Follow the Money on the Indian Burial Mounds Bill

January 6, 2016

Excavation

The state’s most powerful business group and the building industry are supporting a Republican bill that would allow landowners to destroy some Indian burial mounds in order to develop their property.

The measure, Assembly Bill 620, would require the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, which catalogs and protects all Native American burial mounds, to issue permits to allow landowners to do an archaeological dig or use radar to determine if mounds on their property contain human remains. Landowners would be not be required to preserve the mounds if they contain no remains. And, in the future, the society would only be able to catalog and protect new mounds if it can prove the sites contain human remains, according to the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Chris Kapenga, of Delafield, and Rep. Robert Brooks, of Saukville.

An estimated 80 percent of the mounds, which sometimes span hundreds of feet and are shaped like animals, were destroyed in the past to make way for farms and development.

Native Americans oppose disturbing and destroying the mounds because they consider them sacred sites that were constructed by their ancestors.

One of the mounds located near McFarland is at the center of a legal dispute between Wingra Stone, the state and the Ho-Chunk Nation, which is planning a Jan. 12 rally against the bill. The mound is located on land that the company quarries for sand and gravel. The company won a Dane County Circuit Court case to excavate the mound, but the state and the tribe have appealed the decision.

The company is owned by Bob Shea and his family, who contributed about $16,000 to mostly Republican candidates for legislative and statewide offices between January 2005 and June 2015. Topping the list of current officeholders who received contributions during that period from the Shea family were Republican Gov. Scott Walker, $6,855; GOP Sen. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green, $600; and Republican Sens. Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, Devin LeMahieu, of Oostburg, and Roger Roth, of Appleton, $500 each. Neither Kapenga nor Brooks received contributions from the Shea family.

The bill’s most powerful support comes from the construction industry and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business group, which has spent nearly $26 million since January 2006 on outside electioneering activities to support conservative and Republican candidates for statewide offices and the legislature.

In addition, WMC boasts 3,500 business members representing more than a dozen special interests groups, including construction, business, manufacturing, energy, agriculture, and banking, among others. The special interest groups that WMC represents made $11.2 million in individual and political action committee contributions between January 2011 and June 2015 to current Republican legislators, including about $173,600 to Kapenga and $10,500 to Robert Brooks.