Steven Walters: Records detail VIP treatment of Walker campaign donor
About the only thing top state government officials didn't do for cash-desperate business executive William S. Minahan was offer to wash the Maserati sports car he rented for $2,705 per month in December 2010, records show.
It probably wasn't Maserati envy that prompted state government cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and Gov. Scott Walker's then-chief of staff to personally respond to Minahan's pleas that state government find $4.3 million for his failed company, Building Committee Inc. (BCI).
It's more likely that Walker's top aides, who owed their jobs to his 2010 election, were trying to help the giver of $10,000—the maximum allowed—to Walker's campaign on Nov. 1, 2010. Walker was elected governor the next day.
Hundreds of pages of records released by the state Department of Administration (DOA) and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) reveal VIP treatment and fast-track offers of help for Minahan by senior state officials.
-- Then-DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch personally pushed workers in his agency and at WEDC to help BCI. They didn't work for DOA, but WEDC employees reported in emails getting three calls from the DOA secretary—Walker's top deputy—asking about help for BCI. Huebsch is now one of three Public Service Commission members.
-- Chris Schoenherr, who rose to become Huebsch's deputy during the BCI saga, personally emailed Minahan dozens of times. Shoenherr no longer works for state government.
“Don't think you need to wait to send this off to Secretary [Huebsch] and [Walker then-Chief of Staff Keith Gilkes]—fire when ready,” Schoenherr advised Minahan in a June 9, 2011, email.
-- Schoenherr had DOA officials find a copy of a successful grant application submitted by another firm and then forwarded it to Minahan.
-- Schoenherr offered Minahan or another BCI executive a seat on a DOA task force on energy efficiency. Schoenherr promptly thanked Minahan for accepting the offer.
-- Schoenherr asked a top PSC official to meet with Minahan as early as “next week” about BCI's quest for cash.
-- Minahan pressured state officials every way he could. A WEDC official said in an April 17, 2012, email: “BCI is just getting weird as Bill is positive he is getting the funds and it sounds like he was encouraged by Huebsch.”
Six days later, an aide to Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch said her office got a call from Minahan about his work with Huebsch to obtain $4.3 million for BCI. Minahan “asked for the lieutenant governor's help in getting [WEDC] funds released,” the Kleefisch aide added.
Starting in 2011, Minahan claimed BCI needed cash to execute its business plan of retrofitting small offices, including credit unions, to make them energy efficient.
After months of advocacy by Minahan and two Capitol veterans, lobbyist Eric Petersen and former senator and convicted felon Gary George, BCI got a $500,000 “bridge” loan from WEDC in September 2011. BCI defaulted on the loan and is being sued by WEDC.
But records show WEDC almost gave the increasingly desperate Minahan an additional $1 million or more in 2012.
In a March 20, 2012, email, a WEDC staffer told another: “It looks like we are probably going to advance another $1.5 million to BCI.”
The staffer who got the email responded that Minahan's personal wealth “came primarily from what we thought were inflated values to his house and business.” For example, the staffer noted, Minahan valued his Milwaukee-area house “at $1.8 million but the estimated fair market value … is just slightly over $1 million.”
“I can't believe we are actually going to do this,” the staffer added.
But that Maserati—the lease lists its color as “nero”—may have played a role in WEDC finally cutting off BCI.
On April 26, 2012, a WEDC staffer emailed his boss:
“I just got a call from an automotive leasing company in Milwaukee that is owed money by BCI. Apparently, Minahan told the guy that he has a grant coming from us and that he would be paid as soon as he received it. So the guy asked me about the grant. I told him that nothing has been approved. … The sooner we officially deny this, the better.”
His boss's one-word reply: “Yikes.”
Days later, WEDC officially turned down Minahan's request for more cash.