October 16, 2017
Assembly Bill 353 and Senate Bill 281 would give co-ops the option to make certain changes to their bylaws that are currently prohibited under state law. These changes would only apply if the co-op votes to adopt them.
The bills, which have received public hearings, would:
Allow up to 20 percent of a cooperative's board seats to be turned over to non-members and outside investors;
Restrict member access to cooperative records that are more than three years old;
Remove the 8 percent cap on dividend returns to capital investors.
In addition, the lone cooperative holding company that operates in Wisconsin, Cooperative Resources International (CRI), and its member co-ops, Genex and AgSource, would be able to change their one-member, one-vote policy to give large members with a greater financial interest in the cooperative a larger share of the vote.
The voting policy changes would see the voting power of small- and average-sized farms diminished by the co-op’s larger members, according to one of the bills’ opponents, the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
The measures are backed by agriculture and electric cooperatives and propane dealers, which contributed about $447,200 between January 2011 and June 2017 to legislative and statewide candidates. Among the top recipients of campaign cash from these special interests were:
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, about $114,300
Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, $36,745
Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $34,000
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse, nearly $8,200
Republican Sen. Jerry Petrowski, of Marathon, $7,700