Mining bill not a lobbying success story

Bill Lueders, Money and Politics Project Director.

By Bill Lueders
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Over the past six months, Gogebic Taconite LLC spent $114,883 lobbying state officials in support of its proposal to open an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.

While that’s a significant lobbying expense, it amounts to less than 1/100th of 1 percent of the mine’s estimated $1.5 billion cost.

Still, to state Sen. Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, whose district includes Iron and Ashland counties, where the mine would be located, this lobbying outlay was “a complete waste of money.”

Jauch argues that Gogebic and its hired allies “ended up alienating the public and confusing the Legislature,” by demanding too much on too short a timeline. He believes the company has “tainted the environment” for future progress, raising the hackles even of local officials who are supportive of the mine.

In its filing with the state Government Accountability Board, Gogebic says it spent $75,557 on three lobbyists from the law firm of Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C. This was for 354 hours of lobbying, which comes out to more than $200 an hour.

The company also spent $23,270 on 331 hours of lobbying by its in-house staff, including managing director Matt Fifield. (In addition, Gogebic employees last year gave at least $19,000 to state political candidates, including $10,000 to Gov. Scott Walker, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign contributions.)

Fifield and contract lobbyist Thomas Pyper did not respond to multiple phone messages left over the course of a week. But Sen. Jauch is willing to put their efforts in perspective.

Jauch says he met with Gogebic officials and lobbyists several times since last August. Fifield purportedly conveyed that “changes would be necessary to speed up the process,” but was not specific. The last meeting was in February.

Then Jauch heard nothing more — until April 28, when the company ran an ad in the Ashland paper saying that Wisconsin “could and should clarify its regulatory framework in order to attract jobs and investment in the iron mining sector.”

Around this time, Jauch learned that the company had been working for several months on a draft bill to revamp the state’s mining laws. He obtained a copy and was “very surprised and disappointed with many aspects of the bill,” especially its call to limit public input into the process.

“I warned them that this bill would be soundly rejected across party lines and across the state,” says Jauch, who agrees with the need to reform the state’s mining laws and speed up the process. He suggested waiting until fall to take the matter up.

“I pleaded with them,” Jauch says.

On Wednesday, May 11, Jauch issued a strongly worded press release when he learned that the mining bill, which still had not been made public, was scheduled for a hearing the following Monday. He criticized what he felt was an effort “to keep the public in the dark.”

Says Jauch, “There was an effort to rush this bill through in the midst of deliberating the state budget.”

It didn’t work. The hearing was cancelled, as was a planned public meeting on the bill in a revised form, which Jauch has never seen. In fact, no version of the bill has yet been introduced.

In June, after Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, R-Horicon, indicated that fall was a more realistic timeline, Gogebic put the project on hold until the mining laws are changed.

“I must tell you that this is all very puzzling behavior,” says Jauch, noting that the company bought an option for the mineral rights in 2009 and later applied for boring permits “with no guarantee that laws would be changed.”

Jauch is optimistic that the Gogebic mine can be expedited.

“There can be a mining bill but it must protect environmental standards, ensure public comment, protect local communities and maintain a defined process,” he says.

It remains to be seen whether Gogebic Taconite will agree to that.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The project, a partnership of the Center and MapLight, is supported by the Open Society Institute.

The nonprofit and nonpartisan Center (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication and other news media. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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5 Responses to “Mining bill not a lobbying success story”

  1. The Duke says:

    Never good enough Wisconsin!
    That is the attitude Wisconsin will instill in your head the minute you step into its borders. Too hot, too cold, too muggy, too windy, too much rain, too many leaves, and on and on and on they keep complaining! The green heads want everything in harmony yet their Prius, no wait, their trek bike is made of what? Metal! every thing is accomplished with something coming out of the ground. EVERYTHING! Research anything you want, and it will have an impact on something else. These are the same people that had windmills voted away because of all kinds of made up, fictional problems they sell to others. Why do people listen if its all lies? The lies are too loud. So here I am trying to see Wisconsin into another power house century. We need products that provide jobs and sense of security. Cleaning vacation homes and hoping snow will fall to be bartending to the enthusiasts is not an economical solution. Come on, lets be active in helping these companies bring us growth.

  2. Teresa says:

    “Jauch is optimistic that the Gogebic mine can be expedited.”

    What does this MEAN?

  3. Kim Wright says:

    I was at a Wisconsin Bar Association symposium on mining yesterday where Mr. Pyper was one of the presenters. He didn’t disclose his lucrative lobbying relationship with the attendees and his presentation was very misleading with regard to WI’s current mining law, the law that was leaked and what is coming next. It was a real shame as the symposium included lawyers and community members from all sides of this complex issue who shared information respectfully while also identifying their associations.

  4. The Wall says:

    Out of state donors from Gogebic Taconite LLC donated $10,000 to Wisconsin’s Temporary Governor Scott Walker and Gogebic is on the Boycott list. Block all chances of this company polluting and exploiting the resources of Wisconsin for their out of state profits. This abomination cannot proceed and the “fast track” legislation favoring Gogebic is untenable.

    Corporations buying favoritism in the local politicians is how you lose your life, and how you lose your home, and how your local environment is brought to ruin. Look at mountaintop coal mining, not just at the damage to the environment, but the influence in local law enforcement and politics. This is what Wisconsin would have to look forward to if this influence attempt is rewarded in any way.

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