Sunday, October 30, 2016

Diane Hendricks, the richest woman in Wisconsin, has pumped nearly $5.5 million into a conservative super PAC



Wisconsin’s richest woman uses super PAC to denounce Clinton, Feingold

Michael Beckel

October 28, 2016

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Diane Hendricks, the richest woman in Wisconsin, has pumped nearly $5.5 million into a conservative super PAC that’s spending millions of dollars on attack ads in her home state.

The Reform America Fund has raised almost $5.9 million since it was launched in July 2015, meaning Hendricks accounts for 93 percent of its war chest.

Since mid-September, the super PAC has spent $3.4 million on ads critical of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and another $2.2 million lambasting Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Russ Feingold, who’s in the midst of a rematch with incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.

According to data provided to the Center for Public Integrity by ad tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG, the Reform America Fund has aired about 2,400 anti-Clinton ads in Wisconsin — accounting for roughly 55 percent of all presidential-focused ads in the state since the primaries ended.

No other group has been as big a player on the TV airwaves in Wisconsin in the presidential race.

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The ads’ messages

On its website, the Reform America Fund says Clinton — a former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady — “simply can’t be trusted.”

It’s a message the super PAC has hit repeatedly in its TV and digital ads at a time when Clinton has been battling criticisms of potential pay-to-play politicking, foreign influence peddling and mishandling of classified emails.

“C is for Clinton, whose campaign is sliding,” a narrator states in one of the group’s ads. “And C’s for the classified emails she’s hiding.”

The theme of a second ad was “C is for cover-up.” While a third anti-Clinton spot accused Clinton of selling access to foreign governments as secretary of state.

A second website operated by the Refund American Fund allows people to share various “C is for Clinton” memes online.

Who’s behind it?

Hendricks, co-founder and chairman of ABC Supply, the largest wholesale distributor of roofing in the United States, is well known in GOP circles.

Before supporting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump this year, she backed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s failed presidential campaign.

Hendricks donated $5 million to a super PAC that supported Walker — about one-fifth of the group’s overall receipts.

In May, Hendricks was named a vice chairwoman of the Trump Victory committee. Since then, she’s donated $212,700 to the joint fundraising group that benefits Trump’s campaign as well as the Republican National Committee and several state parties.

Among her other notable political contribution this election: Hendricks has donated $4 million to the Freedom Partners Action Fund, the super PAC backed by the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries. And she gave $400,000 to the committee that hosted the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.

Money in

As a super PAC, the Reform America Fund may collect unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and labor unions — so long as it doesn’t coordinate its spending with candidates’ own campaigns.

In addition to Hendricks, who also serves on Trump’s economic policy council, several other Midwestern business executives rank among Reform America Fund’s top donors.

Among them: FABCO Equipment CEO Jere Fabick, who's given $150,000; TAMKO Building Products CEO David Humphreys, who's given $100,000; and Uline CEO Richard Uihlein, who's given $100,000.

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Money out

In addition to the $5.6 million that the Reform America Fund has already spent directly attacking Clinton and Feingold, the super PAC has also transferred about $740,000 to a related super PAC called the Reform Wisconsin Fund. That money has been spent on additional anti-Feingold ads in Wisconsin’s Senate race.

Why it matters

Wisconsin’s Senate seat is hotly contested, with Johnson in danger of losing to Feingold, who has maintained a modest lead in recent polls.

The winner of this seat could help determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the U.S. Senate come January.

Wisconsin is also a state Trump has hoped to wrest away from Clinton, who’s currently leading in the polls there.

Moreover, super PACs like the Reform America Fund make it easy for wealthy individuals with political passions to become more involved.

Hendricks, herself, has expressed a desire for Wisconsin to turn into a “completely red” state.

Such motivated megadonors often make it onto politician’s radars.

Earlier this month, at a campaign event in Wisconsin, Trump himself praised Hendricks, who was in attendance, as “amazing” and called her one of the state’s “great successful people.”

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What the Illinois comptroller race is really about



Crain's illustration

Crain's illustration

Both are self-made women. Both say that in this time of fiscal trouble, Illinois needs an independent watchdog as its chief financial officer. And both claim to be that person.

Yet for most voters, the contest for Illinois comptroller between appointed GOP incumbent Leslie Munger and the Democratic challenger, Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza, isn't so much about them as it is about two men: Bruce Rauner and Mike Madigan.

Call it the battle of the surrogates. Though there are plenty of good issues to debate in the contest for comptroller, the election fundamentally is a test of strength between the strongwilled GOP governor and the equally stubborn Democratic speaker of the Illinois House.

Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger - AP

Photo by AP Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger

Munger, 60, who got the job when then-Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka died shortly after winning re-election in 2014, hails from Joliet. A University of Illinois graduate, she ran the domestic hair-care business at Helene Curtis under CEO Ron Gidwitz, who also was the state's top GOP fundraiser. She ran, unsuccessfully, for state representative in the northern suburbs in 2014.

"I feel we've been fighting for Illinois' financial future," she says. "I've been working very hard to bring fiscal responsibility."

Mendoza, 44, was a soccer star at Bolingbrook High School and Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State), where she earned a degree in business administration. Her political activity goes back almost that far: Elected a state representative from a Back of the Yards district at age 28, she served into her sixth term before becoming Chicago city clerk.

Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza - AP

Photo by AP Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza

"This race is about getting people to elect an independent truth teller," she says. "The question is, who will focus on the fiscal health of the state?"

While both meet the qualifications for being the state's chief bill payer, whether either qualifies as independent is debatable. In fact, each has plenty of ammunition against the other, and both are firing away.

Mendoza points out that Munger not only was appointed by Rauner but has allowed her campaign fund to "launder" big contributions from top Rauner allies, transferring $3 million to the Illinois Republican Party within days of receiving $5 million from Ken Griffin and Richard Uihlein. The move was intended to help Rauner circumvent campaign donation caps, since the money was parceled out by the state party to other candidates, Mendoza suggests.

Munger replies that she just was following rules written by Democratic lawmakers in an effort to create "a level playing field" with Madigan's candidates.

Mendoza, in turn, was a loyal Madigan partisan in the House, accepted a salary for being a state lawmaker and a city planning official simultaneously, and gained when the speaker helped ease another Democrat out of the comptroller's race, Sen. Dan Biss. ("I made a judgment she has a level of support," Biss says. "There's no question [Madigan] was a crucial supporter of hers.")

Mendoza replies that she was careful not to accept a city salary for days in which she was in Springfield on state business. Records she supplied indicate she gave back roughly a third of her city pay in most years but still earned $114,000 combined in 2008. Mendoza also says she originally won office by twice having to overcome Madigan-backed candidates.

In fairness, both have shown streaks of independence. Munger, for instance, bucked Rauner on withholding union dues. Mendoza was an early advocate of impeaching then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Still, I suspect most voters, after seeing the smear ads on TV, have figured out that more is at stake on Nov. 8 than electing the better finance manager.

Whoever wins likely has a bright future—comptroller is one of the better steppingstones to higher office in Illinois. But first, she has to win. For those who can't wait for Rauner's presumed re-election race in 2018, consider this contest a foretaste.

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