How much influence do campaign contributions have?
Is money taking over Wisconsin politics? Is Wisconsin becoming a play-for-pay state, one influenced by donors to political campaigns?
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has long been criticized for its actions and policies in its effort to protect the state’s natural resources. Critics argue that the DNR is too rigid in its effort to protect the environment and fails to consider conflicting views.
The mission of the DNR is “To protect and enhance our natural resources: our air, land and water; our wildlife, fish and forests and the ecosystems that sustain all life. To provide a healthy, sustainable environment and a full range of outdoor opportunities. To ensure the right of all people to use and enjoy these resources in their work and leisure. To work with people to understand each other’s views and to carry out the public will. And in this partnership consider the future and generations to follow.”
Questions have been raised in recent weeks about pursuing that mission by the disclosure that major donors to Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign for governor and the presidency want some assistance from the state.
Elizabeth Uihlein, who with her husband Richard, have donated nearly $3 million to Walker, wanted to buy 1.75 acres of “prime” frontage property on Rest Lake in Vilas County in northern Wisconsin from the DNR for $275,000. The property includes 765 feet of frontage on the lake adjacent to an 11-unit condominium complex she owns that doesn’t have lake access.
DNR officials had agreed to the sale, but the Natural Resources Board tabled the request last month after critics questioned the way the deal was handled and why the DNR was selling lakefront property adjacent to the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest.
The Legislature has ordered the DNR to sell about 10,000 acres because of concerns with the costs of the state’s program to purchase land. The DNR has identified about 8,300 acres in 118 properties for possible sale, but the Rest Lake property was not on that list.
Recently, the state learned someone had upgraded a rough footpath on the DNR’s Rest Lake property, cutting and removing vegetation and brush on about 500 feet of the path. A path to the condominium intersects with the upgraded state trail.
Earlier this summer, Elizabeth Uihlein had also paid a fine of $750 for violating Vilas County shoreline protection ordinances by clear cutting trees on her condominium property near a trail on the state property.
Her husband paid a fine of $767.50 for violating the Sawyer County shoreline ordinances by clearing 135 feet of frontage on the Chippewa Flowage. Now he has proposed to the DNR that a 12-acre floating bog be moved away from his property on the flowage and be anchored to the lake bed.
The pending proposals may be above board, but they certainly raise suspicions about the process and implications about the campaign contributions.