It appears influence peddling is alive and well in Wisconsin. See the article below about one of the Governor Walker’s top appointed officials at the WDNR stepping in to let a polluter off the hook for over $37,000 in fines.
Governor Walker has praised his appointees’ approach, stating that, “increasing compliance and decreasing the number of… violations is a good thing for Wisconsin’s valuable natural resources…[and] our economy…”
Milwaukee Riverkeeper disagrees, believing if we are to deter future violations (a good thing even according to Governor Walker), then penalties must be sufficiently large to punish the polluter. For more information see the article below.
[excerpted from the Wisconsin State Journal]
by Ron Seely
A top political appointee at the state Department of Natural Resources chose not to send a complaint against an Oconomowoc waste hauler to the Department of Justice for prosecution despite findings by agency staff that the company was treating fields with so much human waste from septic tanks it risked poisoning nearby wells, DNR records show.
Scott Gunderson, executive assistant to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, “made an extra effort” to deal with the complaint internally last year even though the agency’s enforcement staff urged that the case be referred to DOJ, which could have imposed fines of tens of thousands of dollars.
Instead, Gunderson decided to ask district attorneys in Waukesha and Jefferson counties to issue five citations against Herr Environmental and fine the company $4,338 — the minimum forfeiture for the permit violations, which the lead DNR investigator called “among the worst” he’d seen.
Gunderson, a former Republican state representative, received $750 in campaign contributions from the owner of the company, Richard Herr, and Herr’s wife in 2006 and 2008. Last week, Gunderson said he forgot when he agreed to oversee the case that he accepted political contributions from the Herrs, major supporters of Republican campaigns as well as some Democratic candidates. Gunderson said even if he had been aware of the contributions, it would not have influenced his decision.
The case normally would have been assigned to DNR deputy secretary Matt Moroney, who said he handed it to Gunderson because he was acquainted with another officer of Herr Environmental.
But agency records show Moroney, also a political appointee and the former executive director of the Metropolitan Builders of Greater Milwaukee, intervened at least once on behalf of the company prior to his recusal, urging the DNR staff to listen to his friend at Herr Environmental because “he has always been a very straight shooter” and “we all make innocent mistakes.”
The handling of the case, documented in an extensive enforcement file kept in the agency’s regional office in Milwaukee, raises questions about whether the political and business ties of top DNR administrators appointed by Gov. Scott Walker are influencing their handling of law enforcement cases, critics said.
Read more here.