November 17, 2015
Judge Mark McGinnis’s ruling came in a case brought by one of the state’s largest factory farm owners and special interest business and agriculture groups against the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The case involves New Chester Dairy’s request to the DNR in 2012 to build two high-capacity wells that can each pump 500 gallons a minute in order to maintain the Adams County farm’s more than 8,600 cows. New Chester Dairy is among a half-dozen large farm operations owned by the owners and executives of Milk Source in Kaukauna. Factory farms are among the top users of high-capacity wells in the agriculture industry.
McGinnis ruled that a 2011 state law sought by Walker and approved by the GOP-controlled legislature prohibited state agencies from imposing conditions on permits and licenses that are not explicitly stated in the law. McGinnis said the DNR does not have explicit authority to monitor how much a high-capacity well affects the ground water supply.
Campaign finance reports show that McGinnis, who was elected to a six-year term in 2011, did not accept any campaign contributions from New Chester Dairy or Milk Source owners and employees.
But, Milk Source executives are among the agriculture industry’s largest individual contributors to Walker and current legislators, doling out $165,400 between January 2010 and June 2015 – all to Republicans. Topping the list of recipients was Walker, who received nearly $133,000, followed by Sen. Frank Lasee, of De Pere, $9,500, and Rep. John Macco, of Ledgeview, $7,500.
Most of the Milk Source contributions to Walker and current legislators between January 2010 and June 2015 were from its owners, including $61,200 from John and Keri Vosters, of Freedom; $47,600 from Todd Willer, of Freedom; and $38,250 from James Ostrom, of De Pere.
A bill given final legislative approval Monday and sent to Walker would make it substantially more difficult in the future for citizens to know the identity of the interests, like Milk Source, that seek to influence state elected officials because legislative and statewide candidates will no longer have to identify contributors’ employers. Walker has the authority to veto the provision.
Among the special interests groups allowed to intervene in the New Chester Dairy case were Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization, Dairy Business Association, Midwest Food Processors Association, and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association. WMC is one of the most influential lobbying organizations in the state and the group has spent $25.9 million between 2006 and 2014 to support pro-business conservative and Republican candidates for governor, attorney general, Supreme Court and the legislature.