Tag Archives: money

Managers of state pension funds get $14 million in bonuses

Wisconsin pension fund managers and those who work directly with the state’s investments will receive bonuses totaling nearly $14 million this year. This is the highest total ever, as a reward for strong returns, the State of Wisconsin Investment Board announced.

The $13.8 million in bonuses was approved for 152 of 163 board employees, exceeding the $11.1 million handed out last year, the board announced.

Eleven people did not receive bonuses because they either did not qualify or their job performance did not meet expectations, said board spokeswoman Vicki Hearing.

Fifty-one employees — a third of those who got bonuses — received $100,000 or more. The highest — $582,489 — went to David Villa, the board’s chief investment officer. That’s on top of his annual salary of $442,500.

Charles Carpenter, a managing director, received the second highest at $550,770. His annual salary is $291,500.

The third biggest bonus went to Todd Ludgate, another managing director, who received $541,221. His salary is $236,000.

The bonuses were $500,000 more than the previous record high of $13.3 million in 2014.

The bonuses are awarded based on investment performance above market returns over the past five years, the board said in announcing the pay-outs.

The board ended 2016 beating one-, three- and five-year performance benchmarks.

Over the past five years, investment performance above market returns has added $1.2 billion to the retirement system, the board said.

David Stein, chair of the SWIB Board of Trustees, said “Bottom line, you get what you pay for, and by virtually any measure, this plan is working.”

The board’s management of its investment is a reason why Wisconsin’s public pension fund is financially strong at a time when many others are struggling, said SWIB executive director Michael Williamson. His bonus was fourth highest at $520,000.

Last year the “Core Fund,” a diversified group of investments that all retirees have some money in, had an 8.5 percent return. The more volatile “Variable Fund,” which has higher risk and about 40,000 investors, had a 10.6 percent return.

The board manages more than $104 billion in assets, most of which is in the Wisconsin Retirement System, which has more than 600,000 participants.

 

Trump expands corporate power, enriches his businesses in first 100 days

A day-by-day review of President Donald Trump’s administration  shows virtually every day has been marked by a new, extraordinary grant of power to corporate interests and the enrichment of Trump’s private businesses, a Public Citizen report shows.

‘America has never seen anything like this, and we have endured only the first three months.’

Public Citizen’s report shows an administration that has granted extraordinary power to corporations and has used the office of the presidency to enrich Trump’s private businesses:

  • Since taking office in January, Trump has met with nearly 200 corporate executives, inviting mega-corporations to shape federal policy.
  • Trump has signed 13 bills passed by a GOP-led Congress that were deemed gifts to big business because they would roll back regulatory protections established by the Obama administration and were opposed by industry.
  • Trump has stacked his cabinet with corporate executives or people with strong ties to Corporate America or specific industries.
  • With his frequent visits to Mar-a-Lago, Trump has turned himself into a walking advertisement for his global resort properties.
  • Although Trump’s sons are running the day-to-day operations of his real estate empire, Trump still owns his family business, creating an extraordinary conflict of interest between Trump’s personal financial interests and the interests of the country.

“We are nearly 100 days into the Trump administration, and it’s clear that there has been a wholesale corporate takeover of the government,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Corporate interests are directly driving policy on everything from pesticides to China, regulation to for-profit college rip-offs.

“Meanwhile, Trump is degrading the office of the presidency to promote the Trump brand, and the ethical vacuum in the White House is ensuring that megascandals will ensnare this administration. America has never seen anything like this, and we have endured only the first three months.”

‘Patriotic Millionaires’ demands to see Trump’s tax returns

Patriotic Millionaires marched over the weekend, demanding that President Donald Trump release his tax returns.

Patriotic Millionaires in their own words:

“I believe our government has important responsibilities to help make this country a good place to live, not to just cut my taxes at the expense of the low income and middle class. I’m deeply concerned the upcoming tax plan will be used as just another opportunity to cut my taxes and the taxes of other wealthy people, making our country a worse place to live for everybody” said Patriotic Millionaire Rich Boberg.

“‘I’m being audited’ is not an excuse for President Trump to not release his 2016 tax return. Tax returns are not under audit the day they are submitted! This is particularly important because the Republican congress is about to consider tax reform. Frankly, the republicans should demand their release because this will be a major obstacle to getting public support for their tax agenda. Remember the Obamacare debacle?” said Patriotic Millionaire Frank Patitucci, CEO of NuCompass Mobility.

“This Tax Day, when millions of Americans are fulfilling their civic duties, President Trump should fulfill his obligation to the American people and release his tax returns. The American people need to know there are no conflicts of interest in the White House. President Trump has a vast array of business ties that could conflict with his responsibilities as President. If the White House is advocating for tax policies, the American people need to know how the president and his family may benefit,” said Patriotic Millionaire Terry Meehan, chairman of Azimuth Investment Management LLC.

“If Trump wants to run the country like a business, then he, the CEO, needs to answer to the board, the citizenry. We, the board, want transparency, and we want to see to what degree our CEO is compromising our legacy. Show us the numbers. You are not selling us real estate, anymore. You ran for president. Accept the consequences,” said Patriotic Millionaire Pierce Delahunt, a philanthropist.

“There is just too much at stake with Trump’s tax return. We can’t allow conflicts of interest to hold the US presidency hostage to a nation that is trying to destabilize our democracy. The fact that President Trump refuses to budge on this issue is not a good sign. He should relent,” said Patriotic Millionaire John Hooker, a retired healthcare professional.

Parisi latest Democrat to bow out of governor’s race

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi became the latest Democrat to decide against challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker, saying this week that he can get more done in his current job rather than taking on an “extremely dysfunctional” state government.

Parisi’s exit from the field of possible candidates is another blow for a Democratic Party still reeling from losses in the November election and searching for a top-tier candidate to take on Walker as he’s expected to run for a third term next year.

Walker’s experience and ability to raise tens of millions of dollars for the race was a key factor that led former Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen to bow out last month.

Businessman Mark Bakken, a political newcomer, also said he was not getting in the race and an attempt by fans to recruit former Green Bay Packers player Mark Tauscher to run also feel flat.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling have also said they’re not running.

Still, more than half a dozen other Democrats both in office or newcomers are mulling jumping in.

And Parisi, a 56-year-old former state Assembly member who began his second full term as county executive this week, was optimistic that Democrats will find someone who can defeat Walker.

“Stronger candidates have been taken down,” Parisi said.

Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman said Parisi’s decision shows that the state’s Democrats “are in total disarray.”

Republicans increased their majorities in the state Legislature in the November election that also saw Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson win a second term. Donald Trump also became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Wisconsin since 1984.

Next year, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin will be on the ballot along with Walker.

Democrats need to focus on the message that they’re the party of the working class and cultivate candidates who can follow through, Parisi said.

Some potential challengers are intimidated by Walker’s money, Parisi said, but “if you have the right candidate, the money would follow.”

But Parisi said he felt he could have more of an impact as county executive because “county government is one of the last functioning units of government.”

“I want to be where I can make a difference and get things done,” said Parisi, who has been county executive since 2011 after serving six years in the state Assembly.

Political newcomer and recent Stanford University graduate Bob Harlow is the only announced Democratic candidate.

Others considering a run include state Reps. Dana Wachs and Gordon Hintz, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, former Democratic Party Chairman Matt Flynn and businessman Andy Gronik.

Supreme Court, with Gorsuch, set to hear church-state case

Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first week on the Supreme Court bench features an important case about the separation of church and state that has its roots on a Midwestern church playground.

The outcome could make it easier to use state money to pay for private, religious schooling in many states.

The justices on Wednesday will hear a Missouri church’s challenge to its exclusion from a state program that provides money to use ground-up tires to cushion playgrounds. Missouri is among roughly three dozen states with constitutions that explicitly prohibit using public money to aid a religious institution.

Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri, says its exclusion is discrimination that violates its religious freedoms under the U.S. Constitution.

If the justices agree, “the decision could have implications far beyond scrap tires and playgrounds,” said Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice, which is backing the church. “It has the potential to remove one of the last legal clouds hanging over school choice.”

That prospect worries groups of public school teachers and others who oppose vouchers and other forms of public aid for private schooling.

Adding to the intrigue is the long delay between when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Trinity Lutheran’s appeal, a month before Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, and the argument.

The span of more than 15 months suggests the justices were concerned they might divide 4-4.

Indeed, the case wasn’t scheduled for argument until after President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch for the seat.

The timing of the argument “heightened our concern that the court has held this case for so long,” said Alice O’Brien, general counsel of the National Education Association, which opposes state aid to private schools.

Missouri’s new governor, Republican Eric Greitens, injected some uncertainty into the high court case when he directed state agencies to allow religious groups and schools to receive taxpayer money for playgrounds and other purposes.

The court last week asked both the church and the state to tell it whether the governor’s announcement affects the case.

A lawyer for the church said in an interview with The Associated Press that the case would be unaffected because Greitens’ policy change does not resolve the legal issue. But a top aide to state Attorney General Josh Hawley told the AP that state lawyers were evaluating whether the new policy would affect the case.

Should the court decide to go forward, Gorsuch’s votes and opinions in religious liberty cases as a judge on the federal appeals court in Denver would seem to make him more inclined to side with the church, and potentially provide the decisive, tie-breaking vote if the rest of the court is divided between liberals and conservatives, Bindas said.

The case arose from an application the church submitted in 2012 to take part in Missouri’s scrap tire grant program, which reimburses the cost of installing a rubberized playground surface made from recycled tires. The money comes from a fee paid by anyone who buys a new tire. The church’s application to resurface the playground for its preschool and daycare ranked fifth out of 44 applicants.

But the state’s Department of Natural Resources rejected the application, pointing to the part of the state constitution that says “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.”

A recycled scrap tire is not religious, the church said in its Supreme Court brief. “It is wholly secular,” the church said.

Leslie Hiner, vice president of programs at Ed Choice, a school voucher advocacy group said, “It is difficult to understand that a little school could not participate in a safety measure determined by the state because somehow safety of children is conflated with religious purpose.”

But the question of where the dividing line should be between church and state is complicated, said the NEA’s O’Brien.

The Supreme Court has upheld some school voucher programs and state courts have ratified others. But “in many instances challenges to voucher programs have succeeded based on state court views that their constitutions draw a different line than does the federal constitution,” O’Brien said.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have some form of school choice, including vouchers, tax credits and education savings accounts, according to Ed Choice.

The justices could draw a line that decides the case in Missouri without saying anything more broadly about school choice.

But that issue already is looming at the court in appeals from a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that blocked the nation’s first county-initiated voucher program in Douglas County, Colorado.

The Missouri church and some of the groups backing it have invoked what they describe as anti-Catholic bias that motivated the adoption of the Missouri provision and similar measures in other states in the late 1800s. They are similar to the proposed 1875 Blaine Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have prohibited the allocation of public school funds to religious institutions.

“Both the Colorado and Missouri Blaine Amendments share discriminatory, anti-Catholic origins that make their contemporary use to compel religious discrimination particularly unacceptable,” lawyer Paul Clement wrote on behalf of the Colorado county.

But 10 legal and religious historians said in a separate court filing that there is no evidence that “anti-Catholic or anti-religious animus” played a role in the adoption of the Missouri constitutional provision. And they said anti-Catholicism was a minor factor behind the Blaine Amendment. The broader debate was about the future of American education, they said.

Corporate executives swamp the White House

Corporate executives have swamped President Donald Trump’s White House to an astonishing degree, a Public Citizen review of news reports and White House news releases reveals.

Since his inauguration, Trump has met with at least 190 corporate executives — averaging more than two a day, according to Public Citizen’s analysis.

During the presidential campaign, candidate Trump proclaimed, “Our campaign is about breaking up the special-interest monopoly in Washington, D.C.”

Counting repeat attendees, Trump has had at least 222 corporate executive meetings.

These totals do not include his reported frequent telephone conversations with Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman, JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon and other CEOs. Nor do they not count administration members and nominees.

Public Citizen released its analysis as the Trump administration comes under fire for policy reversals attributed to corporate influence and just days after the administration ended the public disclosure of White House visitor logs.

“Donald Trump has asked America’s CEOs for marching orders, and in meeting after meeting, they are happily issuing instructions,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “As best anyone can decipher what’s going on at the White House, the CEOs are in charge now — and they are predictably advocating their narrow, short-term profitability interests, not what’s in America’s interest.”

While Trump occasionally has granted an audience with individual executives, the high numbers are due in large part to gatherings of executives at the White House.

These extraordinary gatherings, which have the explicit purpose of providing a way for Big Business to shape the administration’s policies, are supplemented by the president’s more casual interactions with corporate leaders at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., where the membership fee is now $200,000.

Many of the gatherings reflect the administration’s interest in giving special consideration to the views of specific corporate sectors, such as airlines, health insurance corporations, pharmaceutical corporations, the automotive industry and regional banks. One of every five corporate executives who have met with the Trump administration since his inauguration represented the banking or financial sector, a particular focus of Trump’s criticism during the campaign.

During the presidential campaign, candidate Trump proclaimed, “Our campaign is about breaking up the special-interest monopoly in Washington, D.C.”

“President Trump not only has betrayed the promises of candidate Trump by failing to break up the special-interest monopoly in Washington, D.C., he has invited the special interests into the White House and asked them for guidance on how to deepen and perpetuate their monopoly,” Weissman said.

Among the corporate executives Trump has entertained within the first 100 days are wealthy donors (such as Sheldon Adelson, David Koch, Carl Lindner III) and the heads of large corporations (including JPMorgan Chase, Dow Chemical and Wal-Mart). During the transition, Trump presided over a meeting that included media executives representing CNN, MSNBC, NBC and Fox News.

More than 200 organizations warn of dangers with Constitutional Convention

Today 230 national, state, and local groups released a letter in opposition to calls to convene a new Constitutional Convention.

The letter comes as wealthy special interests groups are increasing their efforts to call a convention for the first time since 1787, and are now just six states away from reaching their goal.

The letter focuses on the threat of a “runaway convention,” where every American’s constitutional rights and protections could be at risk. Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, a convention can be called when two-thirds of the states (34) petition for a convention to enact amendments to the constitution.

Most legal scholars agree that all 34 applications must be on one issue, but once a convention is called anything could be brought up.

“A constitutional convention call, even on a single issue will become a Pandora’s box — once it’s open there will be no controlling where it goes, putting every Americans’ basic rights on the auction block,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “The wealthy special interests who are funding this push do not share the best interest of the American people, and there are no rules to limit their influence on what could be brought up once a convention is convened. Legislatures should follow the lead of Delaware, New Mexico, and Maryland in rescinding their applications for an Article V convention to protect everyone’s constitutional rights.”

“A constitutional convention would wreak havoc in the country,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. “It would open up the nation’s charter and all of the constitutional rights and protections it provides for the American people to fundamental change in a political environment of great divisiveness and polarization. Our first and only constitutional convention took place in 1787. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton will not be available to serve as delegates if a second constitutional convention is called. It needs to be prevented.”

“The implications of a Constitutional Convention are staggering,” said Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Our country faces enough problems and division. We don’t need to add to them and inflame an already toxic political environment by placing at risk the constitutional structure that has served us well for more than two centuries — and heading into dangerous, unknown territory by calling a convention to rework the Constitution. Leading legal scholars from across the political spectrum agree that once convened, the scope of the convention in seeking to rewrite the Constitution could not be limited.”

Activists on both the left and the right have called for an Article V convention on different matters, but the risk of a runaway convention is the same regardless of the issue. There is currently a well-funded effort to call a convention to enact a federal balanced budget amendment (BBA), which claims to have active applications in 28 states.

Although there has been bipartisan opposition to an Article V convention, the push for a convention on a BBA is being led by Republican legislators and conservative special interest groups bankrolled by billionaires like the Koch Brothers.

A leader in the push to rewrite the Constitution is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate lobby that masquerades as a charity to provide its corporate backers with a tax break. Despite claims by ALEC and other convention proponents, most legal scholars agree that a convention cannot be limited to one issue. With no rules governing a convention, a runaway convention involving a major overhaul of the Constitution would likely result.

The letter, which is signed by diverse group of constitutional rights, labor, environmental, immigration, government reform, healthcare, and public interest groups, urges legislators to oppose calls for a constitutional convention and rescind Article V convention applications on the books in their state. In just the last two years, the legislatures in Delaware, New Mexico, and Maryland have successfully rescinded their previous Article V convention applications, including on the BBA. A similar effort is currently underway in Nevada.

To view the letter and a full list of the organizations signing on, click here.

Balloting boosts campaign to reclaim democracy from corporate interests

Voters in eight Wisconsin communities cast ballots April 4 for a constitutional amendment to reclaim democracy from moneyed interests and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

The non-binding referendums asked voters whether the U.S. Constitution should be amended to establish that:

n Rights recognized under the Constitution belong to human beings and not to government-created entities such as corporations or limited liability companies.

n Political campaign spending is not a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment.

Early returns showed voters approved referendums in Racine, Monona, Fox Crossing, Crystal Lake, the town and village of Blue Mounds, Jordan and Caledonia.

More than 100 communities in Wisconsin have approved referendums or resolutions, according to Wisconsin United to Amend.

“We cannot solve any of the pressing issues in front of our country as long as our politicians do not represent us and they won’t until we get the big money out of politics,” said Racine activist Bill Earley.

“The vast majority of voters know their voices aren’t being heard by their representatives. Politicians take their orders from the moneyed interests that keep them in office,” said Karen Ingvoldstat, an activist in Marquette County.

Madison first out of the gate

The first such ballot question in Wisconsin was approved in Madison in 2011, a year after the Supreme Court issued its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In that 5-4 decision, the court said the First Amendment prohibited restrictions on political expenditures by corporations.

The ruling, as Barack Obama said a week later in a State of the Union address, “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”

Nationwide, 18 state legislatures and 730 communities have called for passage of a constitutional amendment.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, DFL-Minnesota, has introduced the We the People Amendment in Congress.

“It’s time to establish once and for all that corporations are not people, money is not free speech and our elections and public policymaking process are not for sale to the highest corporate bidders,” Nolan said.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, is among the co-sponsors.

“The amendment essentially has two provisions,” Pocan said. “It says that money is not free speech and that corporations are not people. A simple but vital premise that would even out the playing field by reversing the deeply corrosive impact of corporate interests on our democracy.”

Super PAC forms to support Republican challenging Tammy Baldwin

A Republican mega-donor has contributed $2 million to a super PAC to support a widely expected run for the U.S. Senate against Tammy Baldwin.

The Solutions for Wisconsin PAC announced this week that Richard Uihlein, who founded Uline Corp. in Pleasant Prairie in 1980, made the donation to help persuade former Marine and political newcomer Kevin Nicholson to challenge Baldwin.

Nicholson, of Delafield, said in an email that he was “honored and humbled” by the support and was “strongly considering” a Senate run.

Nicholson is among several Republicans mulling a run against Baldwin, who is up for re-election in 2018. No one has officially committed to running, but news of the super PAC’s formation seems to indicate that Nicholson is all but certain to run.

“I strongly encourage others to support this effort and avoid a repeat of 2012’s divisive Republican primary,” Uihlein said in a statement.

Paperwork filed this week with the Federal Elections Commission identified the PAC as “Solutions to Wisconsin,” rather than “Solutions for Wisconsin” as the news release called the group. Its treasurer was based in Texas.

Hours after the PAC was announced, a new Twitter account with the handle @NicholsonforWI was created. Nicholson said via email that he did not create the account, which declared he was a candidate for Senate. Its first tweet was written in the first person, thanking Uihlein for his support. A direct message sent to the Twitter account asking who created it was not immediately returned.

Baldwin campaign manager Scott Spector  said creation of the PAC shows that Republicans are trying to “buy Wisconsin’s Senate seat.”

“Wisconsinites never have to worry about whose side Tammy is on,” Spector said. “She has never been afraid to stand up to Washington millionaires and special interests when the best interests of Wisconsin are on the line.”

Baldwin defeated former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson in 2012, the same year that then-President Barack Obama carried Wisconsin on his way to re-election. Thompson emerged with little cash after a bruising four-way Republican primary, which party insiders have said they want to avoid this time.

Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald repeated this week that he didn’t want another crowded primary.

His brother, Jeff Fitzgerald, was one of those who ran in 2012. Scott Fitzgerald said he hasn’t ruled out a run, but said he was a “little overwhelmed” with ongoing state budget negotiations in the Legislature.

Announcement of the super PAC came a day after Nicole Schneider, of Green Bay, issued a statement signaling possible interest in running. Also a political newcomer like Nicholson, she is the daughter-in-law of the former head of Schneider National Trucking.

Other Republicans considering running for the seat include:

• Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke;

• state Sen. Leah Vukmir;

• state Rep. Dale Kooyenga;

• Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch;

• Madison businessman Eric Hovde.

Wisconsin voters to field 65 school district requests

Wisconsin’s spring ballots contain 65 school referendums.

That comes after 122 were approved in 2016, the continuation of a trend that began three or four years ago as schools struggled to make ends meet under state-imposed spending limits, budget tightening and changing student populations with a growing range of needs.

Around 80 percent of school referendums passed last year and voters approved $1.35 billion in new borrowing, the largest amount in two decades when adjusted for inflation, according to data from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

“It’s a reflection of the consistent declining revenues from the state schools are facing,” said Jon Bales, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.

About half of the districts will ask voters on April 4 to sign off on new debt while the other half want permission to exceed revenue caps, which prevent districts from spending more than they get from property taxes and state aid. Because enrollment numbers factor into state aid calculations, school districts with declining numbers of students tend to hold referendums to exceed revenue limits. Those asking to borrow are more often located in growing areas and want the money to build more space.

The biggest ask will come from the school district of Verona, a Madison suburb.

The district wants to borrow $162.5 million to fund projects including a new swimming pool, more athletic fields and a new high school.

The population in Verona has been booming thanks to Epic Systems, the ever-growing health care software company that employs close to 10,000 people.

Burlington, a city west of Racine, wants to borrow $94.4 million to build a new middle school and a performing arts center and expand the high school’s athletic facilities.

Unlike debt referendums, revenue limit referendums come with a property tax increase unless the school is eliminating spending elsewhere.

West Allis Superintendent Marty Lexmond said his district hopes that by raising the revenue cap it can avoid eliminating music lessons, downsizing its athletic program and increasing class sizes, among other changes. The district has spent down its reserve and is projected to lose 200 students next year. It estimates an extra $12.5 million in funding over the next five years will increase residents’ annual property taxes by $58 for every $100,000.

Green Bay Area Public School District will hold its first revenue limit referendum to deal with a projected $18 million funding deficit that could cost the district 150 jobs, spokeswoman Lori Blakely said. But Blakely notes it would not raise residents’ property taxes because it coincides with decreased debt payments.

“We’re in kind of new territory,” Blakely said. She said she’s not sure what to expect from voters but hopes they’ll recognize a need.

Green Bay will also ask voters to sign off on new debt of $68.5 million to rebuild an elementary school the district has outgrown and fund upgrades including more secure entrances.