Menard, Big GOP Donor, Polluter to Get Honorary Doctorate

May 23, 2019

John Menard Jr., mega-GOP campaign contributor and recipient of record penalties for environmental violations in Wisconsin, is set to receive an honorary doctorate by the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, his alma mater.

Menard, 79, founder and owner of the Menards hardware store chain, will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters during its May 25 commencement ceremonies. It will be the first degree of its kind to be awarded by the university. Frequently cited as the richest man in Wisconsin, Menard has an estimated net worth of $11.2 billion, according to Forbes.

Over the past 25 years, both Menard and his company have also made headlines for labor and environmental violations and fines that have cost Menard about $3.9 million, including:

  • In April, Menards settled a case with the National Labor Relations Board, which found parts of the company’s arbitration and pay raise rules were illegal. Menards agreed to change its rules to let workers join class-action suits and file complaints with the NLRB;
  • In 2011, Menards agreed to $30,000 in fines and court costs for violating state laws against hazardous waste disposal in connection with a 2007 incident in which a pallet of herbicide was dumped on a parking island of a Menard store in Onalaska;
  • In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an administrative order against Menards for damaging a Sioux Falls, S.D., stream that ran through its property by filling in nearly 1,400 feet of the stream and replacing it with a 66-inch storm sewer pipe. Menards later agreed to pay a $68,125 penalty to settle the case.
  • In 2005, Menards agreed to a record $2 million fine after Department of Natural Resources officials found a floor drain at a company shop that they believe was used to dump paint, solvents, oil, and other waste that fed into a tributary of the Chippewa River. The sanction broke the previous record state environmental fine of $1.7 million set by Menards in 1997;
  • In 1997, Menard himself paid a $1.7 million fine for 21 violations for using his pickup truck to haul plastic bags of chromium and arsenic-laden wood ash to his home to dispose of with the household trash. Menard pleaded no contest to felony and misdemeanor charges involving records violations, unlawful transportation, and improper disposal of hazardous waste;
  • In 1994, Wisconsin obtained a civil judgment against Menards for transporting and disposing of ash produced by incinerating CCA-treated lumber without a license. Wood treated with CCA contains carcinogens and is considered hazardous waste that requires disposal in a licensed landfill. The company was fined $160,000.

Since 1995, Menard has contributed about $127,900 to legislative and statewide candidates – all but $21,600 went to Republicans. The top recipients of his contributions were:

Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, $32,000

Former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, $20,500

Former GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, $18,000

Former Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, $15,000

Former GOP Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, $11,500

In addition to direct contributions to candidates, Menard has contributed to outside electioneering groups to help elect Walker during his races for governor.

In 2011 and 2012, the billionaire also funneled $1.5 million to a conservative ideological group called Wisconsin Club for Growth that later spent the money to help support Walker in his bitter 2012 recall election.

Menard also contributed a total of $75,000 to the Republican Governors Association , a 527 group that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from any source on state and federal elections, to help Walker during his 2010 and 2018 elections.