Tag Archives: robert cowles

Audit: Wisconsin failing to monitor wastewater

A state audit found Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources lax in monitoring large livestock farms, as well as municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants.

The DNR permits about 1,250 municipal wastewater treatment plants, industrial wastewater treatment facilities and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). It’s required to make sure those entities comply with permit terms, but the audit found the DNR didn’t consistently follow its own rules and at times violated statutory requirements.

The Legislative Audit Bureau report released June 3 found the DNR only issued notices of violation for 33 out of the 558 instances they should have over the past decade.

“This really basic and fundamental function of the DNR, it’s not working right now,” said Elizabeth Wheeler, a senior staff attorney at the environmental group Clean Wisconsin.

The audit also found staff hasn’t been electronically recording submissions of annual reports required of CAFOs.

Staff indicated they also don’t have time to thoroughly review each annual report, meaning instances of noncompliance could be slipping through the cracks.

“I’m troubled and I’m concerned,” said Legislative Audit Committee Co-Chair Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay. “As somebody that’s a strong advocate of clean water, I want to see a comprehensive program and not have a bunch of holes in it.”

DNR spokesman James Dick said the agency often uses methods other than violation notices to obtain compliance, such as discussing violations, even though DNR policy called for violation notices in all 558 cases in the audit.

Wheeler said if permit holders see there are no real teeth to enforcement, they have little incentive to comply, leading to further water pollution across the state.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp wrote in her response to the audit that the department has recognized many of the issues identified and has already established systems to address them — or is in the process of doing so.

Stepp, a former Republican state senator and close ally of Gov. Scott Walker, was an outspoken critic of the DNR before he put her in charge of it.

Cowles said the audit verifies there’s a staffing problem for permits and inspections, but he said it’s unclear whether that stems from cuts to the DNR that Walker included in the 2015–17 budget. A spokesman for Walker declined to comment.

Cowles said he’s asking the audit bureau to determine what funding would be necessary to supplement the DNR’s wastewater permitting staff and program operations. The committee is also asking the DNR for follow-up reports on many of the issues by Nov. 1.

“This is going to be one of those things that’s going to take a while,” Cowles said.

MISSING VIOLATIONS?

Of the 260 CAFOs for which permits were reissued from 2006 to 2014, 17 were inspected after the permit was reissued instead of before, violating statutory requirements.

Another 51 were inspected more than 12 months before their permit expired, which is too far ahead because conditions on the farm can change. Dick said of the 17 permitted before inspection, the DNR has found records documenting substantial compliance before the reissuance for 15 of the 17 and believes the remaining two were in substantial compliance as well.

The audit also found staff only electronically recorded 36 of 1,900 annual reports required of CAFOs from 2005 through 2014. Staff said they didn’t record submissions because of a lack of time. They also said they don’t have time to thoroughly review each annual report, meaning instances of noncompliance could be overlooked.

Wisconsin Dairy Business Association government affairs director John Holevoet said just because staffing is an issue doesn’t mean DNR is missing violations. He pointed to the audit’s finding that the percentage of CAFOs being inspected twice every five years has increased from 20 percent in 2005 to 2009 to 48 percent in 2010 to 2014.

“I think there are some signs again that they’re doing a better job than in the past,” Holevoet said.

The recent audit is not the only documentation of the DNR’s problems.

In July 2011, the department received a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifying 75 issues with state law and administrative rules. Stepp wrote the department has resolved 38 issues and efforts are underway to address 31 others.

Paul Zimmerman, executive director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said the organization wants the DNR to be successful with its program because it would much rather have the state agency issue permits than have the EPA step in.

 

Republican recall candidates whine about taxes but pay little to nothing

One of the most frequent complaints we hear from Republicans is that their tax burdens are too high. It’s a GOP talking point that turns up in nearly every election, regardless of the actual data or the historical record. So it is certainly no surprise to hear many of the Republicans running in recall elections this summer complaining about their tax burden.

But it might surprise voters in Wisconsin to know that some of the candidates whining about taxes actually pay little to nothing in net income tax to the state.

Perhaps the most outrageous Republican recall candidate is current state Sen. Randy Hopper, R-Fond du Lac. He’s already in hot water with voters for running as a “family values” candidate and then leaving his wife to move in with his then 25-year-old aide in 2010. (Hopper and his mistress Valerie Cass are pictured).

But Hopper’s hypocrisy doesn’t end at the marriage altar. In 2008 his hometown newspaper, the Fond du Lac Reporter, highlighted that the wealthy senator had only paid Wisconsin personal and business taxes once since 1997. The one time that he did pay, it was a capital gains tax resulting from the sale of one of his radio stations.

State Sens. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, and Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, will also face recall elections this summer. Like Hopper, they rant against the high tax burden that they allegedly face. Both senators’ Statement of Economic Interest forms demonstrate a vast array of investments and personal business interests. Yet various media outlets have reported that both senators have had recent years when they owed no net income tax to the state.  For Kapanke it happened in 2008, and for Robert Cowles it was in both 2008 and in 2009. 

This phenomenon also extends to some of the Republicans’ first-time candidates this summer. Kim Simac, who is mounting a challenge to Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Conover, is the founder of a Tea Party group that makes railing against taxes its highest priority.  A Dun & Bradstreet profile estimates that Simac’s family business, the Great Northern Adventure Company, earns approximately $300,000 in annual sales.  Yet Wisconsin Department of Revenue records show that Simac paid zero net income tax to the state in 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008. Records show that in 2000 she paid a total of $4 in net state income taxes. In 2007, her tax bill was a single dollar.

Any complaint that Simac has about being overtaxed shouldn’t garner much sympathy.

Jonathan Steitz is a corporate attorney working for a firm in Chicago.  If he wins his primary this month, he will go on to face Sen. Robert Wirch, D-Pleasant Prairie, in August. Like Simac, Steitz is a first-time candidate. But that’s not the only similarity they share. Records show that Jonathan Steitz owed no state net tax in either 2008 or in 2009.  But that doesn’t stop him from repeatedly bemoaning the allegedly high tax burden that he claims to have faced in Wisconsin.  

The point here is not to suggest that any of these Republican candidates did anything illegal. But voters deserve an explanation as to how most working people pay more in a single paycheck than some of these whining Republicans have paid over the course of several years. These candidates must be called on their hypocrisy. 

Stripping away hypocritical veneer

None of the six Republican state senators facing recall this summer are friends of the LGBT community. That is clear in their repeated votes for the 2006 marriage ban and in their votes against the state domestic partnership registry in 2009.

Usually when there is so much hostility toward the LGBT community a healthy dose of hypocrisy is not far behind. One particularly glaring example of this involves Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay.

Senator Cowles was quoted in 2008 as saying, “I’d like to think that I have family values.”

That was a week before it was reported that his “values” apparently didn’t make it into his investment portfolio. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Cowles actually owned stock in two companies in the adult entertainment industry.

The first company highlighted was VCG Holding, which owns a chain of 20 strip clubs across the country. The company also has a licensing agreement with the publisher of Penthouse magazine.

The second adult entertainment company that Cowles owned stock in was Rick’s Cabaret International. Rick’s also has strip clubs all across the country and operates several adult-themed websites, as well as such magazines as TEEZE, Exotic Dancer and StorErotica.

Cowles admitted that he knew about his investment in strip clubs, but said that he had no idea about the other operations. This is hard to believe, given his level of investment in both companies. The 2008 Statement of Economic Interests that he filed with the state reported that he owned more than $50,000 in stock in both companies. Most people would know the details about a company before investing at such a high level.

In his 2008 SEI filing, Cowles fully disclosed his interest in VCG Holding, but he listed the more conspicuously named Rick’s International Cabaret only as “Rick” on the form. The entire point of having elected officials report their financial interests is public transparency. But how was the average citizen to know what Cowles’ major investment in “Rick” was really all about?

The obfuscation was likely intentional.

Most people’s personal investments are no one else’s business. However, elected officials who seek to impose their self-proclaimed “family values” on other people are fair game for this sort of revelation. Acting morally superior to others and claiming the mantel of “family values” while heavily investing in strip clubs smacks of blatant hypocrisy.

For the record | Voting history of the GOP senators targeted for recall

WiG looked at ratings the eight GOP senators targeted for recall have received from various special interest groups. The ratings indicate the percentage of time the senators voted with positions taken by the various groups during a given legislative session, which is shown in parentheses.

Robert Cowles, Green Bay, District 2

Voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin.

  • Planned Parenthood: 25 (2007-08), 0 (2006), 0 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 90 (2007-08), 71 (2005-2006)
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: 100 (2010), 90 (2009)
  • ACLU: 0 (2006)
  • Fair Wisconsin: 0 (2004)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 67 (2009-2010), 50 (2005)
  • Sierra Club: 29 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin AFL-CIO: 27 (2007-08)

Alberta Darling, River Hills, District 8

Voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin.

  • Planned Parenthood: 50 (2007-08), 17 (2006), 0 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 100 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: 75 (2010), 90 (2009)
  • ACLU 0 (2006)
  • Fair Wisconsin: 0 (2004)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 50 (2009-2010), 39 (2005-06)
  • Sierra Club: 14 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin AFL-CIO: 27 (2007-08)

Sheila Harsdorf, River Falls, District 10

Voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin.

  • Planned Parenthood: 50 (2007-08), 0 (2006), 0 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 79 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: 100 (2010), 90 (2009)
  • ACLU: 0 (2006)
  • Fair Wisconsin: 0 (2004)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 58 (2009-2010), 50 (2005-06)
  • Sierra Club: 43 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin AFL-CIO: 36 (2007-08)

Luther Olsen, Ripon, District 14

Voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin.

  • Planned Parenthood: 25 (2007-08), 33 (2006), 20 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 76 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: 100 (2010), 100 (2009)
  • ACLU: 0 (2006)
  • Fair Wisconsin: 0 (2004)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 67 (2009-2010), 29 (2005-06)
  • Sierra Club: 29 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin AFL-CIO: 45 (2007-08)

Randy Hopper, Fond du Lac, District 18

First elected to public office in 2008, Hopper has a limited legislative record.

  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: 100 (2010), 100 (2009)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 50 (2009-10)

Glenn Grothman, West Bend, District 20

One of the four most virulently anti-equality members of the Legislature, Grothman was one of only three senators who voted against legislation to discourage anti-gay bullying in Wisconsin schools. He voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state.

  • Planned Parenthood: 0 (2007-08), 0 (2006), 0 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 93 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: 80 (2010), 100 (2009)
  • ACLU: 20 (2006)
  • Fair Wisconsin: 0 (2004)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 36 (2009-2010), 24 (2005-06)
  • Sierra Club: 14 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin AFL-CIO: 9 (2007-08)

Mary Lazich, New Berlin, District 28

Another one of the four most virulently anti-equality members of the Legislature, Lazich was one of only three senators who voted against legislation to discourage anti-gay bullying in Wisconsin schools. She voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in the state.

  • Planned Parenthood: 0 (2007-08), 0 (2006), 0 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 93 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: 100 (2010), 90 (2009)
  • ACLU: 20 (2006)
  • Fair Wisconsin: 0 (2004)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 33 (2009-2010), 28 (2005-06)
  • Sierra Club: 14 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin AFL-CIO: 20 (2007 08)

Dan Kapanke, La Crosse, District 32

Voted to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions in Wisconsin.

  • Planned Parenthood: 0 (2007-08), 0 (2006), 0 (2005)
  • Americans for Prosperity: 76 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce: 80 (2010), 81 (2009)
  • ACLU: 0 (2006)
  • League of Conservation Voters: 67 (2009-2010), 50 (2005-06)
  • Sierra Club: 43 (2005-06)
  • Wisconsin AFL-CIO: 50 (2007-08)

Source: Project Vote Smart