on issues “… affecting the manufacture, distribution, or sale of prescription drugs and medical devices,” as well as on what became 2013 Wisconsin Act 239 and 2015 Wisconsin Act 35 and broadly on “anything relating to generic pharmaceuticals.”

These two measures expanded the scope of users of EpiPens to “recreational and educational camp, college, university, day care facility, youth sports league, amusement park, restaurant, place of employment, and sports arena,” as well as “public, private, or tribal schools.”

Together this expansion is projected to cost the state $77,500 per year for the state to administer.

CAW said “in return for its political donations and lobbying, Mylan has successfully induced state legislators into participating in its marketing scheme to wring windfall profits out of Wisconsin families seeking protection from severe allergic reactions.

The group cited a Wisconsin Public Radio radio report and said Mylan has used state legislation to expand the EpiPen market “in order to position itself to reap a cash windfall from raising prices. With no justification other than profit, Mylan has increased the price of EpiPens by 5 fold since 2007, to the current price of $633 for a two-pack.”

“It is hard to imagine much worse than a family priced out of a medication that could save their child’s life because of the greed of a drug corporation,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of CAW. “Mylan is engaging in grossly unethical business practices with the assistance of state legislators. Under current Wisconsin law, drug corporations like Mylon have the unlimited ability to charge unjustified prices for life-saving medication.

“What Mylan is doing is like selling food or water at a grossly inflated price during a natural disaster. Wisconsin families are trying to pay the inflated price because of the potential life-saving value of the drug.”

CAW said lawmakers should stop promoting the expansion of the EpiPen market and take up state Rep. Debra Kolste’s legislation on prescription drug transparency, which would force Mylan to justify the price of its medications.

DNR board approves land swap with Walker donor

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s board on Aug. 3 approved a land swap with one of Gov. Scott Walker’s key donors.

The DNR proposes giving Elizabeth Uihlein 1.75 acres along Rest Lake in Manitowish Waters in exchange for 42.7 acres Uihlein and her husband bought within the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest.

Uihlein wants the Rest Lake frontage so a condominium complex she owns will have lake access.

DNR officials came up with the swap approach after drawing criticism for a proposal to sell the parcel to her for about $110,000 less than what one appraiser valued the land.

Uihlein and her husband donated nearly $3 million to Walker’s presidential super PAC and a nonprofit group that helped promote his presidential bid.

The board — a seven-member panel appointed by the governor — made the decision during a meeting in Ashland.

Property purchase

The DNR board during the meeting also approved buying nearly 1,000 acres along the Chippewa River for $2 million.

The property is located just northeast of Durand in Dunn County in the Lower Chippewa River State Natural Area. It includes 18,000 feet of shoreline on the river’s south bank. Northern States Power Company, now known as Xcel Energy, has owned the land since the early 1970s.

The sale is still subject to approval from the Legislature’s finance committee and the governor.

Johnson campaign loses $2.2 million in ads from Koch PAC

A conservative group funded by the Koch brothers that is backing U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson canceled $2.2 million worth of ads it had planned to run to help the Republican in August and September.

Johnson is in a rematch with Democrat Russ Feingold.

Feingold has been outraising Johnson and leading in the polls in the closely watched race.

Democrats are hoping to pick up the Senate seat as they try to regain majority control in the Senate.

The super PAC Freedom Partners Action Fund ran about $2 million worth of ads attacking Feingold in May.

The PAC was slated to run another $2.2 million in pro-Johnson ads over the next two months, but a Democratic media tracker said that they had been canceled.

“We are realigning our television advertising strategy to ensure maximum impact across key Senate races,” Freedom Partners spokesman James Davis wrote in an email. “We will continue direct citizen outreach through our grassroots activists, volunteer phone calls, digital media and direct mail. Last weekend alone network grassroots organizations made almost half a million contact attempts to targeted audiences.”

The news for Johnson came a day after he spoke in prime time at the Republican National Convention, a late-reversal from his long-held position that he was going to skip the gathering to campaign in Wisconsin.

It also came day after the National Republican Senatorial Committee said it was delaying until October $1.3 million in ads it originally planned to run over the next two months.

Johnson campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger tried to downplay the effect of the ad cancellation by the group funded by influential billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch.

“We just had our strongest fundraising quarter ever and the polls show this race tight,” Reisinger said. “We are comfortable and confident and believe we have the support to run a winning campaign. The voters already fired Sen. Feingold once, and they will reject him again.”

In the three-month period ending in June, Johnson raised $2.8 million, up from $2.1 million in the first three months. That put him in the top three of all Senate Republicans.

But he still trails Feingold, who served 18 years in the Senate before Johnson defeated him in 2010.

Through the first six months of the year, Feingold raised about $7.4 million, compared with $4.9 million for Johnson. Feingold also had more money on hand at the end of June — $7.2 million compared with $6.3 million for Johnson.

A Marquette University Law School poll released last week showed Feingold ahead of Johnson by 5 points among likely voters and 7 points among registered voters.

The race has tightened considerably since January, when Feingold was up by 12 points over Johnson among registered voters.

Johnson has benefited from spending by outside groups, which had outspent Feingold’s campaign by about $5 million to $1 million from the April 5 primary through late June.

In addition to Freedom Partners, the ads benefiting Johnson have come from Americans for Prosperity, another Koch brothers group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Let America Work and the Judicial Crisis Network.

“Sen. Johnson has always relied on the Koch Brothers and these outside groups to run his campaign for him, so this must come as a disappointment for their model legislator,” said Feingold spokesman Michael Tyler in an emailed statement.

Anti-Bradley protest scheduled tonight at Marquette debate

Protesters plan to stage an anti-Bradley demonstration tonight outside Marquette Law School, 1215 W. Michigan St., where Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg will debate interim Justice Rebecca Bradley.

Saul Newton, whose affiliated with the issue advocacy group We Are Wisconsin, said Bradley’s hateful anti-gay writings and close ties to corporate PACs and the Republican Party make her unsuitable to serve on the state’s highest court. His group is calling on Bradley, who was appointed last fall by Scott Walker to serve as an interim justice following the death of Justice Patrick Crooks, to resign her position and drop out of the race.

“There is no room for hate on our courts,” Newton said. “She has a decades-long record of not showing the kind of judgment we expect out of the state’s highest court.”

Newton said his group, which brings together progressive constituencies at the local level to mutually empower each other, seldom becomes involved in specific races. But after following Bradley’s campaign “very closely,” he said, the group concluded “she can’t be trusted to hold everyone equally under the eyes of the law.”

We Are Wisconsin held its first demonstration against Bradley last night outside Madison’s Monona Terrace, where a Republican fundraiser was being held for Bradley. Only a small handful of people turned out for the protest, which wasn’t announced until yesterday afternoon, Newton said.

He expects a larger presence at tonight’s debate, which begins at 7 p.m.

The group plans to hold a third demonstration on Friday, March 18, at a debate hosted by Wisconsin Public Television.

“Our message is definitely getting out there that Bradley can’t be trusted,” Newton said. “We’re hearing a lot from local leaders and advocates.”

Dark money: Many states are fighting it, but Wisconsin is ramping it up

One category of politically related spending is less regulated than others in the U.S., and states are moving in opposite directions when it comes to disclosure requirements. Here are questions and answers about the so-called dark money involved in political races.

Q. What is “dark money?”

A. It’s what critics call political spending by nonprofit groups that do not report the sources of their contributions. The money generally comes from nonprofits registered as social welfare organizations and goes toward independent spending rather than campaign coffers controlled by candidates. The federal government does not require those groups to disclose their individual donors, and neither do most states.

Q. How much of a factor is this kind of spending in elections?

A. It accounted for more than $300 million in the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, and is expected to play a significant role in 2016. An analysis of TV ad buys seeking to influence state-level campaigns in 2014, released by the Center for Public Integrity, found that $25 million was spent by groups that did not disclose their donors.

Q. What do courts say about this?

A. They had a role in creating it. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 found it unconstitutional to put limits on political spending by businesses, unions and nonprofit groups. That case and others have altered the democratic process, with political spending increasingly done by outside organizations rather than candidates or parties. The Citizens United ruling also encouraged prompt disclosure as a way to hold corporations and candidates accountable.

Q. So have lawmakers responded with a push for transparency?

A. Far from it. Many states have not updated their campaign finance laws in reaction to “dark money” spending, and some are going the other way: Gov. Scott Walker backed Wisconsin legislation allowing political campaigns to coordinate spending with advocacy groups that do not have to disclose their donors.

Q. What’s the argument against disclosure?

A. Attorney James Bopp, who represents conservative groups fighting campaign finance regulations, calls it a free speech issue, because naming the sources of advocacy group donations would chill certain voices. “For the speech-police types that I’m fighting, their goal was never disclosure,” he said. “They’re trying to shut us down.”

Q. Are any states trying to shine a light on dark money nevertheless?

A. Some. Rhode Island and Massachusetts are requiring top donors to be listed on independent advertisements. In California, groups that spend more than a certain amount on political ads are required to report their donors to the state. In Maryland, donors will have to be disclosed unless they specifically tell the organizations that they do not want their money used for political ads.

“The overall trend in the disclosure world is going toward more and better systems,” said Edwin Bender, executive director of the Helena, Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics, which tracks political spending and advocates for transparency.

Q. Are the new laws having their intended effect?

A. In most cases, it’s too early to tell. Montana and Maryland get their first tests in 2016. Jonathan Motl, Montana’s commissioner of political practices, vows vigorous enforcement, and says that even if there are “glitches in the system,” whatever it does “is a heck of a lot better than what we’ve had before.”

Common Cause wants special counsel on campaign finance violations in presidential race

Common Cause on June 15 urged U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to appoint a special counsel to investigate possible criminal violations of campaign finance laws.

The watchdog nonprofit made the call as Jeb Bush officially announced his candidacy for president.

“It’s good to see Gov. Bush acknowledge what has been apparent for some time — he is a candidate,” said Common Cause president Miles Rapoport. “Unfortunately, he and other candidates in both major parties have been testing the limits of laws that were sensibly designed to limit the influence of big dollar donors in our elections and our government. Because the Federal Election Commission is paralyzed by the partisan split among its members and thus unable to act, the Justice Department must see that the laws are enforced.”

Evidence provided to the U.S. Department of Justice in late May by Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center more than justifies their request for appointment of a special counsel to investigate fundraising by Bush for his Right to Rise super PAC and an affiliated non-profit organization, Rapoport said.

And whoever is appointed should have authority to extend the inquiry to cover fundraising by other candidates as needed, whether the candidates are declared and undeclared, Republican, Democratic and independent, Common Cause said.

Bush tweeted a message on December 10, 2014, saying, “I am excited to announce I will actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.”

Since then, he has helped the Right to Rise super PAC in a reported quest to raise $100 million by the end of June, including some contributions of $1 million or more, despite the federal limit of $2,700 on solicitations by candidates.

“Today’s announcement is not the first time Gov. Bush publicly has called himself a candidate,” Rapoport noted. “But for months he also has insisted that his mind was not made up. Today’s declaration is powerful evidence that his apparent indecision was a convenient way to skirt laws that limit fundraising by candidates while he helped Right to Rise and its nonprofit arm collect six- and seven-figure checks, including some from anonymous donors.”

Rapoport said the law makes it clear that anyone who behaves like a candidate, declared or not, must observe campaign finance laws.

Even those who are simply “testing the waters,” are subject to fundraising limits, he noted.

Unlimited: The story of financing political campaigns in the post-Citizens United universe

Once upon a time in America, there were limits on how much people or groups could spend to influence an election. Now those limits are gone, as shown by the big-money apparatus forming to back Republican presidential aspirant Gov. Scott Walker.

In January, Walker launched a committee to spread his ideas and pay costs as he travels the country wooing potential voters and donors. The committee, Our American Revival,  can raise and spend unlimited sums. At least two donors, including hedge fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin, have given Walker $100,000 or more, according to press accounts.

Had they so desired, these donors could have given $100 million. Walker’s committee can accept unlimited donations so long as he is neither a declared candidate nor “testing the waters” of a 2016 presidential bid. If and when that happens, individuals would be subject to a $2,700 cap.

It may surprise some that Walker, officially, is not testing the waters. From most vantage points, it looks like his socks are off, pant legs rolled up, and both feet submerged. He’s been hitting primary battleground states and marquee national events, and has even used the term “candidate” to refer to himself.

Complaints have been filed with the Federal Election Commission against Walker and other undeclared candidates, alleging violations of law. But the FEC is unlikely to refute the argument that these potential candidates are just exercising their freedom of speech.

“We can call it a kind of legal fiction that Walker is not a candidate, even though he’s done lots of things that candidates do,” says campaign finance expert Ken Mayer, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Mayer thinks Our American Revival will likely wind down once Walker announces. (OAR spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski did not respond to a voice message or emailed questions.) Does that mean billionaires can no longer spend unlimited sums helping his cause? Ha! Good one!

Walker associates have already formed a new Super PAC or political action committee, which allows unlimited giving by individuals and corporations. It’s called Unintimidated PAC, after the title of Walker’s 2013 book, itself seen as a prelude to a presidential run.

Super PACs, unlike groups like OAR, can directly advocate for the election of a candidate. Some observers, like Rick Esenberg of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, see super PACs as preferable to “the problems caused by attempting to place limits on people’s ability to come together and exercise their freedom of association and freedom of speech.

For one thing, super PACs must report where they get their money and how they spend it — though, as Mayer notes, “Often these organizations will give money to each other so it is more difficult to track.”

And super PACs must be “independent,” meaning they cannot coordinate messaging or strategy with the campaigns they support. But many super PACs springing up around 2016 presidential wannabes have deep ties to the candidates. Unintimidated PAC, for instance, was formed by two of Walker’s former campaign managers, Keith Gilkes and Stephan Thompson.

Walker could also get major help from other outside groups, like the political network created by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch that plans to spend $300 million on the 2016 elections. And he’ll need his own war chest.

A viable GOP candidate, it’s said needs $75 million just to get through the first three primary states. Supporters of Democrat Hillary Clinton, who has expressed support for a constitutional amendment to curb campaign spending, are reportedly looking at total outlays of $2.5 billion.

“There is an arms race dynamic here,” Mayer says. He believes it will only get worse until “there is enough voter reaction that it begins to affect the political interest of the candidates.”

Wouldn’t you know it? Campaigns will keep sucking in more and more money until doing so comes at too great a cost.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism www.WisconsinWatch.org. The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight. The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Walker compares Capitol protesters to ISIS

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said on Feb. 26 that his experience taking on thousands of protesters in his state helped prepare him to take on terrorists across the world.

The likely Republican presidential contender sparked pointed criticism from labor union leaders across the country after remarks delivered on the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban Washington. The annual conference features more than a dozen potential Republican presidential contenders over three days hoping to win over conservative activists.

Asked how he would handle the Islamic State group if elected president, Walker said, “For years I’ve been concerned about that threat, not just abroad but here on American soil.”

“If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” he said.

Walker is gearing up for a 2016 presidential contest in which foreign policy figures to play prominently.

Islamic State militants have captured large parts of Iraq and neighboring Syria over the last year. They declared a self-styled caliphate on territories that are under their control, killing members of religious minorities, driving others from their homes, enslaving women and destroying houses of worship.

Walker’s comments drew sharp reaction from union leaders.

“It’s disgusting that Gov. Walker would compare everyday heroes – educators — to international terrorists,” said Betsy Kippers, a teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

“Gov. Walker, I know terrorism. I know that your own state’s citizens speaking up for what’s right isn’t terrorism,” said Jim Tucciarelli, a union representative in New York City whose office was one block away from the 9/11 attacks. “Today, after hearing your words, I also know the sound of cowardice.”

“Scott Walker’s outrageous slander against his fellow citizens illustrates his contempt for the fundamental expression of democracy – that has been the sad hallmark of his Administration,” said Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.  “Whether campaign hyperbole or not Scott Walker owes Wisconsinites an apology.”

Walker has limited experience with foreign policy. He recently returned from a trip to England.

The Wisconsin governor has faced particularly aggressive protests from labor unions over his budget policies in the four years since he took office. He survived a recall election in 2010 and a bitter re-election test last fall.

Walker spokesman Kirsten Kukowski sought to clarify his remarks after the speech.

“Gov. Walker believes our fight against ISIS is one of the most important issues our country faces. He was in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS,” Kukowski said, using one acronym for the Islamic State group. “What the governor was saying was: When faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership.”

Walker dedicated much of his remarks Thursday to the threat of radical Islam. He said he receives regular threat assessments from the FBI and the leader of Wisconsin’s National Guard.

“We need a president, a leader, who will stand up and say we will take the fight to them and not wait `til they bring the fight to American soil,” he said. “We need to show the world that in America you have no better ally and no greater enemy.”

Walker was briefly interrupted during his remarks with a “Run Scott Run” chant.

“I’ve been running three times in the last four years,” he said, “so I’m getting pretty used to it.”

A look at the big donors in the 2014 election

Big-dollar donors helped inject hundreds of millions into the 2014 midterm federal elections. A look at some of the biggest donors of the election cycle:

TOP DEMOCRATS

– Tom Steyer, a retired San Francisco hedge fund billionaire who sought to make climate change an issue in 2014 via his group, NextGen Climate Action. He gave a total of almost $74 million to his super PAC and others.

– Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican-turned-independent who served three terms as mayor of New York City before returning to the media company that carries his name. Bloomberg gave at least $20 million.

– Fred Eychaner, founder of Chicago-based alternative-newspaper publisher Newsweb Corp. and a major fundraiser for Democrats. Eychaner gave almost $8 million this cycle to help liberal groups that report their fundraising.

– George Soros, a liberal billionaire investor and long-time Democratic patron who is among Republicans’ favorite subjects for criticism. Soros gave less than $4 million to help Democrats.

– James and Marilyn Simons, a New York-based couple who have given away large parts of their billion-dollar fortune. James Simons is founder and chairman of investment firm Renaissance Technologies and Marilyn Simons is an economist who chairs the family’s science foundation. They gave Democrats more than $3 million this cycle.

TOP REPUBLICANS

– Paul Singer, a New York hedge fund billionaire who is among the most reliable donors to establishment-minded Republicans. Singer gave more than $9 million this cycle to outside groups that disclose their donors.

– Robert Mercer, another Renaissance Technologies executive and a leader whom James Simons recruited from IBM to join the investment firm. Mercer is a frequent donor to outside groups and gave more than $8 million.

– Joe Ricketts, the founder and top executive of Omaha, Nebraska-based TD Ameritrade and driving force behind the non-profit Ending Spending Fund and its affiliated super PAC, Ending Spending Action Fund. Ricketts gave almost $7 million to outside groups that disclose their donors.

– Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands casinos and the biggest patron of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid. Along with his physician wife Miriam Adelson, the casino giant with an estimated self-worth of $29 billion gave $5 million to political groups this campaign.

– Richard Uihlein, the founder of Wisconsin packing-material giant Uline and a supporter of outside groups that are among the GOP’s most conservative. Uihlein gave more than $4 million.

Source: A Center for Responsive Politics review of Federal Election Commission reports filed through Nov. 16.

Voces de la Frontera Action gets out the vote for Mary Burke

Mary Burke, the Democratic candidate for governor in Wisconsin, has won an endorsement from Voces de la Frontera Action, the 501(c) 4 advocacy arm of Voces de la Frontera.

The organization, in its statement, said it strongly supports Mary Burke for governor because she is the candidate committed to working for all of Wisconsin’s working families.

The organization’s endorsement read, “Mary Burke supports immigrant civil rights, a minimum wage increase, increased funding for our public schools, colleges and universities and effective job creation policies. We urge all voters and particularly all Latino voters to vote for Mary Burke because of her position on these important issues. Her opponent has slashed education funding at all levels, failed to create the jobs he promised, undermined the living standards of Wisconsin’s working families while dividing the state and diverting critical resources to his political supporters.”

The group, which released its endorsement as President Barack Obama was expected to arrive to Milwaukee to support Burke, has been canvassing in support of Burke in 15 wards in the southside of Milwaukee. Its volunteers have knocked on more than 20,000 doors.

Voces encouraged voters to get out and vote for Burke in the general election and to also volunteer in the final week of the campaign.

In its announcement on Oct. 28, Voces de la Frontera Action also repeated its call to the president “to use his executive authority to protect immigrant families from deportation. Law abiding workers, who have lived in this country for decades, have U.S. citizen children, and have no criminal record, are being detained and deported. We urge President Obama to expand his successful Deferred Action program to protect these families. President Obama promised he would take executive action to protect immigrant families before the end of the summer if Republicans continued to block immigration reform. President Obama should expand his successful deferred action program, which brought hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth out of the shadows. Their parents have earned the right to work and participate in society without fear of deportation.”