MADISON, Wis. – Likely presidential candidate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday dismissed a report that he helped steer tax credits and eased up on environmental oversight to benefit national hardware chain Menards after its billionaire owner donated $1.5 million to a conservative group.
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Yahoo News reported Monday that John Menard Jr. gave the money to Wisconsin Club for Growth to help advance Walker's agenda when he faced a recall election in 2012, citing several unidentified sources. Such donations are legal under campaign finance law and are not subject to limits or a requirement they be disclosed publicly.
Wisconsin Club for Growth attorney David Rivkin issued a statement that did not address the question of whether Menard made 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," Rivkin said.
Menards corporate spokesman Jeff Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Menards, in 2013 and 2014, qualified for up to $1.8 million in tax breaks from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state's chief jobs-creation agency, which Walker heads. The company has so far earned $164,000 in those years, a governor's spokeswoman said.
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Walker was asked about the story as he left a state building commission meeting Tuesday afternoon.
"I haven't engaged in any of that and there's going to be lots of stories going forward," Walker said before walking away as an aide told reporters that he would not take questions.
Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick followed up with a statement saying the governor had no involvement in Menards being awarded the tax credits. The Menards contracts did not require a vote by the WEDC board because they fell below the threshold of $10 million, Patrick said. The deals were negotiated exclusively by WEDC staff, she said.
Menards has so far earned only $164,000 under the 2013 and 2014 contracts because the credits were "strictly performance based with strong contractual requirements to meet performance objectives," Patrick said.
Menards also qualified for $1.5 million in tax breaks and received $1 million under Democratic former Gov. Jim Doyle.
The Yahoo story said the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources under Walker had drastically cut back enforcement actions, suggesting payback for the Menard contributions. Patrick rejected that, saying the department is using the same enforcement protocol it has for decades.
Associated Press writer Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.
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